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North Korean Tourism Dwarfed by Visitors to Elvis,South Korea For Nose Jobs, Thai Sex Change Operations

22 Feb

North Korean Tourism Dwarfed by Visitors Paying Homage to Elvis, Thai Sex Change Tourists, Those Seeking Nose Jobs in South Korea; And 1/15 of UK Citizens Traveling Abroad for Dental Treatment; 

In 2012, North Korea welcomed nearly 30,000 visitors, including 4000 westerners, and official state media trumpeted this week that foreign tourism is “booming” days after they exploded a nuclear bomb drawing global condemnation. State news organ KCNA said the number of foreign visitors to the North has grown since 2000 and has surged after 2009, citing a spike in European visitors but offering no statistics. “The global popularity of tourism to (North Korea) is booming,” they said, citing socialist accomplishments by the Kim family hereditary dynastic regime.

Tourists Bow Paying Homage to Kim Il Sung

Tourists Bow Paying Homage to Kim Il Sung

Independent industry analysts have put the number of western visitors to North Korea at about 2,000 per year, but KCNA said this week tourists rose “sharply” from 2009.  The respected independent NK News quoted Simon Cockerell, General Manager at Koryo Tours, the preeminent group tour operator to Pyongyang based in Beijing, saying numbers have spiked, but visitor numbers are so small “an unexpected increase of a few dozen can look like a large percentage surge.”

It is estimated that in 2012 perhaps 4,000 Western visitors traveled to the world’s most isolated nation, and KCNA said that “eye-catching achievements made by the country in the effort for building a thriving socialist nation in recent years are one of the attractions.”

But a tourism boom in North Korea is quintessentially relative. A cursory comparative look breaks the annual visitor arrivals to North Korea down to the equivalent of the number of tourists who arrive from abroad every 34 minutes in the U.S., and every 27 minutes in France.

Less foreign visitors travel to North Korea annually than take in the British Lawnmower Museum in the U.K. Foreign visitors to North Korea per year amount to less than 5% of those who visit the birthplace of Elvis Presley—Graceland in Memphis Tennessee which attracts 600,000 people annually to pay homage to the “King”. Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982. “We had no idea whether 30 people were coming, or 300, or 3,000 that first day, Fortunately, it was the latter,” said Jack Sodden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises. They sold out all 3,024 tickets on the first day and the flow of tourists has remained steady, with an average of 600,000 annual visitors to the mansion.

The Elvis Presley Shrine at Graceland Draws More than 20 Times the Visitors than Visit North Korea Every Year

The Elvis Presley Shrine at Graceland Draws More than 20 Times the Visitors than Visit North Korea Every Year

The entire annual number of foreign visitors to the Hermit Kingdom is less than 3% of those who trek to visit the home of one of capitalism’s most storied robber barons, the Biltmore Estate of the Vanderbilt family in America’s deep rural South, which attracts 900,000 visitors per year.

Fetish Con, an annual sex conference celebrating all things kinky, attracts more than 10,000 people annually worldwide to a U.S. city by people interested in the whips, toys, videos, outrageously high high-heels and black leather stiletto knee-high boots, and features such offerings as Kinky Karaoke, with fetish enthusiasts dressed in outfits ranging from very little to full-body latex. That is more than twice the total annual western visitors to all of North Korea at the moment.

Annual Sex Fetish Conference Draws More Visitors Than North Korea Does in an Entire Year

Annual Sex Fetish Conference Draws More Visitors Than North Korea Does in an Entire Year

Each year about a half million leather clad bikers and their half naked girlfriends converge on the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota for the world’s largest motorcycle rally—more than 15 times the entire yearly total of foreigners who visit North Korea.

A more nuanced comparison makes the entire cumulative arrival of visitors to North Korea less than those who travel to Thailand for sex change operations. It stands, for instance as 1/15 of UK citizens who traveled abroad in 2011 for dental treatment. In 2006, Israel welcomed 15,000 foreigners who traveled there for medical procedures, bringing in $40 million of revenue. 30,000 people came to Iran in 2012 to receive medical treatment. About 1 million Californians go to Mexico for healthcare procedures, mostly to Tijuana seeking weight loss, and plastic surgery, in addition to alternative cancer treatments. According to the Secretary of Tourism of Baja California, Mexico in 2009, close to 8 million people went to Tijuana for some type of healthcare.

The most obvious comparison is in South Korea where in 2009, a total number of 60,000 medical tourists arrived, rising in 2010 to 80,000. The South Korean Ministry of Health has set the target for 2015 to up to 300,000 medical tourists. Currently, the most popular treatments for medical tourists are cosmetic procedures such as eyelid surgery, nose jobs, facelifts, and skin lightening.

There are no reports of any visitors choosing Pyongyang as a preferred destination for medical care.

So a surge in foreigners visiting Pyongyang is all a matter of perspective.

travel sino bridge afp

Tourists to North Korea must go on guided tours and must have their tour guides with them at all times. Photography is strictly controlled, as is interaction with the local population.

In 2002, the scenic Mount Kumgang close to the South Korea border was designated a special tourist destination, and South Korean tourist companies brought thousands of South Koreans to Mount Kŭmgang until that was suspended in late 2008 after an elderly South Korean woman was shot dead by North Korean soldiers for veering off the designated tourist paths. When tours had still not resumed by May 2010, North Korea unilaterally seized hundreds of millions of dollars of South Korean real estate assets developed to accommodate tourists in the region.

In July 2005, the South Korean Hyundai Group signed an agreement with the North Korean government to open up more areas to tourism, including Baekdu Mountain and Kaesong, which was opened to tours for South Korean and foreign tourists in December 2007, with North Korea charging US $180 for a one-day trip, receiving several hundred tourists each week.

The tours to Baekdu Mountain were suspended in December 2008 after Pyongyang objected to South Korea activists sending balloons filled with propaganda messages critical of Kim Jong Il which floated into the North. When South Korea did not respond to North Korean demands to stop the propaganda balloons, North Korea suspended the Kaesong tours. The tours to Kaesong resumed in April 2010, but were again suspended the next month in May 2010 after Pyongyang sent clandestine spies into South Korean territorial waters and torpedoed a South Korean ship, the ROKS Cheonan, which sunk, killing dozens of South Korean navy sailors.

Chinese tourists make up the lion’s share of the still miniscule tourist industry. In April 2010, tourist trains from Dandong, China began a highly controlled 4-day trip to North Korea. Prior to that, the international train from Beijing to Pyongyang was the only train allowed for tourists to the North. In June 2011, Chinese citizens were allowed on controlled bus tours to a strictly delineated zone near the Chinese border focused on shopping for the first time, and in January 2012, were able to bring their own mobile phones into the DPRK for the first time without being confiscated by border authorities to be returned upon departing the country, but without a North Korean sim card, strictly prohibited in North Korea, the phones are useless as they are unable to make or receive calls. The number of Chinese tourists visiting North Korea fell 70 percent from 2010 to 2011, with Chinese tour operators citing restrictions on where tourists can travel—only the capital Pyongyang and Mt. Kumgang–for the lack of interest.

The leading tour company for non Chinese citizens desiring to visit North Korea, is the quirky, but highly professional and knowledgeable British run, Beijing based Koryo tours, which have been running curious visitors to the hermit Kingdom for 20 years.

Arrival Customs Gate at Pyongyang Airport

Arrival Customs Gate at Pyongyang Airport

When visitors arrive by plane in Pyongyang, they land on an empty runway, and walk into an empty terminal. One visitor wrote “On a visit to North Korea I had a surreal experience as my Air China plane touched down at Pyongyang airport the music which was played into the passenger cabin was Isaac Watts’ Christmas carol “Joy To The World”:

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room;

And let Heaven and nature sing.”

The nonexistent lines at customs efficiently immediately confiscate all mobile phones and electronic devices. Shortwave radios are sometimes allowed into the country—after they are taken in a back room and radio frequency access is sauntered to the state propaganda channel. Listening to foreign broadcasts is punishable by jail. Each visitor is met at the security gate by two government minders who accompany all visitors during every waking hour while in country.

Visitors can go to a handful of approved sites, which include visiting the captured US spy ship Pueblo, the war museum where guides lecture on American atrocities committed against Koreans, pay homage to the Kim clan at  statues, and visit the $900 million building where Kim father and son lay embalmed, and houses thousands of gifts from every corner of the world given to the Kim’s when they were alive. The Palace of the Sun serves doubly as a museum, and visitors are forbidden from speaking and must remove their shoes and put on disposable plastic sleeves over ones feet to make sure no germs infect the sacred site.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist's chair (insert "on-site guidance" joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist’s chair (insert “on-site guidance” joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

A comparable experience is offered at the “International Friendship Exhibition” in Mount Myohyang-san, which has on display over 200,000 gifts given to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, carefully separated by country leaving the impression that the Kim’s have a fervent and massive global following. The gifts range from whole train cars and handguns from world leaders, to knickknacks from obscure communist sympathizers in the U.S. and Europe who are portrayed as famous renowned vanguard of these countries oppressed proletariat. Many of the groups one suspects have memberships in the single digits and the uninitiated might be shocked to learn that virtually none of their countrymen have ever heard of them. Other gifts include a stuffed crocodile in bow tie and waistcoat standing on two legs holding a cocktail tray and serving drinks, courtesy of the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua, and a Tolpuddle Martyrs plate from the British parliamentary Labour party.

Formal attire is required of all visitors to both the mausoleum and gift repository museum, and all are mandated to bow to a statue of Kim Il-sung, march down marble corridors, pass through a wind tunnel to shake the dust from ones clothes, and then into a darkened room holding the embalmed body of Kim Il-sung where visitors line up in rows and must step forward three steps at a time, and bow three times from three different directions.

Then one is taken to another marble chamber where an audio recording is played of the reaction of North Korean’s when the Great Leader died which includes this typical clip: “All people were rending their hearts! And weeping scalding tears that as they hit the ground fossilized and became glittering pieces of stone! It was as if the earth itself had died!”

TOUR1

“After depositing our cameras and bags in the coat check room, we were instructed to line up in rows of four and walk to the security checkpoint…we were quickly forced back into a single line in order to get through the metal detector and subsequent pat down by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army. But then again, this is North Korea, and if you’re told to get in a row of four, you get in a row of four.

Having been checked for explosives, weapons, and cameras, we then encounter an incredibly long moving walkway. I was a bit surprised to see a standard airport feature in a somber mausoleum. We began walking on the moving walkway, as most people, save the exceptionally lazy, usually do, until we were quickly instructed by our guide that we were supposed to stand still and let the walkway slowly take us to our destination. So we stood there, quietly, and patiently, as the walkway delivered us to…yet another walkway. It seemed like we had traveled for a mile on these things. In fact, I’m willing to bet that, as with everything in the DPRK, it’s the longest moving walkway in the world.”

The tourist then continues describing “standing before the large white statue of Kim Il-Sung, which was bathed in a beautiful pink and blue lighting…while music plays in the background. God, this place is so weird. And we haven’t even gotten to the actual corpse yet.”

Then one is taken to another room with another statue of Kim and given audio headsets “which contains a track of an over dramatic man with a British accent telling us how the death of Kim Il-Sung was basically the worst thing to ever happen in the history of mankind.

Finally, it was time to see the Great Leader himself. First, however, we had to be purified, and were led through a chamber with powerful jets of air that blew any specks of dirt off of us American Imperialists. Thoroughly cleansed, we entered a dimly lit room with high ceilings. In the center of the room was a glass coffin containing the body of Kim Il-Sung, which was draped with a blanket so that only the head was visible. In front of us, rows of somber North Koreans bowed before the coffin, under the vigilant gaze of ramrod straight white gloved soldiers clutching their polished Kalashnikovs….Lenin’s Mausoleum truly has nothing on this place.”

Then it is on to another room with a “giant map showing all the places Kim managed to visit during his tenure, as well as his personal rail car and official vehicle.”

And then to another room “filled with all of the “awards” bestowed upon Kim Il-Sung by foreign governments and political parties. Most of them aren’t real awards, but rather trinkets with little value that have been put on display to give North Koreans the impression that their Great Leader was highly respected all over the world…I was quite amused to come across an honorary degree from Kensington University of Glendale, California.”

tourism tunisia

A cursory research of Kensington University reveals it is a fake degree program since eliminated as a fraud degree issuing mill by both the states of California and Hawaii, where it was once located run out of an obscure lawyer’s office in Glendale, California.

Kim Il Sung is not the only high profile dubious dictator to have obtained a degree from Kensington University. Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, since overthrown in a popular revolution and fled the country in January 2011, had a diploma from Kensington University hanging on his wall in his palace–a doctorate in political science awarded in 1999. The university was shut down by the state of California for granting diplomas by mail and having “little or no rigor or credible academic standards.”

The North Korean dictator didn’t go quite as far as the Cambodian dictator Hun Sen, who left school to join Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in the jungle as a teenager. He was awarded an Honorary Ph.D. in Political Science by Hanoi in 1991 and another honorary Ph.D. in Politics from the Southern California University for Professional Studies in the USA in 1995. But his most treasured accolade was when, in 1996, he was presented with an Honorary Ph.D. of Law by Iowa Wesleyan College, USA. He publicly declared that he was now an accredited lawyer and on September 15, 2004, Hun Sen was accepted and sworn in as a member of the Bar Association of Cambodia.

Dong Zong Chairman, Dr. Yap Sin Tian – a controversial Malaysian leader pushing for Chinese education bought his doctorates from the Internet, including a PhD from the Kensington University in 1993 and another doctorate in Business Administration from Kensington University in 1991.

Dr Yap is the chairman of the board of the New Era College. Kensington University has no classrooms, no laboratories, no dormitories, and its so-called campus is housed in a small Glendale office building in California. Students could earn anything from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate – all without ever attending a single class or meeting an instructor, awarding inflated credits for “life experience”.

TOURfakeresumes

The California investigation revealed that students were awarded doctorates for four-months of “work”, by reading magazines and writing short reaction papers, according to the California report that resulted in closure of the diploma mill school by Californian authorities in 1996, whereupon it shifted its operations to Hawaii only to be shut down by the authorities there in 2003. It is also illegal in the State of Texas to use a degree from Kensington University.

Other graduates included Florida State Representative Jennifer Caroll, who was forced to resign from the National Commission on Presidential Scholars after being exposed for having a degree from Kensington University.

These revelations have not sufficiently concerned the Pyongyang government from displaying the degree  awarded to Kim Il-sung, which is displayed alongside his embalmed corpse at his mausoleum in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, in Pyongyang.

Along with the fake Kensington University Doctorate degree, displayed also is a peace medal from Japan, which lies next to his “Medal “For the Victory over Japan”” awarded to him by the USSR. The room is dominated by large paintings and photographs of Kim Il-sung meeting various world leaders during their visits to North Korea and during Kim’s trips abroad, most of which have since been violently overthrown and executed by their own people during popular revolutions, including Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, , Nicolai Ceauşescu of Romania, Erich Honecker of East Germany, Gustáv Husák of former Czechoslovakia, Wojciech Jaruzelski of Poland, Todor Zhivkov of Bulgaria, János Kádár of Hungary, Houari Boumediene of Algeria, and Moktar Ould Daddah of Mauritania.

Other leaders featured prominently at his tomb include Yasser Arafat of Palestine, former Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Konstantin Chernenko, and Mikhail Gorbachev, and other well-known people including Che Guevara, and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Chairman Mao Zedong of China, Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Josip Broz Tito of former Yugoslavia

The 2007 celebration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, Pyongyang

Also on the tourist itinerary is a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, the most heavily mined piece of real estate on earth. The four lane highway typically has virtually no other vehicles. It is in fact a hundred kilometer long military air landing strip.

The leading European tour group is the British, excellently run Koryo Tours (koryogroup.com). Koryo Tours makes very clear what the prerequisites and terms of visiting are. Under a section titled “RULES”, the tour group says: “Please be aware that whilst we do the utmost for our tourists you are under very strict regulations as to what you can and cannot do and this is not negotiable. For example; you are not free to wander around on your own, there are photographic restrictions and video cameras are generally prohibited….WE CANNOT TAKE JOURNALISTS INTO THE DPRK. We therefore ask all journalists to notify us of their position so we can suggest other alternatives.”

They continue: “It is therefore only advisable visiting the DPRK if you can tolerate the following points:

1) In the DPRK you will be under close scrutiny from the guides and security. Use of cameras causes the majority of problems. You can only take a photograph of what the guides allow. The public are obliged to report all photography. Taking photos of soldiers, at check points, poverty, sneaked photos and close ups of people without their express permission will cause serious problems. Photography when being driven around is also restricted….DPRK regulations state that you cannot take a lens over 150 mm into the country.”

2) Leaving the hotel without the guides or the guides’ express permission is not possible. If you are feelng the need for ‘a breath of air’ then a casual stroll along the river is possible but only if accompanied with a guide. It is possible to stroll in the grounds of the hotel but please ask the guide and do not take your camera.

3) We are ‘invited’ to the DPRK and therefore we ask our tourists to respect the Koreans and their vision of the Great Leader – this involves bowing at the 20 meter statue on Mansudae and on various other occasions. Chewing gum, eating sweets and wearing scruffy clothing in places of Korean national importance (such as Mansudae statue to Kim Il Sung, the Friendship Exhibition and Manyongdae birthplace of Kim Il Sung) will offend guides.

The tour company reemphasizes the point again and again: “If any of the above poses a problem it is advisable not to visit the DPRK….”

The number of foreign visitors to the North has grown in the last decade and in 2009, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said “The global popularity of tourism to (North Korea) is booming,” without providing any details or numbers of visitors, citing the reason for the increase as Pyongyang’s “shining, socialist accomplishments” adding “Most tourists gave positive reviews about their experiences in (North Korea) on the internet and other media.”

Here is a list of National holidays:

January 1st – New Year’s Day

February 16th – Comrade Kim Jong Il’s birthday (1942)

April 15th – President Kim Il Sung’s Birthday (1912)

May 1st – May Day, International holiday of Workers

July 8th 1994 (Juche 83)Memorial day of the death of Kim Il Sung

July 27th 1953 Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War 1950-1953)

August 15th – National Liberation Day (1945)

September 9th – Day of the Foundation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (1948)

October 10th – Day of the Foundation of the Workers Party of Korea (1945)

December 27th – Day of the Promulgation of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK (1972)

And here is the list of government recognized “Major Commemoration Days”.

February 20th – Machine Workers’ Day

March 5th – Farmers’ Day

March 8th – International Women’s Day

March 22nd – Fishermen’s Day

April 5th – Public Health Day

April 6th – Reforestation Day

April 8th – Communications Day

April 25th – Korean People’s Army Day

May 11th – Railway Day

May 15th – Geological Survey Day

May 21st – Builders’ Day

June 1st – International Children’s Day

June 6th – Day of the Foundation of Korean Children’s Union

June 7th – Local Industry Day

July 1st – Miners’ Day

July 7th – Coal-Miners’ Day

August 10th – Forestry Workers’ Day

August 20th – Air Force Day

August 28th – Navy Day and Youth Day

September 5th – City Administration Day

September 15th – Commerce Day

October 9th – Metal Workers’ Day

October 14th – Broadcasting Workers’ Day

October 15th – Textile Industry Day

November 1st – Press Day

November 16th – Land and Marine Transport Day

December 6th – Chemical Industry Day

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

26 Jan

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

By Nate Thayer

Air Koryo, North Korea’s official airline, is rated the world’s only one star air carrier. But it is improving. In August, Pyongyang’s promise of being global technological leaders achieved a key milestone, when the national airline announced it would offer online reservations with “convenient reservations day and night”.

The official airline of North Korea now allows international travelers to book one of their eight weekly international flights, which accommodate the global hubs between Pyongyang and Beijing, Pyongyang and Shenyang, China, or Pyongyang and Vladivostok.

Air Koryo says customers can purchase additional room for their “black box” or for their “fat”, according to the Air Koryo website, which is inexplicably down at the moment

There is a hitch though; the airline doesn’t accept credit cards, so one has to use PayPal.

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don't accept credit cards

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don’t accept credit cards

Air Koryo offers scheduled flights from Pyongyang to Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia.

There are a number of independent air travel rating services that rate the service. Skytrax, a company that ranks global air transport gives Air Koryo the only airline on earth a one-star rating that represents “very poor quality performance”.

AirKoryo-620x410 air-koryo-is-not-quality-approved-and-has-1-star-general-ratings-almost-across-the-board-from-skytrax.jpg air-koryos-webpage-is-part-of-the-governments-site-and-theres-not-much-you-can-do-on-it-you-have-to-call-or-email-a-hotmail-address skytrax not quality approved

Air Koryo’s website offers a one way business class fare from Pyongyang to Beijing, if you book online, of $374, which would seem prohibitive to most citizens of the isolated nation where per capita income is estimated at $1,800.

The website Terminal U, which offers “Air travel news & views” recently wrote a detailed pictorial story titled “Flying on North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo: “The zero star airline” by “Our writer, Gunnar Garfors” who “ shares his experiences on board North Korea’s Air Koryo, where he inadvertently discovers the world’s smallest beef burger patty.”

The World's Smallest Hamburger

The World’s Smallest Hamburger

Their crack correspondent Gunner writes: “My favorite airlines are all based in Asia. It just so happens that my least favorite airline is also Asian. North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo offers you nothing that resembles quality on its flights to or from its hub in Pyongyang – but the experience is certainly worth writing home about.”

He continues that “Strange sounds and seat configurations are all part of the experience, as well as the revolutionary-like propaganda music played before and during take-off” and offers a colorful portrait where the stewardesses “wear white gloves and uniforms that must have won fashion awards in the 60s make on board announcements in a formal manner along the lines of: ‘The beverage service is about to commence, thanks to our Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.’”

Reviewers nearly unanimously say that the flight attendants are friendly and efficient, but perfunctory. They earned a 3 star rating for Grooming and Presentation

Gunner then offers his assessment of in flight service, saying he “was given a complimentary copy of “The Pyongyang Times,” North Korea’s only English speaking newspaper. I should point out that in no other country would it be called a “newspaper.”

koryo inflight reading

He then quoted from a story on the World Cup qualifying match between North Korea and South Korea in Seoul. “The match turned into a mess of tricks and swindles. It is as clear as day that this was the product of the Lee Myung Bak [the President of South Korea] clan’s moves of confrontation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the deliberate behavior of the dishonest forces instigated by the clan. We sternly condemn the behavior of the Lee clan, which misbehaves itself in every way in disregard of the nation and the idea of sport, as the anti-reunification and anti-national moves of confrontation with the DPRK and strongly urge the South Korean authorities to bear full responsibility and immediately apologies for the serious incident.”

he attendants pass out a propaganda paper before getting off the ground. Guess who's on the front page

Regarding the meal service, Gunner writes “You will get a tray with calories on it, but whether what’s on the tray can be called ‘food’ is debatable.”

skytrax-rates-the-food-at-1-star-for-economy-and-2-star-for-business-class-most-reviewers-say-that-its-edible-but-nothing-special

Gunner notes correctly that Air Koryo is largely banned from flying to Europe because it doesn’t meet international safety standards, but the Norwegian, whose bio says he “visits over 50 countries a year and is on a mission to visit all 198 countries in the world” and “his wildest journey so far was a trip to five countries on five continents in a single day – a world record” ends on a high note concluding “you won’t find a more unique in-flight experience anywhere else in the world.”

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

In August, 2011, the official state Korean Central News Agency announced that there would be a scheduled Shanghai-Pyongyang air service available on Tuesday and Friday every week, but it turned out the scheduled route was limited to “Chinese volunteers” who wanted to visit North Korea for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

Air Koryo operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Beijing on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  It operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Shenyang on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The flights always originate in Pyongyang and return the same day.

Terminal 2 is nothing special and get's a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)

Business Insider magazine reported last year in a story headlined “On North Korea’s 1-Star Airline, You’ll Be Served One Sad-Looking Hamburger” that Japanese news website RocketNews24 offered a pictorial food review of Air Koryo’s service on Japanese news website and its correspondent, who was travelling economy, was served a hamburger and a cup of juice which “looks totally gross. The worst part? The burger was served cold. RocketNews24 surmises that the microwave is reserved for first-class customers only.”

screenshot via YouTube RocketNews24

RocketNews24 wrote “On our Japanese site, we run a regular column where we review the in-flight meals of airlines around the world. While we’ve yet to bring any of these to our English site, our latest review was just too good to keep to our Japanese readers. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the in-flight meal of North Korea’s state-owned carrier, Air Koryo. The meal under review was served to our correspondent during an economy class flight from North Korea’s Sunan International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport. The contents of the meal included a hamburger and a cup of juice – nothing more, nothing less. The hamburger was topped with 2 thin onion slices and mayonnaise and came in wrapping with Chinese writing on it, suggesting it was made in China. The juice was available in either apple or orange. Regarding the taste of the hamburger, our correspondent tells us that both the buns and hamburger patty were incredibly dry, though this may partly be due to the fact that the hamburger was served to him cold. Our guess is that the microwave is reserved for first-class passengers only.”

hamburger4

Business Insider Magazine wrote in 2011 in a story titled” “North Korea’s Air Koryo Is The Worst Airline In The World” that “there’s only one airline in the world that has been deemed horrible enough to earn a dismal 1-star rating from leading airline reviewer SkyTrax. It’s North Korea’s state-owned airline: Air Koryo.”

In the business magazines airline review it asked: “In an industry already suffering from widespread negative perception, what makes Air Koryo stand out as the very worst? Customer service, food, safety or a little bit of everything?”

They then posted photographs from recent passenger Australian biomedical engineer Mark Fahey on his flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

For your refuses vomit bag

For your refuses vomit bag

The website airlinemeals.com, a service devoted to rating in flight food quality on every commercial air carrier on earth, devotes a whole section to passenger reviews of Air Koryo’s cuisine.

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-08-12

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         n/a

Aircraft:      IL

Meal:          lunch – See the pic. No products are of any known brand or known style: it’s all ‘North Korean’ in style.

Drink:         Water approved by the Great Leader

Comments:           Large portions. The sausages did have hard parts in it (bone?).

Rating (1-10):       5 stars

koryo5meal

In another review the meals slightly improved it seems.

Route: Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-10-01
Flight duration: 1h 30m
Flight class: economy
Ticket price: USD 332.00 (roundtrip)
Aircraft: TU-154
Meal: Lunch – Rice with chicken, potatoes and some orange sauce without much flavor. Also salad, fruit, hardboiled egg, cake, processed cold meat, and bread.
Drink: North Korean orange-like fizzy drink
Comments: This was much more fulfilling than the return flight’s offering. Quality-wise, it’s not bad relatively speaking — typical economy class airline stuff.
Rating (1-10): 7 starskoryo1

In a review a few years later the Pyongyang authorities probably were pleased in the conclusion that the food “was better than you get on any American airliner.”

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2005-10-04

Date added:          2008-05-21

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         USD 332.00 (roundtrip)

Aircraft:      IL-62

Meal:          Breakfast – Some hamburger with a mystery chicken-type meat in the middle, and some overcooked lettuce, as if it had been frozen and microwaved.

Drink:         North Korean draft beer

Comments:           Doesn’t fill you up much. Still better than what you would get on any US airline, though.

Rating (1-10): 5 stars

Although a review the next year fared decidedly worse:

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2009-10-01

Date added:          2010-03-12

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU-154

Meal:          Hot lunch – mystery chicken, canned fruit, nothing special.

Drink:         I had decent bottled water

Comments:           Since this flight originated in Beijing, the food was at least identifiable. On the return flight which originated in Pyongyang, it was quite different and even more of a mystery… it was a roll with some kind of mystery pate on it

 

Air Koryo's Ilyushin Il-62

B y 2010, it appeared airline frequent flyers were getting used to bland fare:

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2009-09-10

Date added:          2010-05-08

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          business

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU154

Meal:          Airkoryo.jpg Typical Korean (North) meal…

Drink:         “Orange Drink with Pulp” (their words)

Comments:           Airkoryo3.jpg – Blanched peanuts and “Orange Drink with Pulp”

On the aviation forum airliners.net, which bills itself as the wings of the web”, Gialloboy from Ireland posted on September 3, 2012 on his trip from Beijing to Pyongyang. “Woke up Tuesday morning with a rather bad hangover but managed to drag myself in the shower and ultimately into a cab to Beijing airport. Traffic was not too bad for a change and I arrived in Terminal 2 within 30 minutes. Did some last minute email (no Internet in the DPRK!) and drank some Isotonic drinks which made me feel a lot better.” The Irish lad offered copious detail for the frequent Pyongyang flyers that were to follow him. “Terminal 2 is nothing special and get’s a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)”

koryo4

“At 11 am I made my way past security and on towards Air Koryo’s check in. They actually have a separate J checkin and I had my boarding card and lounge pass within 60 seconds. Funny thing is that Korean Air operates check in desks for their flight to Seoul in the very next row of desks! Check in desk (used for J PAX). Went past immigration and visited the lounge. Air Koryo uses the Air China lounge which is again used by Korean Air! ”

“Boarded quickly and settled into my comfy J seat. There are three rows in a 2-2 configuration; I was in row 2 and next to a quite friendly Danish businessman. We had some good conversation about his frequent trips to Pyongyang.

the-seatbelt-sign-is-old-school

Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside Air Koryo planes so all shots are “sneaked”, the Danish businessman acted as my “wingman” and kept an eye on the FAs. There had been cases of travelers made to delete all of their pictures so I was extra careful. Air Koryo J class snaps, rather stylish and nice. I have no idea why they score only 1 star on Skytrax, I thought they were rather adequate for a 2 hour flight and probably offered more comfort than some US airlines.”

but-see-all-that-smoke-its-water-vapor-coming-from-the-air-conditioning-outlets-explained-fahey-on-flickr-it-was-as-if-they-had-a-fog-machine-running-in-the-cabin

“Despite the flight being only 120 minutes we got a full meal, consisting of cold cuts and curry. Not bad at all! drinks were served also with a choice of water, soft drink and beer. Meal was followed by coffee. Note there was no milk, as everywhere in North Korea. Only powdered cream. FA consisted of a patriotic North Korean film: Thanks were paid to the Great Leader when we entered DPRK airspace and shortly after we touched down in FNJ. Surely this airport has one of the longest taxies anywhere in the world.

The TU204 at home base in FNJ”

Then the Irishman landed in Pyongyang.

1-6

“Arrivals is pretty new, the old Soviet style terminal has been bulldozed to the ground. We were in within 30 minutes and they had our mobile phonesJ.”

Busy day in FNJ!

Busy day in FNJ!

Into town and first stop Arch of Triumph: People were training for the upcoming torch parade on Kim Il Sung square

air-koryo-actually-hasnt-had-an-incident-since-2006-when-a-plane-ran-off-a-runway-and-hasnt-had-any-fatalities-since-1983

The Irishman had a few comments on the discussion board: “Quoting theobcman (Reply 5):

“Also when you say they took your mobile phones at the airport, then what happens? Do they keep them until your return flight?”

He replied “You get the phone back when you are about to leave the country.”

Another intrepid traveler inquired “Is milk is not available in DPRK at all?”

139287-north-korea-s-flagship-airline-air-koryo-to-pyongyang

Our Celtic correspondent helpfully explained “Not really, if anything else most Asians are lactose intolerant so there is not much of a demand for milk to begin with. Second dairy is very resource intensive to make, something the DPRK does not have a lot of.”

Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Spills The True Story on North Korea Visit: Puts to Shame Free Press, Dad, and U.S. Government

20 Jan

Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Spills The True Story on North Korea Visit: Puts to Shame Free Press, Dad, and U.S. Government

By Nate Thayer

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt may now regret inviting his 19 year old teenage daughter, Sophie Schmidt, along on his world headline grabbing, secretive trip to North Korea last week.

Sophie Schmidt was one of the nine members of the high powered delegation which included her dad, representing the world’s most prominent powerhouse, Google corporation, in the new internet age of borderless, free, uncensored flow of  information to the most restricted closed and censored society on earth. Other members included her dad, former U.S. presidential candidate, Ambassador to the United Nations and governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and other powerful but very tight lipped hi tech and government types.

Together they have revealed virtually nothing of the purpose, encounters, impressions, and success of the trip to North Korea.

Cartoon posted by hid daughter on blog post writing about her trip to North Korea

Cartoon posted by hid daughter on blog post writing about her trip to North Korea

Until teenager Sophie posted a startling frank, detailed, and revealing blog today, accompanied by typical American teenage bluntness and snarky, that blew away the powerful American mucky mucks scripted silence, revealing all the public interest really needed to know.

Now, really, was that so hard?

North Korean ID card of Sophie Schmidt, teenage daughter of Google chief

North Korean ID card of Sophie Schmidt, teenage daughter of Google chief

The quite entertaining and enticing young Ms Schmidt got right to the point.

Titled “It might not get weirder than this”, Sophie’s blog post began with the caveat “ Pro tip: Max browser window (for width), keep scrolling and blame Google Sites (and this two-column structure idea of mine) for limited functionality.  Proper slideshow at the end with larger-version photos. Apologies to folks with f’d up layouts” which was followed by a highlighted note before her incisive and insightful musing on the Google delegation 4 day visit began: “Disclaimer: I am a North Korea amateur and can only share what it’s like to be part of a NK-bound delegation. Straightforward trip report here: no discussion of meeting details or intentions–just some observations.”

She began with a photo of the North Korean Custom form to be filled out upon arrival in Pyongyang. “Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home.  Got it. We carried a ton of cash (USD) since that was the only way to pay for anything.”

 “Do note #1 and #6: leave your "killing device" and "publishing’s of all kinds" at home.  Got it." wrote Ms Schmidt

“Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home. Got it.” wrote Ms Schmidt

She then detailed the ambience of their surroundings. “We also met our handlers, two men from the Foreign Ministry, whom we gave code names. Unusually, both men had lived in the US, in addition to other countries, as embassy staffers…. How on earth do they reconcile the differences they see between their experience abroad and what they’d always been told?” adding “It was a nine-person delegation in total. We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

Ms Schmidt then offered a health warning on how much credibility her observations should be accorded: “#1 Caveat: It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).”

Ms Schmidt captioned thsi photo: "Excellent Caption Opportunity."

Ms Schmidt captioned thsi photo: “Excellent Caption Opportunity.”

Sophie then offered a meteorological assessment and advice for potential visitors who might want to visit the hermit Kingdom. “I can’t express how cold it was. Maybe 10-15 degrees F in the sunshine, not including wind chill.  The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments. It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.”

The Ms. Schmidt blogged on a general impressionistic overview regarding the delegation representing the name which is synonymous with free and unfettered access to information: “Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.  I can’t think of any reaction to that except absolute sympathy.  My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave?  They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.  And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control. The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale. “

She then offered a food review .

“We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests.  Food overall? Solidly decent.  Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?).”

This was followed by rating the hotel accommodations:

“We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open. Since we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks,  the question of how we’d wake up on time in the morning was legitimate.  One person suggested announcing  “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.”

 

Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang as a member of her Dad's high powered delegation

Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang as a member of her Dad’s high powered delegation

Ms Schmidt followed this with a traffic report and an assessment of the local culture: “People there walk very long distances (miles and miles) in sub-zero temperatures, often in the middle of the road.  (Not a problem because there are almost no cars outside the city center.) Conclusion: these people are really, really tough.”

The teenage daughter of the Google chief executive then offered the most empirical and honest observations of the highlight of the world headline grabbing delegation’s visit to Pyongyang—their visit to where North Korean’s access computers and, allegedly, surf the internet.

She posted a picture of  North Koreans using computers which was broadcast worldwide by the Associated Press but given absolutely no explanatory commentary, leaving readers wondering whether these were actually North Koreans using the internet, a capability strictly banned in the country.

She captioned the photograph: “The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village” and then posted this observation below: “Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks.  Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading? All I know is that it. was. freezing.”

The North Korean Compuer capabilties as portrayed to the Google delegation and described by eyewitness 19 year old daughter of Google Chief

The North Korean Compuer capabilties as portrayed to the Google delegation and described by eyewitness 19 year old daughter of Google Chief

She continued with more crucial first hand detail, saying “Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

Then the teenage Ms. Schmidt offered what neither her father or the Associated Press were willing to regarding the technical realities of North Korea in the information age.

“On the tech front: Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers. Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2 million subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption good (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smart phones). North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet.  Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.  On tour at the Korea Computer Center (a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show), they demo’d their latest invention: a tablet, running on Android that had access to the real Internet.  Whether anyone, beyond very select students, high-ranking officials or occasional American delegation tourists, actually gets to use it is unknowable.  We also saw virtual-reality software, video chat platform, musical composition software (?) and other random stuff.”

“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology.  They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”

“Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.”

Ms Schmidt concisely analyzed the trip with remarkable precision and savvy.  “They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.”

She then could not help herself by suppressing her innate teenage snarkiness by concluding her blog with the comment    “We can leave, really? Oh, thank Kim Jong Un!”

“No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.

The end.”

"We can leave now?Oh, thank Kim Jong Un.!"

“We can leave now?Oh, thank Kim Jong Un.!”

googlekju2

“I mean, really: how lucky are they that their new Leader turns out to be a nuclear technology expert, genius computer scientist and shrewd geopolitical strategist? That guy is good at everything.”

Ms Schmidt did a stellar job in representing her country and the new information age, not to mention teenagers everywhere.

And she put to shame the head of the world’s most powerful technology entity, represented by her dad, the U.S. government politicians, represented by Bill Richardson, and the Free Press, represented by the Associated Press, all of whom didn’t have the sense, integrity, and honesty to just cut to the chase and get to the nut of the matter.

If their was a combination Pulitzer prize for citizen journalists, Sophie Schmidt has my nomination.

Sophie Schmidt--Teenage daughter/Citizen Journalist

Sophie Schmidt–Teenage daughter/Citizen Journalist

I suspect that Google head Eric Schmidt is, like fathers of teenage daughters everywhere, both very proud and very exasperated with young Sophie Schmidt tonight.

But I, for one, want to personally thank her for being the first person to substantively inform me what the Google delegations trip to North Korea was really like. Plus, she is very cute.

Now really, was that so hard?

“Capitalism Has No Future” North Korea Announces: “It is a matter of time for Capitalism to disappear from history.”

15 Jan

“Capitalism Has No Future” North Korea Announces: “It is a matter of time for Capitalism to disappear from history.”

North Korea declared in a headline “Capitalism Has No Future”  today in official media, saying “It is a matter of time for capitalism which outlived its days to disappear from the arena of history.”

In a particularly unique and optimistic interpretation of contemporary international ideological and economic systemic trends over the last 30 years, the Korean Central News Agency determined that outside of North Korea, now the most isolated nation on earth, there grows the tendency to estimate Marxism from a new angle. This proves the truth of history that capitalism is bound to go to ruin and socialism is sure to win.

They write that “with the progress in technology whereas an increasing number of the people engaged in mental labor are being hired by capitalists” that “Capitalism is torn with its internal contradiction which makes its doom inescapable.”

“It is none other than the capitalist class and the Western politicians, its mouthpiece, who make desperate efforts to maintain the capitalist system, rendering their ruling system more fascist and politics more reactionary as they are in the grip of an economic crisis,” said the official organ of the government that is unable to provide electricity, heat or sufficient food to its 24 million population.”

‘The capitalist class is massively spreading reactionary and unpopular ideology and culture and corrupt bourgeois lifestyle in a bid to benumb the working masses’ consciousness of independence, make them obedient to the capitalist exploiting system and reduce them to slavers of money. This makes people more ignorant and benighted.”

“The capitalist system is inching closer to its end due to reactionary political life, deformed material life and poor mental and cultural life.


“It is a matter of time for capitalism which outlived its days to disappear from the arena of history.”

AP Exclusive: U.S. News Agency Sells Reputation to North Korea for Access to Exactly No News

2 Jan

AP Exclusive: U.S. News Agency Sells its Former Good Name to Serve as a Propaganda Arm of the World’s Most Repressive Govt in Exchange for Access Which has Produced Exactly  No News and Undermined the Principles of a Free Press

The Associated Press Korea coverage is nothing short of a stain on, and an embarrassment to, the principles of a free press, and it is past time they  cut it out, close their bureau in Pyongyang and apologize.

And I say this as a former AP reporter (who spent a month in North Korea as their correspondent) and was the AP bureau chief in Cambodia–a country whose modern series of governments are as equally as egregious as Pyongyang, albeit minor league amateurs in comparison to the Kim family regime, simply not as accomplished or sophisticated in their thuggery.The Kim family dynastic criminal syndicate which operates currently under the protection and privileges of a recognized nation state, will make Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge look like Mother Theresa when the unspeakable truth comes out what has happened inside North Korea over the last fifty years when they inevitably will implode and collapse.

It is the unspeakable which the AP refuses to speak about–the central moral and professional mandate of its existence–in its coverage of North Korea which is, in itself, unspeakably offensive.

The AP just released an “exclusive” that the head of Google is planning a trip soon to Pyongyang, the only country in the world that has a blanket ban on use of the internet, headlined “APNewsBreak: Google exec chairman to visit NKorea”, datelined Seoul with the byline of correspondent Jean H. Lee.

What is the outrage are the several things missing from the story that violate the most basic ethical standards and AP’s own formal–and now formerly– inviolable ethics, standards and rules, a concept they have repeatedly abandoned when it comes to Korea coverage since opening a “bureau” in Pyongyang last year.

Among the most glaring absences is that there is no mention of, or reference to, any input from AP’s own Pyongyang Bureau in the story, the existence of which is a rank embarrassment and scandal in itself.

AP cut a sweetheart deal with Pyongyang to open the bureau a year ago, the contents of the written contractual arrangement they have kept as tightly secret as if they were a third world dictatorship themselves.

In the year since they opened the bureau, in a pomp and ceremony propaganda excersize orchestrated by the same North Korean government architects that are charged with maintaining  the Kim family dictatorship personality cult, not a single substantive news story has been produced from the AP Pyongyang bureau.

In fact, on numerous occasions, the AP bureaus and their competitors based in other countries have consistently first broken virtually every significant top world North Korean story and informed the world, the AP in Pyongyang remaining entirely in the dark about every important news event happening under their very nose.

These include both the April and December launches of the long range missile tests designed to carry nuclear weapons that can reach the continental U.S., which were first reported by foreign media in Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul, to the purge of the top army commander in July, to a series of stories regarding top personal changes and policy statements.

This is because the AP bureau in Pyongyang is a wholly owned and staffed subsidiary of the the intelligence and propaganda arms of the North Korean regime. The foreign reporters can go nowhere, meet no one, or see nothing without the permission of the Pyongyang government.

In fact, the AP staffers, both the “reporters” and “photographers” are entirely handpicked by the North Korean government and widely known to be nothing short of trained operatives of the regime intelligence services.

The entire function of the bureau is to give credibility to Pyongyang’s rank manipulation of events of import and twist, suppress, or blatantly create a false narrative of the life of North Korean citizens and the conduct, actions, and intent of its brutal elite who are in power.

Regarding this story of the head of Google–a Company whose name is so firmly ubiquitous it is now both a noun and a verb absorbed irrevocably in popular international linguistic usage it is synonymous with the power, good, and importance of freedom of, and free access to, information–visiting Pyongyang, the irony is so rich it would be cut from the script of a third rate daytime TV soap opera.

Specifically, the story made only a comically brief, frightened reference in passing to the most obviously important news of the story that was so transparent one could almost visualize the AP bosses fleeing from the terror of upsetting their Pyongyang choreographers by reporting a truth: That North Korea is the only country on earth that outright bans the entire internet technology that has transformed life in literally every other piece of real estate on the planet. And failed entirely to mention the  fact that North Korean citizens are routinely imprisoned if caught using any communication devices to access information from, or communicate with people in, countries outside the borders of the worlds saddest, most repressive, most despicable gulag posing as a government and given the benefits rights and benefits of a a seat at the table of the rest of the properly organized nation states.

These are facts so ubiquitously known, that is outside the borders of North Korea, and so obvious that a good chunk of the American population that couldn’t name who their own current vice president is are aware of this news. But not if they were forced to rely on the AP for their news and information.

And in a further inexcusable breach of ethics, the AP censored the title of the job of the author of this story, editing out the fact that Ms. Jean Lee is also the “Bureau Chief” of the Pyongyang AP bureau simultaneously with her same function in Seoul–two countries formally at war with each other.

If this story involved any other country, or the AP wasn’t running fully scared of upsetting the Pyongyang authorities, they would have had input from the Pyongyang bureau, obtained some comment from a regime official or, more probably, confirmation of the very country the entire story was the subject of. But not one word. Not even the obligatory “No Pyongyang official could be reached fro comment.
In fact the sources for the entire story were all anonymous, in itself a violation of AP’s own rules requiring two named sources for publishing a story.

But the biggest outrage, among the aforementioned and several more, is buried deep in the story, in a reference  that the Google chief will be merely a member of a delegation with Kun “Tony” Namkung who they say will “also (be) leading the trip” and identified him as “an Asian affairs expert who has made numerous visits to North Korea over the past 25 years. Namkung also has been a consultant to the AP.”

AP made no reference to how Mr Namkung is “an Asian affairs expert” or what he had been in the employ of the AP “consulting” about.

In truth, Mr Namkung is a broker who makes his living taking large amounts of money from people such as the AP and Google in exchange for getting them access to meet with North Korean elite government officials and taking  a cut from business deals being negotiated. In fact, Mr. NamKung was central to the deal negotiated with the Pyongyang propaganda apparatus to open the AP bureau itself, which is so cowed, ineffectual, and counterproductive it is unwilling to shed the most mundane of light on even this what normally would be a wholly innocuous and non controversial news piece.

AP should be ashamed of themselves and quit shilling for the most offensive, oppressive dictatorship in the world and knowingly misleading their readers as part of a deal to pimp for the thugs in power in Pyongyang. Not to mention soiling the reputation of the free press, and by extension, me.

Here is a link to the just released AP story: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gqBQsr0HoEAxofMe8hK-3v5GkDcA?docId=624f23a869cc46f1be68afbc96977083

Somalia Pirates Hijack North Korean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

21 Dec

Somalia Pirates Hijack Norean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

December 20, 2012

By Nate Thayer

Somalia pirates hijacked a North Korean ship on Tuesday only to have second thoughts after the hijackers decided it wasn’t worth the hassle or effort and have turned around and now headed back to a Somalia port to turn themselves in.

Sources told Reuters that security forces guarding the North Korean-flagged vessel were involved in the hijacking of the ship and its 33 crew on the vessel late Tuesday night.

According to local sources, 8 soldiers decided to hijack the ship and after traveling for several hours, the hijackers argued amongst themselves over their decision, some of the men regretted the hijacking. After heated debates, the rogue security forces decided to return the ship and contacted Puntland security officials of their decision.

The MV Daesan, a North Korean ship with a load of cement was seized by Somalia authorities in November after the cargo of cement was rejected by importers in Mogadishu who claimed that it was of inferior quality saying it was wet and unusable. The Somalia purchasers refused to pay or take possession of the order.

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn't worth the hassle

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn’t worth the hassle

The North Korean ship then allegedly dumped the rejected cement at sea.

The ship and its crew of 33 was seized, impounded, and fined last month by Puntland autonomous region authorities on Nov. 17. It has remained in custody and the fine unpaid.

Puntland security officials say two coast guard boats are chaperoning the MV Daesan back into Puntland waters where the case over the MV Daesan dumped 5,000 metric tons of cement 13 nautical miles east of Bossaso coast is still ongoing at the local court.

North Korea, one of the most isolated and poorest countries in the world having its goods rejected as inferior by another of the poorest most rogue nations, Somalia, and then having even its pirates decide that it was not worth the effort to hijack a North Korean ship, was not reported by official Pyongyang media.

The Gulf of Aden has been the focal point of sea piracy in recent years, forcing the ships to stop and pirates boarding, taking the crews hostage, tow the vessels into Somali ports and demand millions of dollars in ransom.

About 3.4 million barrels per day of oil flowed through the choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off of Somalia last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

About 136 hostages taken in the Indian Ocean off Somalia are still being held captive, but the number of hijackings of ships has dropped to seven in the first 11 months of this year compared to 24 in the whole of 2011. NATO records show a fall in pirate activity with no ships hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia for the last six months. NATO is one of the international bodies providing international warships to provide security along the Somali coasts.

Attempted hijackings are also down, suggesting that pirates are concluding that the risk is not worth the effort. Unsuccessful attempts dropped to 36 this year, from 189 in 2010.

A spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau in London was quoted as saying that the ships pirates are able to hijack are often owned by companies that cannot afford to pay a ransom to free the crew.

“The business model is breaking,” Cyrus Mody said, but he noted that piracy seems to be rising on Africa’s West Coast.

The establishment of a new Somalia government, including the election of a parliament and a President, and the appointment of a Prime Minister and a cabinet, has played a major role in decreasing piracy activities. Somalia military forces have recaptured of a number of the ports along the Somali coast in recent months. Somalia’s Supreme Court is reported to have said that pirates seized by international security forces can now be tried inside the country.

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