In part one of this two part series, I talked about our experience in the capital city of North Korea. In this blog post I will be sharing about the second half of our journey. Majon Beach! Pyongyang was quite an experience but Majon is where we really had fun. If you haven't read part one yet check it out before reading the rest of this post!
FROM PYONGYANG TO MAJON
Halfway through our NK trip we left Pyongyang and headed beach-bound to Majon to hold our surf camps. It was about half a days trip to our destination. On our way, we passed by a number of villages where we saw a lot of farmers and cows. We made a few pit stop bathroom breaks and grabbed some tea whenever we could. I was blown away by the beautiful land in the North. I've done my fair share of traveling in the south but haven't seen anything this beautiful outside of Jeju Island. For the most part we were able to photograph anything we wanted besides military and poor villagers on the road. I was too caught up enjoying the beautiful landscape plus I've been taking so many photos up to this point that I didn't bother to take photos during our trek.
We finally arrived to our destination. It had been so long since I've been to a beach that it was literally a breath of fresh air. We unloaded the bus and moved into our respective bungalows. Each were located just above the beach with a nice view from the veranda. The bedroom seemed to be what you would expect from a typical condo. The bathroom however seemed a bit unusual. The tub had already been filled with water and next to it was a red bin also filled with water. The bin contained a metal rod which was plugged into a wall. At first we weren't sure what to make of it but we soon learned that the rod was meant to heat the water in the red bin. In order to shower you needed to use a bucket to mix some of the cool tub water with the heated water from the bin and dump it over your body. Although it may seem inconvenient it was kind of fun and added to the adventure.
LEARNING TO SURF WITH NORTH KOREANS
After a short time of getting settled we migrated to the beach and commenced with this years annual surf camp. We were joined by a group of new guides who became our students for the next five days. Riley led us in an orientation, some stretches, and exercises related to surfing. After learning the "pop up" and figuring out if we were "goofy" or "regular" footed we charged into the chilly ocean water. The waves were virtually non-existent that day but were big enough to carry us back to shore.
Although I have lived in Hawaii for a number of years, I have never actually surfed before. I grew up dreaming about surfing and eventually moved to Hawaii just a few minutes from the beach. Having fantasised about surfing since I was a kid, I decided to wait for that perfect day when all the stars aligned to experience my first wipeout on the ocean shore. That perfect day never came and I learned that sometimes you just got to take opportunities while they are available. Even when conditions don't seem ideal. I eventually moved off the rock kicking myself with regret. I regretted not taking the opportunity to do something I've dreamt of doing for so long while it was within my reach to do so.
So here I am a number of years later in North Korea of all places, learning to surf along with my North Korean brothers and sisters. Crazyyy. Although the waves were tiny we managed to pop up onto our boards and ride them to shore. Luckily for us, the waves grew each day and by our final surf sesh we had some pretty decent sized waves. Riding alongside my new friends on a beautiful beach in North Korea for my first surf experience was beyond anything I could have imagined. Adding to the already awesome experience, Louis and Lane filmed a music video called "Surfin in the DPRK." Although I haven't bboyed in years, you can see me doing some unpolished footwork in the video.
PING PONG WITH THE NORTH KOREANS
One afternoon, we decided to have a ping pong tournament. Most of us were decent but a couple of the North Koreans and Samuel from Finland were quite good. We bought some household items to give away as prizes. Samuel won the tournament but we decided to give all the prizes away to our North Korean friends. At the end of the tournament, the cleaning lady came into the room. As she walked in, we all started to cheer and say thank you to the lady for her hard work. Riley affirmed her and then grabbed a vase full of flowers off of a table and handed it to her. She smiled and teared up. Everyone loves to be appreciated.
ENGAGING WITH THE LOCALS
There were a good number of kids on the beach each day. It must have been the first time they've seen surfing and foreigners in person. It must have been quite a sight for them. We would approach them and encourage them to try riding the boards. Amazingly many of them picked it right up and were surfing in no time. Surfing was amazing, but even more than that I enjoyed the interactions I had with the guides, students, and kids we met on the beach. We had engaging conversations about everything from food, music, dating and relationships to politics and reunification. I was able to communicate with the guides in English as having good English abilities is a requirement to work as a guide in NK. With everyone else I had to mix English with my broken elementary level Korean. Although I sound like a kid when I speak Korean, most Koreans find it endearing.
INTIMATE DISCUSSIONS WITH NK LOCALS
One of the most interesting topics I had with some of the locals was on dating. Two of the girls I spoke to couldn't tell me if they were in a relationship or not. Both of them had arguments with their boyfriends weeks before and hadn't spoken with them since. They didn't know if they were still dating or not and it seemed like they couldn't have cared less. Whether it is a normal approach to relational conflicts or not in the North I do not know but it sure was interesting.
The most memorable conversation I had was with "the surfer chicks of Korea" one night during a duck barbecue on the beach. We had been conversing about different topics and somehow the topic of reunification got brought up. I had been careful not to talk about anything that could be controversial but when one of the girls brought up the topic I felt I had the green light to engage. When I asked them if they wanted reunification, all five of the girls eyes lit up as they replied with an emphatic "Yes!, Of course!." They went on to exclaim that we are one people and should not have to live separately. I was caught off guard by the passion they displayed as we conversed about the topic. I don't know why I expected anything different. Maybe it's because in the South, most people could care less about reunification. In fact many are opposed to it. I was inspired and refreshed to see them speak so passionately about returning to being one Nation undivided.
CELEBRATORY DINNER AND AFFIRMATION
On the last day of our surf camp, we celebrated with a pleasant outdoor dinner near the beach catered by the hotel staff. I forgot to mention that a couple days after we arrived to Majon we had moved to a very nice hotel called the "Majon Bathing Resort" just a few minutes away from our original accommodation. During dinner, a member of our team would stand up and affirm one of the guides/students until each person had received an affirmation. Some of them responded with an affirmation of their own for our team. It was beautiful to see the love and encouragement shared between our team and our NK friends.
MASIKRYONG RESORT AND SAYING GOODBYE
The next day we headed back to Pyongyang for our final evening in NK. On our way, we stopped by Masikryong Ski Resort. I was consistently surprised by how awesome many of their modern facilities were. Being the summer time though it was empty and most of the lights were off which gave it an eerie feeling inside. The lunch was delicious as usual. Many of us especially enjoyed the potatoes. After lunch we would have to part ways with the guides who joined us at Majon. It was a sad time of saying goodbye. It was especially sad knowing that there would be no way to keep in touch with them. We could only hope that we would meet again when we come back the next year. After some hugs, photos, and final goodbyes, we parted ways.
TRANSPARENCY IN A SAFE PLACE
We eventually returned to our gotham-esque hotel in Pyongyang. Something we had been doing during the evenings were meeting together as a group and going over the events of that day. At the end of our meetings, a member of the team would share their story with the rest of the guys. It was the final night of our trip and it was my turn to share. We all have a story and depending on how transparent we choose to be it takes a lot of vulnerability. I'm big on being transparent and sharing the dark parts of your past or present among people you consider safe. I shared with the group and walked away encouraged and feeling closer to the team.
ENOUGH WITH THE PROPAGANDA
The next day we departed the nation some of us feared to visit. I realised many things during our trip. Some of the things I realised: 1. Western propaganda has heavily shaped our views on NK. 2. Although there is a ton of propaganda against Americans in NK, the majority of them don't hate westerners. In fact many of them were attracted to us because we were from the west. 3. As long as you don't do anything stupid like steal a poster or condemn their government you will be safe. And you definitely feel safe while you are in NK. 4. They are passionate about reunification. From what I've heard, the North and South Koreans governments can't come to an agreement on how to reunify. The North wants to be one nation with two governments while the South wants their government to take control of the entire Nation. 5. How similar but how different the North and South are. Korea comes from a very strong confucian background and you can see that on both sides. One of the biggest differences are that North Koreans are not so materialistic while South Koreans are unapologetically some of the most materialistic people in the world.
I would have to say that my trip to North Korea was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I would challenge everyone to do their own individual research on NK instead of blindly trusting the media. This experience has opened my eyes to how brainwashed we are by the media concerning so many things in life especially politics. I'm not saying to turn a blind eye to injustice but rather to stop blindly trusting and being led by the media which is agenda driven. I would encourage anybody to take a trip to NK and experience it for yourself. If you've got any questions about my trip, feel free to ask me in the comment section below! If you want to see more photos from my trip you can check out my instagram @dannyseoul. Thanks for tuning in and have a wonderful day.