The Strangest Phone Call Ever

The Democratic Republic of North Korea called me this morning.

The ringing of my phone pierced my foggy consciousness this morning. No has ever called my landline. I stumbled out of bed and picked up the received. “Hello,” I croaked.

“Good morning. This is DPRK,” the voice on the line said.

Immediately my back straightened. Labor camps. The Great Famine. Kim il-Sung. Nuclear missiles. “I heard so much about your country,” I almost blurted out.

That would have been great. Labor camp here I come!

Instead I squeaked like a five year old caught wetting his bed. “Good morning, sir.”

I was both frozen in fear and starstruck. After obsessively reading so much literature on the Black Hole of all kingdom nations, I was finally talking to a real North Korean.

“Our consul in Beijing wants to know if you are indeed going on a tour to my country,” he said. Once you come in, you can never come back.

“Yes, sir. We have already paid the deposit,” I said, sealing my doom.

“Good.” He sounded satisfied. “Have a prosperous and fruitful trip.”

The line went dead. I stared at my phone for a long time. It was a Being John Malkovich moment. A Synecdoche scene. A script that could only be envisioned by Donald Kaufmann.

But no, it was real life.

A couple of friends and I are off today to North Korea. Never in my wildest dreams would I thought I’d be traveling there or that some of my friends would join me. The plan began to take shape in Burma over a cup of tea with a cat eating British tourist working in South Korea. I complained that tours to NK were expensive and he immediately whipped up the name of a travel agency in the UK that does budget tours to North Korea and specializes in extreme tourism (see Chernobyll Diaries).

(For specific reasons, I’ve chosen not to reveal the name of the tour agency yet.)

The application process was quite simple and straightforward. The tour includes food, accommodations, spy guided tour and transportation from the starting point of Dandong, Liaoning Province to Pyongyang by train. Americans have to fly from the capital of Shenyang to Pyongyang.

I’m up to my neck marking final exams at the moment that I hadn’t given a thought on preparing for the trip. It’s not going to happen anytime soon (I cross my fingers and hope it’ll happen). But it’s nice to know that there’s a country that cares for its future tourists.

This week has been so far stressful what with — juggling classes, school termination procedure, getting police certificates, saying goodbye to friends who are leaving, searching for cheap flight tickets to different countries and packing for this trip. I’ve yet still to pack for the Philippines and start the process of moving out of my place.

But for now, here’s to seeing a completely new world and a totally new perspective on how people live. Today my friends and I are going to embark on a 30 hour train journey from Guangzhou all the way up to the north of China to Shenyang capital, Shandong province. Then we stay there for a night then we hope to get to Dandong- by the North Korea border to meet our guide.Then I’ll celebrate my birthday as soon as we cross the border and descend into the deep dark bowels of a land no kilobyte of information can reach and where people still haven’t heard that Michael Jackson is dead.

The trip would definitely challenge my beliefs and views of the world- can’t wait.

Photo by North Korean Cultural Centre

Start of the journey


Next post on the North Korean journey

My National Geographic Moment with North Korea


24 thoughts on “The Strangest Phone Call Ever

  1. Sally says:

    Now that’s what I call an adventure. Best of luck with your trip – looking forward to reading about it when you get back. Take care and have fun (I think!).

  2. waterfallsandcaribous says:

    Wow, I look forward to reading about your trip. North Korea seems fascinating…I’m still stuck in the battle between wanting to go and see the place and not wanting to support the regime by spending my money there. But curiosity is starting to win out I think. I will be fascinated to hear all about the experience of the ‘approved’ sights and sounds and how you feel about it all afterwards. Exciting times!

    Oh, and I love that you’re going with a ‘mischievous’ Kiwi – everyone should have one in their travel kit! Hehe.

    • Kate says:

      Go! I just got back. Had no absolutely no contact from the outside world when I went behind the Iron Curtain – no internet, no cellphone. Yeah, I did not want to support the regime either but we could spread information on what it’s really like in North Korea and hopefully that information would help spread the word on liberating its people. And oh my God, the mischievous Kiwi certainly lived up to his name – he got into so much trouble in North Korea (and dragged us along too) but surprisingly the North Koreans love him. He just has a certain charm to him plus he can speak Korean.

  3. outonvacation says:

    wooahh..your such an adventurer kate!! are you leaving China soon? Too bad I was thinking of meeting up with you in case my business trip pushes through though I’m not sure if your place is near

    • Kate says:

      Still have to get some stuff from China first but hopefully yeah, will leave it soon. Haha, China’s big girl. We’d be as far as Philippines is from Hong Kong even farther. I’m in Cebu, Philippines now till July if you want to meet up. Where you at now?

      • outonvacay says:

        I will be most probably be going to Shenzhen ( I hope I got the spelling correct) for work by Aug..and also I will be in Cebu by second wk of Aug….too bad salisi tayo 😦

  4. Kate says:

    Outonvacay, Shenzhen’s close to where I live – it’s an hour’s ferry away. how long will you be there for? Are you based in Cebu? aw, yeah sayang- our paths might not cross

  5. outonvacay says:

    Will be there for 2 wks. in Shenzhen. Then 3 days in Cebu just for a quick vacation. I’m based in Singapore so if you are in the area let me know 😉 I’ll try to show you around…as “pseudo” travelers hahaha I know one way or another our paths might just cross 🙂

    • Kate says:

      That’s true! It’s probably one of the popular layover stops- Narita, HK, JFK, Changi, etc. Are you still in Singapore now? I’m back in Zhuhai for a week then traveling again.

      • outonvacay says:

        SG is a small place but what I like most about it are the gardens/parks (most are free) right now they just completed Gardens by The Bay which is very “futuristic”..apart from the usual tourist areas like the Merlion, Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa, Singapore Flyer and Orchard Rd – I can recommend Henderson Waves, Food trip at Joo Chiat area, enjoying nature at Pulau Ubin

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