Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Why North Korean tourism is ghoulish and wrong

As someone who has always had a slight yen to see what it is like to live in the world's last remaining Stalinist state, I have sometimes thought about visiting North Korea on tous such as those organised by the Koryo group. The one thing that has stopped me from doing so is the thought that foeign visitors may be used in North Korean propaganda as evidence of foreign support for the regime of the Kims, as well as the potential use of foreign currency earned from tourists in the Kim's various terrorism and drug-dealling enterprises.

A partial confirmation of this idea came in North Korean defector Park Yeon-Mi's live Q&A today in answer to a question about what the ordinary people of North Korea think about the outside world:

 Of course, beyond this, there is the distastefully ghoulish aspect of visiting a country which suffers under such a disasterous system merely for the rarity value, for the bragging rights of saying you saw a totalitarian dictatorship close-up. The nearest comparison would be taking photos at a deadly car-crash merely so you could say you had been there.

Am I wrong about this? At least it seems I am not the only one who thinks so.

[Photo: Tourists chat with local North Koreans. By Norman Harak, via Wiki

8 comments:

Ji Xiang said...

I agree about the fact that the presence of tourists in North Korea could be used in the regime's propaganda, and that it provides them with hard foreign currency. These might be good reasons not to go there.

I'm less convinced that it's wrong to visit North Korea simply because the country is such a disaster.

Is it wrong to visit poor countries? If I visit Bangladesh, where more people may be undernourished than in North Korea, is it wrong to do so? I think that as long as one goes to troubled countries armed with a critical spirit, there is nothing necessarily wrong with it.

FOARP said...

"I'm less convinced that it's wrong to visit North Korea simply because the country is such a disaster."

It's not wrong to visit countries which are disasters. It's that there is something distastefully ghoulish about visiting countries because they are disasters and you wish to rubber-neck at the misery of others.

I don't know, maybe I'm just weird on this. I remember when I lived in Wroclaw a bunch of my friends wanted to go and visit the site of the Auschwitz extermination camp - and I said that I frankly didn't want to go because it felt weird to me. Unlike even somewhere like a battlefield, no historic decision was made there, only the horrific and meaningless death of millions of innocent people at the hands of sadistic murderers - why would you want to go there, especially as a holiday? We could talk about educational value, but do you really not already know what happened there?

Sure, I'm open to the idea of learning about North Korea, but there's an element of dictator-worship and rubber-necking to the whole thing that I just can't get past.

justrecently said...

The one thing that has stopped me from doing so is the thought that foeign visitors may be used in North Korean propaganda as evidence of foreign support for the regime of the Kims

I think you can put your mind at ease. Any article published anywhere in the world may be used as evidence of the regime, even if it is critical of them.

They may be quoted as examples of the attention Kim Jong-un gets internationally, without quoting the content at all.

That said, I'd prefer to travel Tibet - I'm not terribly curious about North Korea. Oddly, I've never been to Tibet in all these years.

Ji Xiang said...

@justrecently:

travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Province is only slightly less restricted than travel to North Korea.

If you want to travel to Tibetan areas relatively freely, Qinghai province is the best option. But you'll need a lot of time and patience to travel around it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
FOARP said...

Chris, I have no idea what you're talking about, but it sounds mentally ill anyway. Please get help.

Anonymous said...

I've visited North Korea. Just a day trip across the border from China.

I visited partly for bragging rights. It was last country in East Asia I'd not been.

But there were other reasons too.

Silly as it may sound, I was keen to try the local beer and shoju. I like tasting new alcohol. I was also interested in local medicinal wines - I have an interest in TCM.

FOARP said...

Well, I can certainly see why a day trip from across the border in northern China that doesn't involve, say, laying a wreath at an NK monument or appearing in NK propaganda might appeal. There's a risk of becoming excessively moralistic and judgemental about this kind of thing I guess.