In Pyongyang, the group was instructed not to leave the confines of the high-rise hotel, conveniently (though not for the tourists) isolated on an island in the Taedong River. The visitors were also told not to take photographs of construction sites or unfinished buildings, which guides warned might be used for propaganda purposes outside the country.
In the capital, the visitors were shuttled between tourist sites and monuments — North Korea founder Kim Il Sung’s childhood home; the “Arch of Triumph,” which bears an uncanny resemblance to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe; a monument to Chinese-North Korean friendship; and Kim Il Sung Square, ringed by an art gallery, a library (or “Grand People’s Study House”) and various ministries. Most of the monuments are a safe distance away from normal street life, and even the square was devoid of people other than the tourists.
All meals had to be taken at the hotel buffet, and shopping was restricted to one designated tourist shop, even after some of the Chinese tourists loudly protested that they simply wanted to visit a local restaurant for a bowl of noodles and shop in the local department store.
The government guides explained that mingling with ordinary people was prohibited because North Koreans would not be comfortable speaking with foreigners or having their pictures taken. They at one point angrily scolded a Chinese tourist for trying to give a small packaged sausage to a child standing with his mother, even though both the mother and child were smiling.
Kim Gwang Yun, the North Korean official in charge of the Mount Kumgang resort project, said in an interview that he understood tourists wanted to have contact with the outside world. He said the park area had been designated a “special zone for international tourism,” where foreign visitors would be allowed use of the Internet and e-mail.
“In the near future, it will be possible to come into this zone without visas, and with access to the Internet,” Kim said. “The main goal is to give more international tourists more freedom and convenience.”
Increasing reliance on China
Before the shooting of the tourist, as many as a quarter-million South Korean tourists were visiting Mount Kumgang resort each year, with cash-strapped North Korea making $487 million from Hyundai Asan, according to South Korean media reports. Kim said that from August, when North Korea reopened the resort, through October, about 10,000 tourists had come, the bulk of them from China.
The Pyongyang stop was added for the group that came in from Harbin, but generally the government wants to confine foreign tourists to the special zone, flying them in and out of a closer airport at Wonsan, about a two-hour drive away. The first direct flights from Harbin to Wonsan are scheduled to begin in April or May.