Part 1 of 4 on my thoughts about Michael Palin in North Korea

*Screenshot courtesy of YouTube

OCTOBER 1, 2018

National Geographic Channel recently aired a new special on North Korea. After a reported three years of negotiating the terms of the trip, Michael Palin of Monty Python fame traveled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) otherwise known as North Korea.

His tour began in the capital of Pyongyang and was typical of what just about every visitor would experience. The only exception was his timing for the May Day celebrations, which he was able to participate in. I found one scene in that segment very captivating. Well into the celebration, in what can only be described as a tender and unscripted moment, an elderly North Korean man approached Mr. Palin and put a handmade wreath on his head. Shortly after, the man is grabbed by a woman and escorted away, presumably for getting too close to the “foreigner.”

The genuine desire of the man to show kindness to a visitor was striking, as it did not reflect the basic ideas we have of what North Koreans are like. He’d made something with his hands and likely lacking language skills to do or say anything else, he gave what he could. Not something we might expect or imagine a North Korean doing for a visitor. The fact that he was immediately escorted away by the woman was also interesting, as at the same time it pictures exactly what we might expect North Koreans to act like towards foreigners. This entire scene can be summed up in what I like to tell people when asked what it’s like there, “North Korea is everything we think it is and yet nothing like we think it is.”

At the heart though, this was still a person to person interaction. In my experience making nineteen trips to North Korea, I’ve found these types of moments to be not all that unusual when, like Mr. Palin, one travels to the country with the basic concept of meeting North Koreans and interacting with them not as enemies, but as fellow members of humanity. Although we still need to recognize the fact that the country is still not as open as we would like, as reflected in the woman’s actions, we can and I believe should try to have these kinds of interactions with North Koreans. Even though it might seem like a small thing, if we want them to become more open to the rest of the world, then every engagement makes a difference.

If you haven’t seen the special, I’d highly recommend checking it out. You can find it on the National Geographic Channel’s webste

Gabe Segoine

About Gabe Segoine:  President and founder of LNKM and author of Surfing North Korea and Other Stories from Inside,  Gabe has passion to see peace and ultimately unification of the Korean peninsula. He engages NK through various avenues such as humanitarian aid, business and sports-cultural exchange, and endeavors to see beneficial development opportunities change the way NK and the rest of the world interact.  

Tags: North Korea, Michael Palin, Discovery Channel, NK, Michael Palin in North Korea

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