I lived in South Korea for 1 Year

Back in 1999, I lived in Korea.  It was the first country that I have ever been to outside of the US.  Korea is where I first fell in love with Asia.  I was interested enough to learn some Korean.  I could read some of it and speak it.  I love the culture, the food and the people there.  Like anywhere else there were pros and cons to living in Korea.

Pros of Korea:

Food.  If you are a foodie who is not afraid to try new food, you will LOVE Korea.  The bulgogi, gimbap, amazing flavors and KIMCHI!south-korea

Moderate Prices.  You are not going to see Thailand or Philippines types of prices, but the cool thing about Korea, is that you can have just about anything made for a fair price that is less than half of the retail.  You can go to Itaewon (the Silk Road), Dongdaemun and many other places.

courtesy of becuo.com

courtesy of becuo.com

Great people.  My personal experience interacting with locals was great.  People accepted me with open arms.  It felt a little more open than Japan to me as far as attitude toward foreigners but perhaps I should have stayed in Japan longer to get a better feel.  Japanese people are more polite but sometimes I got the feeling that I was not welcome.  But I did not usually feel this in Korea.  They were very impressed if I could even say one word of Korean.  Some of the younger generation hated Americans and felt that the US is the reason for the tension between North and South Korea.  While the older generation that had parents in the Korean War (or where IN the Korean War) were very, very cool with Americans.  Maybe the younger people would like Canadians and Europeans better.  This was over a decade ago so I am sure things have changed for better or worse.

CON in Korea:

Rudeness.  It is not uncommon for people to bump you in the street, over take you when you are driving or walking, they don’t smile or give small talk usually.  I guess this sounds like a contradiction because I just said the people are great… and they are.  The rudeness there is legendary!  Here are a couple of examples: Seoulcafe on Korean Rudeness, Trish in Korea on Rudeness.south-korea

INSANE drivers.  The roads are not as dangerous as Kuwait, but it was so dangerous when I was there that I was too afraid to drive.

If you find yourself in Asia and considering Korea, you should definitely go.  The food is awesome and the culture is cool.. just don’t drive there.

north korea dmz

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about North Korea.  There was the movie “The Interview” that sparked a little bit of international tension.  North Korea was then blamed for responding with a huge infiltration of Sony and responded with the usual mass destruction threats.  They recently gotta a firm talking to from China for a maniac from NK  that got into the country and killed four Chinese citizens.  ANDDDD Kim Jong Un’s sister just got married!!  Congrats Kim Yo Jong.

We talked a little about some Americans that have visited North Korea in the past and received a long stay in prison.  All of the recent talk about North Korea has inspired me to talk about my own personal visit to the border of Hermit Kingdom.

dmz north korea

dmz north korea

My visit to the DMZ was very educational.   I was on the South Korean side of course.  If you happen to be in Korean, I HIGHLY recommend it.  You are escorted through a military base to get there.  Once you are at the staging area you are given a military briefing on how ridiculously dangerous it is and why.  Then you have to read and sign a release form that states something like “the US Army is not responsible for your death or bodily harm while you at the actual DMZ”.  This is necessary since every now and then someone is shot.  They want you to know the danger is REAL.

My trip to the DMZ showed me how petty and completely irrational nations can be.  They actually had a “flagpole” war.  The south built a flag next to the boarder that the North saw, so they responded be building The Panmunjom flagpole, a 160 meter tower which is the fourth largest flag pole in the world as of 2015.

dmz north korea

dmz north korea

They built this flagpole in a town they built called Kijŏngdong.  Kijŏngdong can clear fit 200 plus families but is clearly empty and has been for many years.

Aside from all of the horrible deaths from boarder skirmishes that have happened over the decades, the most alarming thing that I saw and the DMZ was the disparity between North and South.  You don’t need binoculars to see that the North has very little infrastructure. From looking, the North does not even look like a developing country.  It is like a baron waste land with the decrepit, vacant town Kijŏngdong (and it huge flag) in the middle of nowhere while the South looks like New York or Tokyo.  If you look at the North and South at night you see that North has very little lighting in Pyongyang with the South is lit up like a galaxy.

courtesy http://matthewniederhauser.com courtesy

As of 2015, there are about 25 million people living in the DPRK.  So there are are 25 million sides of North Korea and it is not all bad.

Unfortunately, the politics there have made an unprecedented level of suffering.

visiting north korea

Dear Americans,

Why in the world are you Visiting North Korea?  Do you know that several other Americans between 1996 and 2014 have gone there with the same results: They are detained,  forced to read some bullshit propaganda and then released (sometimes) only after they are begged by a major US political figure.

Name Detained Released Reason for detention
Evan Hunziker 26 August 1996 27 November 1996 Charged with espionage
Euna Lee 18 March 2009 4 August 2009 Crossed into North Korea from China without a visa.
Laura Ling
Aijalon Gomes 25 January 2010 26 August 2010 Illegally entered North Korea
Kenneth Bae 3 November 2012 Currently detained Planned a religious coup d’état, along with other reasons.
Merrill Newman 26 October 2013 7 December 2013 War crimes during the Korean War.
Miller Matthew Todd 10 April 2014 Currently detained Wanted political asylum from North Korea.[1]
Jeffrey Edward Fowle 29 April 2014 Currently detained Acted “contrary to the purpose of tourism.”[1]

Here are a few fun facts about North Korea:

visiting north korea

visiting north korea

Political prison camps with 40% malnutrition.  One of the reasons that the citizens seems so happy about Kim Jung {x} is that political dissent can earn you and your entire family an indefinite stay in one of several luxurious concentration camps.  Fun for the WHOLE family (for generations).  (see Torture, Starvation in North Korean Political Prisons)

Reeducation Camps. It is not ANYTHING like anger management classes.  Its a place where people by the hundreds go to die for things like illegal border crossing, illegal trading, or being accused of disagreeing with Kim Jung {x}.

People are shot or imprisoned for attempting to LEAVE.  Movement in or out of North Korea is strictly controlled.  Not only can North Koreans NOT leave the country easily they are not allowed to move WITHIN the country easily.  Anyone who tries to immigrate to another country is considered a defector.


image: huffingtonpost.com

image: huffingtonpost.com

North Korea is a place that has death camps the whole family can enjoy.