Aug 162016
 

With 195 of the 196 countries in the world visited now, I’d like to think I’ve learned at least a little bit about different places. Sure, some of these trips have been less than 24 hours and I’ve only scratched the surface of the country, but even in a short time it’s easy to discover that lots of the misconceptions you might have had about a country before visiting just don’t stand up. So, in no particular order, 14 common misconceptions I’ve recently discovered in my quest to visit every country:

10. Iranians hate Americans. The media in the United States repeats it constantly, and Iran’s government certainly doesn’t do much to dispel this notion. However, it’s hard to wander the streets of Iran for five minutes without someone coming up to you, asking where you’re from, and often inviting you back to their home for tea. I found Iranians to be some of the warmest and most hospitable people I met anywhere in the world, and they’re genuinely curious about how things really are in the United States. Sure, our governments and politicians can be pretty easy to hate on both sides…but on an individual level the vast majority of Iranian people will welcome you with open arms.

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9. Africa is full of disease and hunger. Usually when I tell people who haven’t visited Africa about an upcoming trip, their first questions revolve around what shots/medications I had to get, and how will I find enough safe food to eat. Sure, there are tropical and other diseases that are much more common in Africa (malaria, dengue, even HIV), but that doesn’t mean that walking down the street you’re going to drop dead. Regarding food, yes, there’s not a McDonalds on every corner, but you would be surprised how many places you see KFC! There are, of course, lots of hungry people in Africa, but there are lots of hungry people in the United States as well. …and like Iran, the number of times people insisted I come back to their home and join them for a meal was amazing. People may not always have much, but you’re a guest and they’re happy to share it with you.

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8. People in China are pushy and rude. While it’s true that overall Chinese culture isn’t the same as the west when it comes to queueing this is changing to some degree in larger cities. When people start pushing (such as boarding a plane) it’s not an attempt to be rude, but simply doing what one needs to to not get trampled in a society that views that as a norm. There’s no rudeness intended at all, and firmly holding your ground will be respected.

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7. The Australian Diet Consists of Blooming Onions, Fosters, and Vegemite. In several trips to Australia I’ve never once seen a blooming onion, and all the Australians I know confirm it’s an American invention. As for Fosters, it’s incredibly uncommon and nobody drinks the stuff. Victoria Bitter (VB) is much more the stereotypical beverage and a higher quality beer costs up to $30 for a six pack thanks to taxes. Unfortunately, the vegemite part is true…and is definitely an acquired taste no matter how thinly you spread it and how much butter you use.

…but you can also get kangaroo and crocodile pizza:

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6. Argentina is Nothing but Cowboys, Steaks, and Evita. While it’s true all three play a huge part making up the Argentine identity, there’s so much more to the country. You can’t deny that modern Argentine politics was largely shaped by Peron and Evita, and you’ll find some of the most mouth-watering steaks in the world, but you’ll also find a vibrant international city in Buenos Aires and amazing skiing in the south and west. Oh, and don’t forget the amazing waterfalls at Iguazu and the Casa Rosada at night:

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5. You Can Get By Everywhere in English. While this is more true than it’s ever been, it’s still not universal. In most major world cities you will have no trouble in English (and in most European capitals the quality of English will be astounding) but there are still places where English is extremely limited. In Europe, Spain and Portugal are exceptions, and especially in Brazil you will find almost no english spoken outside the most touristic of places. Similar in China – get off the few major sites and international hotels, and limited to no English. Plus, if you want to see smaller towns you’ll find English much less common. This also goes for Russia and Central Asia outside capital cities. That’s not to say don’t go – most people will be happy to help, and do their best to communicate with you despite the language gap.

4. South Africa is rife with crime. Yes, South Africa is no stranger to both petty and violent crime. Yes, the stories of carjackings and people being robbed at gunpoint on the street are true. However, the same things happen in major American urban centres if you venture into the wrong neighbourhoods at the wrong time of time. Keep to well-trafficked areas, and use the “women, children, and old people rule” and you’ll be fine. The rule means simply if women, old people, and children are out strolling in the area, chances are things are just fine.

Cape Town sunset:

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3. Nigeria is nothing but Investment Scams, Corruption, and Oil Money. Is there corruption in Nigeria? Absolutely, but there’s also amazing beaches and some of the most amazingly warm people in Africa. One day I was sitting on a deserted beach just outside central Lagos, and the next partying at the craziest wedding I’ve ever been to. I found Nigerians to be some of the most fun-loving and happiest people I met in Africa…and they want you to join in the fun! I highly recommend to anyone who has a Nigerian friend they know in the US – try and get yourself an invite and see the real country. It’s an amazing place!

Very festive Nigerian wedding…the theme was obviously pink:

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2. Japan is all Pokemon, Anime, and Cat Cafes. Sure, all three of those things are very modern Japan, and all originated there and have become global phenomenons. At the same time, however, Japan is still a deeply traditional society with traditions and a history that goes back thousands of years. While Western society is certainly very at home in downtown Tokyo (as attested to by Starbucks everywhere), just turn the corner and you’ll find a temple that goes back hundreds of years that young and old alike still visit and respect. I found nowhere in the world where modern and traditional manage to exist side by side quite like in Japan.

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1. The Gulf States are Largely a Vast Desert Full of Camels and People that Despise Western Culture. So, first off, yes, there’s a lot of desert in the Arabian peninsula. It gets extremely hot and dry, and yes, there’s a lot of camels – outside the cities at least. Speaking of the cities, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and especially Qatar and the UAE and littered with enourmous shopping malls full of western brands. Dubai has dozens of Starbucks, Caribou, Tim Hortons, Costa and every other coffee shop known to western man. …and all of them are packed with local men sitting for hours and talking over coffee. Like with Japan, Western culture and convenience have been imported and customized for local tastes. Infrastructure and convenience wise the gulf states are some of the most modern places on earth which in some part is owed to the fact that in many of them (especially Qatar and the UAE) over 75% of the population is expatriates!

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So that’s my list of 10 of my bigger surprises – what has surprised you about places you went? What did you discover that you didn’t expect?

Nov 172015
 

Slept in a little bit, and enjoyed one last breakfast at the Kempinski, complete with several more tasty mongolian dumplings. Had the hotel call a taxi for me, and negotiate the price in advance, so I was able to use the last of my local currency towards the hotel instead of having any leftover since I didn’t expect I’d be back in Mongolia any time soon. It’s probably not a reassuring sign that when leaving your room, this is mounted to the wall right outside your room:

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I was a little worried about my flight, because it had gone from showing as a 737 online to a Dash-8 a week before the flight. Now, as far as I could tell, Air China has no Dash-8s, but at the same time, they stopped selling business class seats even on their own website. I figured whatever was going on, they were going to downsize the plane to something that had less business class seats, so I better get there early.

Given the airport has like three international flights a day, I decided two hours was early, and was actually the second to check in, and no, it’s a 737. Strange. Who knows what was going on, but she confirmed it was sold out, but had no problem accommodating my seat request. No line at all for security or immigration, and it was soon into the holding pen that was shared for the few gates at the airport.

Upstairs in departures there were like four or five duty free shops mostly selling liquor and tobacco, as well as an entire store selling nothing but Chenggis Vodka. Since I decided I probably couldn’t drink an entire bottle in transit, I resisted the urge to bring back this unique souvenir. There are some disadvantages to taking the long way home!

After browsing duty free, I decided to check out the business class lounge. It was pretty packed, and there wasn’t much on offer, except reasonable WiFi, so once connected I actually went back out into the departures lounge (which had much more space) to wait for the flight. Given the plane only held 16 in business, I had no idea where all the people in the business lounge had come from, except maybe if they let Star Alliance Gold members in.

Boarding was right on time, and I was about to have my first experience on Air China!

Air China flight 902
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (ULN) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:05, Flight Time: 2:15
Boeing 737-800 Registration B-5500, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 95,131
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,133,737

Welcome aboard was satisfactory, but unfortunately the bubbles were warm. Ugh.

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The seats were a hideous psychadellic purple, and rather uncomfortable. I tried to move the headrest up to be more comfortable, and this happened. The flight attendants couldn’t get it back on, and the flight was full, so they gave me a choice: fly without a headrest, or middle seat in economy. You can guess which I chose…

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…business, naturally, with hot towels on a plate:

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Offered “Chinese or French wine” you can once again guess which I chose. While the Chinese had a novelty factor, after Mongolian wine on MIAT I went with the safe option…well not TOO safe, because they spilled everywhere while pouring it, including on my shorts. Not even a sorry…

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Starter was described as “duck” and pretty scary. It seemed like some sort of pressed duck coldcut or something…I tried one bite and was definitely unimpressed. The fruit was pretty decent, had flavour, and was mildly juice, so I consider it a success:

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The “beef” entree was pretty bad as well, as was the garlic bread. Overall, I’d rate it up there with United domestic in terms of meal service, but give them extra points for the real china and tablecloth…but take away points for not having a headrest on my seat.

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Short flight, watched a little bit of tv on the iPad, and soon we were arriving into Beijing Airport via the giant smog layer over the city. Right on time, bus gate, but no special bus for business class. It was quite a long walk to transit security and passport check (they do a full passport check for transit, but don’t stamp your passport) and unfortunately it was nearly 25C in the airport. Definitely gross. I was pretty much a sweaty mess by the time I finished formalities, and all I could think of was how good an iced Americano from Starbucks would be.

Asked the nearest airport employee, and yes, there was one about a five to ten minute walk in the opposite direction of the gate. Don’t care…must find nirvana. The Starbucks experience itself was frustrating, stuck behind two young American women who wondered “how much is that in REAL money?” I told them to just use their credit cards, it wasn’t expensive, and I was just anxious to get them moving.

Having procured reliable caffeination, I was left without time to check out the Air China business lounge, but figured I probably wasn’t missing a whole lot. Got to my gate 40 minutes before the flight, and there was no sign of an agent. Finally, 15 minutes before the flight, an agent showed up and an announcement was made – we were moving gates…another 10 minute walk back in the direction I’d come from. It was still sweaty, hot, and gross in the terminal, and my patience at China was running extremely low.

Fortunately, the new gate was a bus gate, and this time there was a business class bus. Interesting security feature, when they scanned your boarding pass at the gate, your picture came up on the screen. I hadn’t noticed, but when transfer immigration was checking boarding passes they also took a picture of you to match things up. Pretty slick system.

Air China flight 115
Beijing, China (PEK) to Hong Kong SAR (HKG)
Depart 15:30, Arrive 19:00, Flight Time: 3:30
Airbus A321-200, Registration B-6363, Manufactured 2008, Seat 3J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,365
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,134,971

Welcome aboard again, and this time with a reasonably cool glass of bubbles:

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There was a Chinese-American older couple seated in the row in front of me, and the gentleman was absolutely hysterical. For pre-departure drinks he asked for “as many small bottles of vodka as you can fit in a glass with two ice cubes” and was told no vodka until we were in the air. He laughed loudly, said something back to them in Chinese and then just said “fine, bring me alcohol.” He found himself incredibly funny, but his lady friend was clearly less than impressed. He leaned over the seats and started talking to me, and was absolutely hysterical. Fortunately he was the friendly funny drinker type, and not the obnoxious drunk, and once airborne settled down.

I tried the “Chinese red wine” which was almost drinkable, and actually better quality than much of the stuff United serves. Plus, warm salted almonds, which unlike United’s which tend to be a bit mushy they were still firm and crunchy:

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Meal served all at once, including some sort of chicken curry which looked vaguely like vomit, but actually tasted really good…I might have eaten the whole thing, including the scary warm salmon snack starter:

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All in all, the flight was exactly what I’d expected. I went into it thinking it would be roughly the quality of a domestic flight in the US, and that’s exactly what it was. The crews were a mixed bag of mildly friendly to downright grouchy just like crews in the US, and the catering was…well, roughly what I would expect for an upscale prison cafeteria or maybe a mid-tier middle school. Well, except the fruit, which was definitely above average, but again…Asia…and I expect that.

Problem on the second flight was…they forgot to load bread! I decided not to eat the butter alone, however, so sadly it went to waste ūüėČ

Three hours went by pretty quickly, arrival in Hong Kong was on-time at a bus gate, and soon it was off to enjoy my rather short 20 hour transit of Hong Kong!

Jul 122015
 

As I mentioned in the last post, after a long day of touring around Pyongyang we were taken to the Number 1 Duck Restaurant, which was promised to be a big treat. Contemplating dinner…and North Korean beer:

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Final evening chat with the variety of interesting characters on the trip:

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After dinner, it was back to the glamourous Koryo Hotel to crash. It was honestly reasonably comfortable, completely clean, even though the mattresses seriously felt like they were filled with straw:

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The uninspired hallways…if you would knock on the walls there were clearly lots of hollow spots in them…we decided there must be secret compartments and one-way mirrors…

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Final breakfast at the Koryo Hotel. What the food made up for in quality and quantity, they certainly tried their hardest with presentation…and bowtied waiters:

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Koryo Hotel lobby…note all the marble. Like old Soviet hotels, it was everywhere. I can’t remember if the pink flowers are Kimilsungia or Kimjongilia:

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Goodbye Koryo Hotel…waiting for the bus to the airport:

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Busy city streets of downtown Pyongyang at 7am:

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One last shot of the two towers of the Koryo Hotel:

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Shot with our “tour guide” by the bus before heading to the airport:

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Unauthorized secret photography on the way to the airport. Lots more people “risking” pictures at this point because, hey, what would they do, deport us?

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Goodbye from the Eternal Leader:

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Very busy day at Pyongyang International, with four flights arriving, including the two charters to take the visiting South Koreans home;

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Waiting area, including a V.I.P. Lounge…unfortunately, they don’t accept Priority Pass…yes I asked…

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Waiting hall…all flights wait in the same room:

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Inspirational reading on the walls while you wait for your flight. I wonder if Kim Il Sung would approve of the Kindle:

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Sympathy might not be the word they wanted:

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Our plane being prepared on the tarmac:

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Walking down the stairs to the bus to take us to our plane:

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So long Pyongyang!

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Boarding…was fun to get a different plane than the first flight!

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Air Koryo flight 221
Pyongyang, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (FNJ) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart 9:30, Arrive 10:00, Flight Time: 90 minutes
Tupolev TU-154B, Registration P-561, Manufactured 1983, Seat 26D

The Air Koryo crew continued to photobomb my pics!

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No doors on the overhead bins this time, just put your bags up and pray!

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On the takeoff roll. You can see all the bags in the overhead, and the flight attendant standing in the aisle and bracing herself by holding onto two seats!

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The Air Koryo burger, and some kind of juice I think. The burger was actually surprisingly edible, but I have absolutely no idea what it contained!

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Final shot of our plane from the gate in Beijing:

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We had a few hours to wait for our connecting flight to Newark, and got some Starbucks in the airport and then just hung out in the lounge. Back then you needed a visa to even transit China, so might as well leave the sterile area of the airport and get some Starbucks while waiting!

Continental Airlines flight 88
Beijing, China (PEK) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart 15:45, Arrive 17:25 Flight Time: 13:45
Boeing 777-200, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 9A

Was absolutely and completely exhausted by this flight, and ended up sleeping a lot of it. So tired I didn’t even think to take any pics of the meal or anything unfortunately.

Continental Airlines flight 1153
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Washington, DC, National (DCA)
Depart 19:00, Arrive 20:15 Flight Time: 1:15
Boeing 737-500, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 5E

Speaking of exhaustion, this is when it hit. Flew economy on the domestic segments because buying first on those would have been hundreds extra, and it wasn’t worth it for such short flights when you could get the bulkhead. Remember the days when Continental flew 737s 10 times a day from DC to Newark?

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and a fantastic opportunity to be part of the first group of Americans to be allowed into North Korea. We got to see a slightly less-polished propaganda machine that wasn’t quite certain what to do with us. I look forward to going back for a much longer trip so I am not so severely jetlagged for most of it, and we can see more sights. Especially would love to take the aviation tour!

Jul 052015
 

After walking around the city for a bit, caught an early morning cab to Beijing airport, where the monitors advertised it was true. Our 11:30 flight really existed, and it seemed we were really going to North Korea!

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Found our group from Koryo Tours clustered around the Air Koryo check-in area, and did quick introductions all around. There were about 25-30 of us, all Americans, since this was a first-time 72 hour tour just for Americans. Check it was reasonably quick, boarding passes in hand, and we set off to explore duty free. But first, we stopped at left luggage to drop off a backpack containing our laptops and cell phones. We were told these wouldn’t be allowed in North Korea, and that we would have to check them at the Pyongyang Airport upon arrival. Rather than subject them to inevitable scrutiny during our visit by North Korean security services, we decided to just check the at Beijing Airport for a few days.

We’d been told it was customary to buy gifts for our tour guides to stay on their good side, and we were told the best gifts to buy were cigarettes, ladies moisturizer, and hand cream. Picked up one of each, included the first and only time I’ve ever bought a carton of cigarettes, and duty free gave us one of those “you may be a winner” scratch off tickets…and figures just when I don’t need to win anything I do…a Ferrari suitcase, lol.

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Cheap plastic, probably worth five dollars, but there was absolutely no way they were going to let me leave without taking it. So, instead, I decided to just haul it with, filled with my duty free stash. A few days later, it would be abandoned in the Pyongyang hotel room.

Got to the gate, where for some reason it had the wrong time for the flight. Note the 07:50 departure time, but the clock reading 11:28. It wasn’t delayed, it was just…a time warp…like everything in North Korea would soon be:

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After a short bus ride, there she was, the aircraft that would take us to North Korea. I was a little shy about taking pictures, but there was no need. Nobody seemed to care:

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Boarded through stairs, and the adventure was set to begin!

Air Koryo flight 222
Beijing, China (PEK) to Pyongyang, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (FNJ)
Depart 11:30, Arrive 14:00, Flight Time: 90 minutes
Ilyushin IL-62M, Registration P-881, Manufactured 1986, Seat 19B

One of the many flight attendants, checking boarding passes and directing people to their seats. One strange part was the 4-5 bulkheads in the plane, dividing it into many identical mini-cabins:

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Waiting to find my seat with fellow American tourists…and photobombed by a very stunned looking flight attendant. Yes, I had 19B. Until this year was probably the last time I’d sat in a middle seat for nearly 10 years:

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Not sure what’s in all those containers, but a rather huge galley area. Clearly reducing weight was no priority when building this plane:

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You sit here:

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Getting suspicious looks for taking so many pics during boarding:

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In-flight, a pic of the main cabin from the washrooms in the back:

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Here comes lunch! Despite being only about 75 minutes in the air, a full lunch was served:

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Quite huge and impressive portions of foodstuffs of dubious origins. The pain was a sweet and sour chicken with pineapple in it, which was pretty good. I don’t remember if the drink was white wine or sparkling wine, but either way quite impressive how much they served. I didn’t want to risk serious intestinal distress in North Korea, so just nibbled at the cake and wine:

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All in all the flight was pretty uneventful, and the Ilyushin-62M was a fascinating experience. Pretty sure I’d been on one previously with Aeroflot in the late 1980s, but don’t have any records from that trip to prove it. The service by Air Koryo was polite and efficient, and considering they were dealing with Americans for probably the first time ever they were all still quite refined and not at all nervous looking.

Immigration was a pretty quick affair, and no passport stamps were offered. Our visa was several sheets of paper with everyones’ pictures and passport details on them, and it was pretty much one large group visa. Several people tried to get passport stamps, but there was no way to do it.

After arrival, milling around outside the airport waiting for our bus…and I still have the Ferrari bag:

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Poster outside the airport advertising the Arirang Mass Games, the event we had all been invited to witness:

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On the way to the hotel in our tour bus, we met our guides Mr Lee and Miss Yang. There was another “guide” who constantly sat in the back of the bus and never spoke to us, and we were told he didn’t speak English. He was, however, quite fond of getting upset and yelling at us frantically in Korean whenever he caught people taking pictures of things we weren’t permitted to photograph. Lee seemed to be quite a nice guy, and was fond of cracking really poor jokes, often related to building nuclear bombs and “America going to go BOOM hah hah” whenever anyone asked him a vaguely military-related question.

First stop on the way to the hotel was the Arch of Triumph, built to honour the Korean resistance to Japanese occupation from 1925-1945. One thing that was hammered into us over and over is no matter how much the North Koreans distrust America (and are going to invade and conquer it) they distrust and dislike Japan a hundred times more. The Arch looks suspiciously like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and is much larger…supposedly the biggest arch in the world:

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Finally, we headed to our hotel, the Koryo Hotel. We had been told to expect the Yanggakdo Hotel, because it’s located on an island and at night they can close the bridge off to prevent you from getting off the island. However, we ended up at the Koryo Hotel instead. Rumour was because the rooms were better…connected…and was better able to monitor suspicious foreign guests. From the outside, it was a rather impressive structure:

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We were given a bit of time to freshen up, before being taken out to dinner. It was described as hotpot, and we were given a plate of raw meet, noodles, and vegetables to cook in the hotpot. This came with several large bottles of North Korea beer, which was actually mildly decent. Never once did I get anything resembling food poisoning on this trip, so the hygiene standards must have been reasonably good:

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After dinner, we were herded back into the bus, jetlagged all to hell since we’d just flown into Beijing the night before, and hurried off to the Arirang Mass Games. We were explained that for tourists there were three types of seats. Standard seats, which if I remember right were like 70 or 80 Euro, better seats right next to the field which were like 250 Euro, and VIP seats which were like 500. Since our guide couldn’t explain what make the VIP seats better, we all went with standard seats. If 500 would have gotten me a photo-op with Kim Jong Il I would have paid it in a heartbeat, but alas. Then, it was time for the main event!

Jun 252015
 

As I mentioned in my previous post, booking two days before the trip I didn’t have a lot of choice on getting to Beijing. I was finding economy fares that were super high, and looked like a middle seat was the best we would do, or we could do business for about twice the price. It remains the single most expensive round-trip ticket I’ve ever purchased for personal use, but like I said I felt like this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus, being in North Korea for less than 72 hours I wanted to be as rested as possible to try and maximize the experience.

Unfortunately, I don’t really remember the details on the flight in great detail, but thanks to my notes I can at least reproduce some of it. Plus, this will be a bit of nostalgia for the good old days before Jeff’s cost-cutting.

Continental Airlines flight 1104
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
Depart ??:??, Arrive ??:?? Flight Time: Approximately 1 hour
Boeing 737-500, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 2F

Unfortunately, don’t remember much about this flight. It was a morning flight, so can pretty much guarantee I enjoyed a diet coke and not much else. I remember when Continental used to run 737s from DCA to EWR…and they were always packed. What happened?!

Enjoyed the Presidents Club in Newark, and soon it was time to board our flight to Beijing. I remember at the time thinking Continental BusinessFirst was a really big deal, and remember it being something like a six or seven course experience. Those days, well, they’re long gone!

Continental Airlines flight 89
Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart ??:??, Arrive ??:?? Flight Time: ??
Boeing 777-200, Registration: ???, Manufactured ????, Seat 10A

I remember this flight being about 80% full in business, but the back mini cabin (I think there used to be five rows in the front cabin, and rows 8-10 were in a separate mini cabin) was less than half full. We had plenty of room to stretch out in our old-school barcaloungers.

For some reason, I didn’t take a pic of the soup, appetizer, salad, or any of the starters, but these were the days service in BusinessFirst was better than anything Jeff gives us in “First” on United these days.

Apparently, I had some chicken and veg for a main, and this reminds me how Continental used to plate the veg and starch from the trolly. Potatoes? Rice? They had multiple options, and you can fully customize the meal. Not sure what’s in the small bowl at the top, but I remember the Ch√Ęteau le Gordon being much better than recent vintage Ch√Ęteau le Jeff!

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Good to know I didn’t miss the ice cream sundae, though I’m not too sure why there’s Kahlua in the pic since I can’t remember ever going through a Kahlua phase. I’m glad to see four cherries though, I’d be disappointed if there weren’t multiples!

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Then I slept. I remember it being a pretty good amount, probably 4-6 hours. Cabin shot here with me enjoying the view out the window. You can see just how empty the back two rows of business were:

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Landed, immigration was a piece of cake, and even getting a taxi to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing, was a piece of cake. We checked in mid-afternoon, and decided to use the little time we had to do a bit of exploring since we hadn’t been to Beijing before and would only have one evening before the flight to North Korea.

Looking jetlagged in front of the Forbidden Palace:

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Changing of the guard ceremony:

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Forbidden Palace all lit up at dusk:

dprk-0067-A-forbidden city gate

For dinner, we walked to the Quanjude duck restaurant. Don’t know how we found it, but they had a counter that indicated they’d served more than 15 million ducks since they opened:

dprk-0070-B-quanjude counter

Our duck, being hygienically carved up table-side…it was absolutely delicious with all the sides, and the waiter showed us how to plate it up and eat it all together.

dprk-0077-quanjude carving jason

Promptly crashed for at least eight hours, and was up way too early. Found Starbucks (do you doubt my abilities to find them, even back them?) and wandered the city just a little longer. Found a countdown to the Beijing Olympics, which were still three years away at that point:

dprk-0094-B-olympic clock jason

The Grand Hyatt:

dprk-0096-B-hyatt beijing

Then, it was time to taxi to the airport and meet up with our group from Koryo Tours for the flight to Pyongyang!