My trip to the DMZ was sobering and scary. Imagine signing a waiver that says you you can be killed or tortured. No guarantees. And knowing that two journalists are locked up in a North Korean jail (I went the day before Clinton arrived to free them) doesn’t ease your mind. But I wanted to see North Korea, so I signed the waiver and hopped on the military bus after listening to all the warnings: Don’t wave or point or make any sudden movements in the direction of the North Korean guards. No taking photos in certain places. Stay together in a group.
So I stepped into North Korea inside the building where it was allowed. Then we were herded outside to stand on the steps of a building where we could stare at the North Korean soldiers who were staring at us. One had binoculars trained on us, another a gun. And I had the uncontrollable urge to wave. But I didn’t. I also had a strong desire to step across the concrete barrier no higher than a speed bump and set foot in forbidden territory. I resisted that urge too, but I truly wanted to do it. If I’d known Clinton was coming the following day, I might have. So I was herded back into the bus and driven to other points where I could “see” North Korea, but that’s not the same as experiencing it.
I guess that’s why the writer in me is disappointed. Seeing is not doing. Tasting, feeling, touching–that’s where the real joy in writing comes from. I didn’t fill the deep well within that longs for sensory detail. But I suppose I can imagine what the inside of a North Korean jail is like. Or maybe I can’t. And perhaps that’s just as well.