Students' NKorea trip yields book
Journalism students from Baptist University have shed light on North Korea by publishing an account of a five-day visit by about 50 of them to the pariah state last May.
Their book, Post-90s Journalism Students Take on North Korea, published last month by Chung Hwa Book Company, has already sold 1,000 copies. A second edition is being printed.
Ng Ka-ling, a second-year journalism student, said her most poignant experience was chatting with a 20-year-old North Korean flight attendant on their homebound flight to Beijing.
Ng, who was also 20 then, said it was a rare encounter with a North Korean. 'She told me she had flown to Singapore and Beijing, but she was not allowed to leave the plane,' Ng said.
Both women exchanged small gifts. The North Korean gave Ng a keychain, while Ng gave her a railway ticket from Taipei showing a night scene of the city.
'Taipei is beautiful,' the flight attendant said. 'But Pyongyang is the most beautiful.'
The students and their professors, a 58-strong group, underwent a long and complicated visa application process to visit North Korea.
Pyongyang conducted background checks on everyone and asked them repeatedly to state the purpose of their trip, to which they said it was to learn about and report on the country.
The trip was finally approved, just a week before their scheduled departure on May 23.
As the book was being completed, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died, and North Koreans' dramatic expressions of grief were shown on television to a disbelieving world.
Student Hui Yu-ching said the mourning might have been real rather than staged, as many suspected.
'When you are there and you hear Kim Jong-il's name uttered left and right in reverence, you realise this is all they know, and will know from the cradle to the grave,' Hui said. 'We found their behaviour strange, but they would most likely find Hong Kong strange, too.'
Ng said: 'Right before we visited a bronze statue of Kim Il-sung, our tour guide told us to tidy ourselves up, remove our jewellery and act respectfully before going to see the statue.
'That's when I realised how genuine their reverence for the Kim family is,' she said.
Hui said North Koreans walked solemnly in the streets, seldom smiling or talking. 'They walk quietly and briskly with a purpose, and would often stare strangely at us when the group was laughing out loud or taking photos,' she said. 'Many of them avoided our camera lenses.'
Ng said the visitors' mobile phones were confiscated by their tour guide until the end of the trip.
Their cameras were also inspected: officials examined all their photographs before they could take their cameras out of the country.
'I tried to hide my phone in my bag, and tried inserting a different memory card to hide the actual photos I'd taken, but it didn't work,' said Ng. 'I realised how difficult it is to be a journalist in a country with no press freedom.'
As for the food, the visitors dined like royalty - certainly by North Korean standards.
'We were told that our meals were what locals eat during their New Year,' said Ng.