Grace Tu

Grace Tu

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.


But,


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.

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