Andrew Lowry

It takes about three days. Then you start dreaming about Kim Jong-un. At Beijing airport, waiting for the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang, you notice men arriving at the gate in cheap shoes and outdated haircuts, mysterious red badges on their lapels. There are no families and there’s none of the weary cheeriness of groups travelling home. The inflight TV shows one thing: a performance by the Moranbong Band, a group of female soldier musicians who are the latest sensation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and were supposedly hand-picked by Kim Jong-un himself. In the video, the audience of senior military men doesn’t react except to applaud whenever their leader appears on the screen behind the band. Warned of the non-negotiable bag searches and strict censorship laws, I’d left my laptop in London – it would have been impounded – and removed any dubious pictures from my phone, which took a while. I don’t know what the customs official made of my trip to Spain and my Kanye West memes, but he certainly wasn’t happy when he went through my wallet. A few months ago, I’d come across some North Korean money, and had kept one note as a curio. The official jumped when he saw what months of sitting in my back pocket had done to the image of his nation’s founder. It’s illegal to destroy or deface an image of Kim Il-sung, and the soldier glared at me. I began to panic, thinking of Otto Warmbier, the student who died after falling into a coma in North Korean custody not long ago, but the official just lovingly smoothed the note out on his desk and waved me on. Maybe he was just fooling with me to pass the time.

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