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The first U.S. journalist to study in N. Korea shares experience in his book

The first U.S. journalist to study in N. Korea shares experience in his book

Posted June. 05, 2018 08:13,   

Updated June. 05, 2018 08:13


Travis Jeppesen, 36, was the first American to study in North Korea in 2016. The American writer recalled the time in the most secretive country in the world when he was given “a wake-call at 5 a.m. every morning with a song to remember the country’s founder, where are you, Dear General.”

Jeppesen, who had visited North Korea three times, wanted to know more about the country, so he enrolled at the Kim Hyong Jik University of Education in summer 2016. But the experience in the reclusive country was very stressful. He was followed by two guides every time he was out even though he was an ordinary American citizen. His terrible experience in the country left him a psychological side-effect that he is still confused whether he is being watched. In his book “See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey into Kim Jong Un’s North Korea” published last week, he described what life was really like in North Korea.

In his interview on Sunday (local time) with American media outlets such as The New York Post and Daily Mail, the American writer recounted his time in the isolated country where he saw locals gawk at dogs at the zoo. He said “cats and dogs are caged in zoos,” which was in stark contrast to advertising slogan promoting zoos with more than 6,000 species of animals. It was a moment when he witnessed the harsh reality of the impoverished country.

Jeppesen said the regime’s surveillance on its residents was becoming less strict. One day when watching TV at a government official’s home, the officer pulled the curtains and turned off the news. Then he played a pirated copy of Zootopia. “North Korea is a uniform society but the country is changing day by day, and it starts from fashion,” the American writer said. Men wear short-sleeve shirts of all colors with Rolexes even if most are fakes. The hot fashion for women these days is high heels worn with socks.

As the title suggests, Jeppesen described his life in North Korea to be both terrible and fascinating. He found North Korean people to be very nice and friendly, so he wanted to visit the country again. He went to the country to continue studying for two weeks last year. He still wants to return this year, but he can’t because Americans have been banned from traveling to North Korea after the death of Otto Warmbier. Perhaps the U.S-North Korea summit, if successful, would pave the way for his yet another trip to the country.

Mi-Kyung Jung mickey@donga.com