Rules for visitors in North Korea, part 2

November 10, 2011 by Joshua
in Freedom, NorthKorea

Continuing rules and regulations we faced from yesterday

You may only exchange currency at the official exchange rate, which was about twenty or thirty times worse than the market rate. That is, if we exchanged dollars for North Korean currency at one of the approved sites, we got a certain amount of their currency. If we could walk around the corner and exchange with a private individual, we’d get twenty to thirty times more of their currency.

Nonetheless, we could buy things using dollars, euros, or Chinese Yuan. Everyone we interacted with could exchange them instantly — that is, they knew the exchange rates and were accustomed to the exchange. I didn’t mean for this post to contain deep meaning, but this acceptance of practicality clarified the position of the government. “Yes, we say we hate the United States and say we are better, but we recognize the world accepts its currency and not ours.” There is a lot of meaning in that discrepancy.

You cannot use the internet. Forget about “may” not use it. The country has almost no connections. If no connections exist, you can’t use it.

You may not take pictures of parts of Kim Il Sung. People in other groups had pictures deleted from their cameras that showed only Kim Il Sung’s body where his head was cropped out.

You must attend performances. I’m not sure this counts as a rule. It’s more of a practice. At many dinners and occasions, North Koreans would sing or dance for us. We’d finish a meal and they’d start singing. Or we’d tour a farm and they’d bring us to a performance hall and start performing. The performances were sometimes amazing, though they didn’t show the range of emotions I’m used to, nor did they allow any improvisation or personal expression.

On the other hand, despite all the rules and regulations, our guides were very friendly and accommodating. Despite what they prevented us from doing and seeing we could see a lot from the bus windows or looking out from the sites they did allow us to see. I don’t pretend to know what we missed (see my brief bibliography for more background), but we saw a lot I never would have expected to see.

You may not visit floors of your hotel for the North Koreans. We soon learned our floors had a channel for the BBC and that the floors for our guides did not. In the words of one of our guides, they got plenty of news from the outside world because they got the BBC translated twice a week in their newspapers. We didn’t get any independent verification of the accuracy or comprehensiveness of the coverage. When we did visit other floors, people who saw us firmly escorted back to the elevators.

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