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North Korea

Chinese Travel Agents Offer 'Nostalgia' Tours To North Korea

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Pyongyang's Mansudae monument — Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

BEIJING — "This summer, cross the world's most difficult border and visit a country with the highest index of happiness and security"reads the advertisement of the travel agency in Taiyuan, in the remote western Chinese province of Shanxi. "Experience the China we used to know!"

On offer is an organized five-day tour to North Korea.

According to a Chinese-language report from Voice of America, following a rush in recent years to South Korea, it is now North Korea's turn to be the hot destination for Chinese tourists. These tours are typically organized as charter flights on Air Koryo, the one and only North Korean airline, explains Liang Hongen, the manager of the Taiyuan travel agency.

Air Koryo was founded in 1953, but only has around a dozen aircraft — some of which don't even fly. Skytrax, a UK aviation consulting firm which reviews and rates airlines, has given the company the worst ranking for each of the last five years, VOA reports.

But now, Chinese tour operators are advertising "Kim Jong-un"s private jet" and boasting "the prettiest flight attendants." Curiosity is a key motivation for Chinese visitors to tour this closed-off neighbor, together with a strange sense of nostalgia. "I liked experiencing the feeling of going back in time and reliving the China of decades ago," said one visitor.

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Aboard an Air Koryo aircraft — Photo: Kristoferb

Another Chinese visitor added, "After all, North Korea isn't all that different from China. Apart from the material differences, the two countries' spiritual core is basically the same. Pyongyang is not the Beijing of the 1980s — it's the Beijing of today stripped of its neon lights," he wrote.

Chinese visitors stay in the best hotels in Pyongyang and visit places with important political connotations, under the guidance of a North Korean political supervisor. They visit the architectural grandeur of the residence of the country's first leader Kim Il-sung, and can also lay flowers at the Mansudae Grand Monument, where the two colossal statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il stand tall.

There are also visits to the Tower of the Juche Idea, a monument built to celebrate Kim Il-sung's 70th birthday. And for Chinese visitors in particular, a stop at the Friendship Tower that commemorates the Sino-North Korean bond forged during the Korean War, is a must.

North Korea has recently allowed an influx of Chinese tourists, accounting for 90% of the country's mere 100,000 visitors per year, to enjoy half-day tours across the border, visiting the Sinuiju tourist complex without a passport.

Foreign visitors of the country can pay in foreign currency, including the Chinese RMB, for their local consumption. North Korea, facing ever tougher economic sanctions, is now relying even more on tourists from its neighbor and only important ally, China, to bring in a bit of foreign capital.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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