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This is an airline meal. It's not just any airline meal, however; it's a piece of digital imaging and travel history and it was only created this morning.
David Guttenfelder, Chief Photographer in Asia for the AP, is currently in North Korea on assignment and taking advantage of the newly un-banned 3G network to share some Instagrams from daily life, like this seemingly banal image of his in-flight meal on North Korea's state airline, Air Koryo.
We say "seemingly banal," because it's in fact incredibly interesting. For one, has there ever been another digital image like this, instantly shared from an Air Koryo plane, location-tagged to Pyongyang's Airport? The answer is "kind of," as Guttenfelder also posted another of his Air Koryo meals (view the meal & view the plane) 29 weeks ago, but done after the fact and without a geotag.
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So, North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il died this weekendat 8:30am local time on Saturday, to be specific. According to NK state media and CNN, the cause of death is heart attack. The sudden news will start this week with uncertainty, as North Korea enters a period of mourning (until December 29) and South Korea holds emergency government meetings.
Naturally we're thinking about how all this will impact travel, and while weekending in Pyongyang isn't exactly around the corner, the tense situation between North and South Korea will almost certainly end visits to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), at least temporarily.
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So you want to go to North Korea but can't figure out a plausible excuse, hmm? How about golf?! That's right...golf. According to the Wall Street Journal, North Korea is hosting an Amateur Gold Open from April 26-30 and it may not be too late to enter (since we happen to know someone who just did).
The fee is 999 Euro ($1,375), but at least it gets you more than just a few hours' fun of hitting some balls around in the 18-hole Pyongyang Golf Complex; the fee also includes "travel by train into the country from China, visas, meals and accommodation, as well as a 3 day tour of the country." That's 5-star accommodation in Pyongyang, mind you.
North Korean leaders, for all that they've justifiably earned a reputation for insane paranoia, seem to be opening up their country to tourism. Very slowly opening up their country to tourism. Having lifted some restrictions on Americans last January, they've now taken the next step and inaugurated what might become a regular tourist train from neighboring China.
The train is part of a larger itinerary that will take 400 tourists on what we have to assume is an exquisitely planned, government-sanitized four day trip. Heavy restrictions still exist on where any foreigner can go in the country. Travelers can still expect to be corralled into specific foreigner hotels and taken on specific foreigner tours, and under no circumstances should they wander around alone. So much is this the case that the State Department's DPRK page tells US citizens to secure escorts before going to the Swedish Embassywhich is how Americans obtain consular services in North Koreaeven for time-sensitive medical emergencies. It's true that even small delays can be devastating in those circumstances. But finding a guide takes substantially less time than, say, getting out of a Pyongyang jail. Or a rural gulag. Or, most likely, both.
The recession is hitting everyone and every tourist destination quite hard, so much so that North Korea is trying make nice with the United States to get some tourism dollars back into its struggling economy.
Sure, there's that little nuclear weapons issue and that whole 200,000 political prisoners matter, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is willing to let bygones be bygones and allow more Americans into the country. Kim is asking South Korea's Hyundai Group to restart its tours, which crossed over through the North, in an effort to lure in more tourists. But don't expect to do any exploring on your own during these trips. Such tours, which would begin in China and probably go for about about $1,000 to $2,175, would carefully rein in US travelers.
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Who's game for a nice little package trip to North Korea? Anyone? Bueller?
It was announced yesterday that Kim Jong-il is feeling a little neighborly lately and less bomby, and wants to restart family reunion trips from South Korea. Although South Korea hasn't yet said yes to allowing their people to venture over the border, North Korea is re-opening an enclave for reunions at Mount Kumgang, which was once a major money generator for the poor country.