Everything Else is Anticlimactic–after N. Korea

Bruce Wallace writes in the LA Times (thanks World Hum) about the trip of a lifetime–to North Korea–for a group of hard core world travelers, including Joe Walker, whose been nearly everywhere else on earch.

“This is definitely the weirdest trip I’ve been on,” he said as the Ilyushin headed back to Beijing. “I would love to go back for another five days. I want to get into the mausoleum to see Kim’s body.

“Everything else is anticlimactic after North Korea,” he said with a sigh.

But I think it’s your obligation as a visitor, and as an American, to leave a good impression,” Walker added. “You have to try to do everything you can to not come across as the Ugly American.”

It is a syndrome he sees frequently in his travels.

“I used to think it was the bad 10% of Americans who ruined it for the other 90%,” Walker said with a rueful smile. “But now I think it’s the bad 50% ruining it for the other 50%.”

Anderson says he sees himself as a diplomat when he travels, trying to win people over one at a time. But trying to strike up a candid conversation with North Korean officials about their lives was frustrating. “We’d buy them drinks at night, and I’m pretty good at being charming,” he said. “But this is the first country I’ve been to — and I’ve been to 125 — where I couldn’t get past the official statements. Nothing worked.”

Perhaps only people as widely traveled can understand the appeal of a city as austere and superficially joyless as Pyongyang. Each of the five understands the instinct to see something different in a world that keeps shaving the edges off its differences and variations.

“These are the only people that really understand me,” Altaffer said of the other travelers. “You get home and you can’t talk to your friends about Pyongyang. They don’t know, they don’t understand, and they don’t care.”