North Korea Tourism Video Goes Viral, Despite its Horrendous History of Human Rights Abuse

Monday, August 18, 2014

Apparently a video advertisement for travel to North Korea, "Enter Pyongyang" has been making the rounds on social media. It's a three-minute time-lapse video of several central locations in the Hermit Kingdom's capitol, ostensibly to "provide a glimpse" into a "mysterious city" and - because it was produced in part by a North Korean tour company - to attract potential travelers to an "off the beaten path" destination.

As Amnesty UK points out, there is zero mention of North Korea's hideous human rights abuses (obviously, because that's not how you attract tourists):
People must look beyond the propaganda. North Korea is a country in a league of its own. There’s no nod here to the country’s brutal punishment system of prison camps, where innocent people face starvation, forced labour, misery and death.

Marvel at the aesthetics by all means, but then watch people talking about their life in the camps, where thousands upon thousands of people are still rotting away.
When we lived in South Korea, my husband and I briefly toyed with the idea of taking a tour there, because a tour is the only way you can go - the kind of meandering, go-where-the-wind-takes-you style of backpacking that we and our fellow expats adored is most definitely not allowed. The tours have a very specific itinerary that only takes visitors to "polished" places in the capitol, where you see statues, Starbucks, and famous buildings - but no unfinished roads, villages, or starving farmers. At the end of each day, you are dropped off at your hotel, from which you cannot leave - not even to grab a bite at a local noodle joint. You are escorted everywhere by a tour guide who spouts off propaganda. Despite its rigid nature, Westerners who have gone say it is a fascinating experience - including one of our college friends who has now gone twice. Looking at the price tag attached the tours was enough to dissuade us - particularly since, in addition to being able to spend a month in Japan on the same budget, the thought of giving so much money to support the ailing economy of a horrendous totalitarian regime left a bad taste in my mouth.

Despite the glossy picture they paint, North Korean travel agencies warn potential travelers in no uncertain terms to not try to start discussions with their tour guides about the country's repressive practices, human rights violations, or even poor conditions in the country. In addition to endangering you, such questions can also put the tour guides themselves at risk.

Frankly, I am surprised that no one who passed on the video noticed how few cars there were on the streets for a capitol city. Or how there were absolutely no foreigners. Or how short (and underfed) most North Koreans looked. But then again, I guess we personally have Seoul for comparison.

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