In wake of Trump’s ban on traveling to North Korea, women share stories about visiting Hermit Kingdom

In a photo taken on June 4, 2017 a guide stands before a tourist taking a photo on Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang. (ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the death of a University of Virginia student who made a tourist visit to North Korea and ended up imprisoned in the country for nearly a year and a half, the Trump administration announced last week that it is banning all future visits to the communist dictatorship. In addition to preventing other Americans from being held captive, experts had said the move was meant to prevent North Korea from making money off of American tourists. In response to the news, The New York Times asked readers who had previously visited North Korea to share an account of their trip, and to give their opinion on whether or not they agreed with the ban.

“North Korea was aesthetically even more surreal than I’d expected: very few cars on the road, people hand-painting propaganda billboards, people on their hands and knees working vast dirt fields, Socialist Party uniformed-citizens filling giant stadiums for mandatory sports events,” recalled Rebecca High, a Los Angeles woman who journeyed to North Korea in April to participate in the Pyongyang Marathon. “We happened to be there, without contact to the outside world, the week before Kim Il-sung’s 105th birthday celebrations, during the weekend that President Trump tweeted and the cold war escalated.”

High added that she had been living in South Korea when a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship, and that she decided to join more than 1,000 other foreigners at the marathon to satisfy her curiosity about life inside North Korea. In the wake of her trip, she said, she felt that allowing citizens to visit the country was “one of the best forms of soft diplomacy” and could help to “[crack] open borders.”

Kelly Whitmer, a history professor at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, also took part in the Pyongyang Marathon after her 79-year-old mother-in-law said she planned to participate and asked her to join her. She said she “knew my trip was being carefully curated … yet, I am still glad that I went.” Whitmer spoke about the daily morning occurrence in Pyongyang that she’ll “never forget” and gave her perspective on the Trump administration’s ban on Americans traveling there.

For better or worse, Americans will now have to satisfy their curiosity about life in North Korea from afar.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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