Grace Tu

Grace Tu

Saturday, November 20, 2010

North Korea Adventure V: Maybe you truly are happy 北韓之旅之五: 也許你真的快樂

The first thing we felt when we arrived Pyongyang was that the whole city was gray and desolate. In this biggest city in North Korea almost everyone was dressing in the same color and nothing and nobody was eye-catching. But the tourists seemed to be the only ones who felt uncomfortable about it.

On the main street of the city: two people, a bicycle, a car.

Every subway exit seems to be the hip place to hang out in Pyongyang. But still nothing exciting. The most noticeable was the billboard showing North Korea soldiers and Flag of the Workers' Party of Korea

We were not allowed the opportunity to ride the trolleybuses. Given the power shortages that happens so often in the city, there are plenty of delays. People on the bus were again in similar clothing

And then we saw a group of students in uniforms, singing, marching, waving flags.

When I was in high school in Taiwan we all had to wear uniforms, carry the same backpacks, and we were only allowed short hairs. We all looked like dorks but I never had to worry about wearing better clothes, carrying the more expensive accessories, or having the most fashionable hair cut.

Now I look back and it’s hard for me to make sense of how we did it. But if I focus my memory not on how I looked but how I felt, I have to be honest and say I was truly happy then. Without the image created by what money can buy, we learned to see each other directly and simply as who we are.

I am not saying that I want to be one of them when I saw everyone down the streets of Pyongyang dressing in similar colors and in the same type of coarse cloth. I sympathized with them not being able to afford any nicer things. But I can try to imagine the slightest possibility that they are somewhat happy, since they could ask for nothing more.

Without the same background, I will never be able to tell exactly how they feel unless they tell me just exactly how they feel.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

North Korea Adventure – Part IV: The Loneliest Temple 北韓之旅之四: 最孤單的寺廟

I used to have those dreams I sort of knew was only dreams so I tried to wake up but couldn’t because they felt very real. And in the dream I got frustrated trying to get a clue what exactly was going on, what to believe, who to believe: anything that might get me out of the feelings of uncertainty.

The thing about this trip is that even though I was there with my feet touching their soil, even though I spent every chance I got talking to them, I still couldn’t get the certainty that I was looking for most of the time.

When the tour guide, according to his unchangeable schedule, took us to see the famous temple, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I decided to try to be open minded so he can show me something that says there are religious freedoms in North Korea.

The temple was big and beautiful.


It’s the loneliest temple that I’ve ever been to.

Besides the tour guides and the one monk, the twenty of us spent 40 minute walked through the temple without seeing any other North Korean.

Now, I said I wanted to be open minded. So I’m just going to state some facts first instead of saying what seems to be obvious to some people in my tour immediately: that this trip to the temple was just the government’s way of creating an illusion of religious freedom.

The fact is, during my few days in North Korea, I saw countless portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il in streets, schools, and public buildings. The fact is every North Korean wears the pin of Kim Il-Sung everyday and wherever they go. The fact is in North Korea, children are taught since they were little that Kim Il-Sung came down from heaven and is the saviours of the country. And finally, the fact is I saw no other people in the temple while each day groups and groups of North Korean bow down in front of Kim Il-Sung’s statue.

It seems to me that they wouldn’t have the capability or time to believe in anything else besides their leaders.

I still can’t make a conclusion about whether there are religious freedoms in North Korea because I guess they can argue they choose what they believe and it just happens that the whole country chose to believe in the same religion – their leaders.

Why bother taking us to the loneliest temple? It’s uncomfortable to walk into an illusion, try to believe it’s real, and to find out in the end that it’s only an illusion.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Telus Ad

Telus should definitely contact me for information about Nimo!

Play Night: Playland by Athol Fugard 戲劇之夜: 樂園 by Athol Fugard

A couple of actors, a barren setting, and a single confrontation.

This is by far the most powerful and the most beautiful play I have ever seen.

I watched the actor and felt I could touch his misery, guilt, and despair. When the laughter turned into tears, and when there was finally nothing to hide from one and another, my heart was broken but relieved.

There's hope that at last, life can get going again.

Photo Credit: Ron Reed. Pictured L-R Michael Kopsa, Tom Pickett.

Photo Credit: Ron Reed. Pictured: Tom Pickett.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

North Korea Adventure – Part III: The thousand pots of artificial flowers outside the thousand windows. 北韓旅遊之三: 萬扇窗前的萬盆假花

In North Korea people need permission to everywhere. This probably makes sense for a country whose land is covered by military bases. For foreigners like us, the restriction of course, is even more rigorous. One of the most important tasks for the tour guides in North Korea is to show the foreigners the best of their country. This means even in Pyongyang, the biggest and most prosperous city in North Korea, the twenty of us would have to be followed by six tour guides all the time, just in case we accidentally saw something that does not reflect the best of them.

I have to wonder if every single scene we were able to see was carefully designed. In Pyongyang, we saw pots and pots of blooming flowers on every patio we’ve seen. It was not beautiful; it was extremely bizarre.

When we finally had a chance to take a close-up picture, we confirmed our suspicion that all the flowers were fake.

Were people ordered to place fake flowers on their patios? Or, do they just feel so strongly about showing us how beautiful their city is and choose to place those flowers voluntarily?

I honestly don’t know and I can’t make any assumptions. Who’d know how I’d think or feel or act if I were one of them?

What kind of power or believe it takes to create this kind of peculiar scene? Where else in the world can you see thousand pots of artificial flowers outside the thousand windows?





Thursday, November 4, 2010

North Korea Adventure – Part II: The Bridge that separates the two Worlds. 北韓旅遊之二: 分隔兩個世界的大橋

We arrived at the border city between China and North Korea a day earlier, just to make sure there was no more problem with my visa. That evening we took a walk to the actual border between the two countries: Yalu River, to see the bridge over which our train would cross the next day.

On one side of the bridge there we were, in a city with lights, restaurants, hotels, dancing people. On the other side of the bridge all I saw was a complete silence and darkness.

The middle of the bridge separates the two worlds: One that can pay for electricity and one that cannot afford such a luxury.

鴨綠江大橋的這一端燈火通明 我們牽著手 看著其他情侶放天燈

旅館 餐廳 在水邊跳舞的人們

在另一端 他們連把橋點亮的能力都沒有

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

North Korea Adventure – Before Posting Pictures 朝鮮(北韓)之旅 – 在貼照片前的一些話

I have been trying to write about our trip to North Korea for sometime now, but to be honest, I just did not know how or where to start. If it was for our any other trips, I would just post beautiful pictures and write description under them.

But this time, it’s just complicated. I have to make sure I convey through my words the exact feelings I have. And mind you, those feelings are not easy to be put in words.

I have also decided to write in both English and Chinese, not just because Chinese is my first language, but also because I travelled with a Chinese group in North Korean and many of my original thoughts were formed in Chinese.

I hope through these words and pictures my friends who read my blog can really know more about North Korea and explore what we simply cannot get from watching our news.


我不知道有沒有人和我們一樣 在看今年的世界盃足球賽時被北韓隊感動

我沒有很懂足球 事實上 我沒有很懂任何運動

但是我懂運動家精神 然後我沒有看到任何一個國家隊 有北韓隊的運動家精神


歐洲隊的明星球員過得是甚麼樣得日子 北韓隊的球員呢

我把這問題牢牢記在心裡 在這段旅途中反覆思索

思考是在北韓旅行最需要的東西 否則你看到的只是一個落後的國家

而我在北韓所能感悟到的 絕對不只是這樣