Depositing money to Interactive Brokers from Japan

These instructions are specific to Shinsei but should work with any Japanese account. Replace U000000 with your IB account number.

When you notify interactive brokers (IB) that you would like to deposit Japanese Yen, the only option is to do a wire transfer. As of February 2019, IB gives you the following instructions:

Visit your bank and request the Wire transfer to your IB account.
You must provide the following information to your bank to initiate the Wire transfer.
Bank Name Citibank Japan Ltd.
Bank Address Shin-Marunouchi Building, 5-1, Marunouchi 1-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6520, Japan
Bank Account Name Interactive Brokers LLC.
Bank Account Address Two Pickwick Plaza, Greenwich, CT 06830 USA
Bank Account Number 0159170403
For further benefit to U000000 / Your Account Name

Since wire transfers are generally not free and/or not easy to initiate from your online banking, I have discovered that you can do a domestic transfer to IB instead. Following is the information on how to do it from shinsei online banking.

Remitter's Information* (Optional): U000000
Before remitter's name: YES
Note, on the confirmation page, the Remitter information for me was "U000000MyNameInHalfSizeKatakana". I could not put in the " / " between my IB account number and my IB Account Name (or even a space). In addition, MyNameInHalfSizeKatakana does not match my IB Account Name, however the transfer was still accepted and went into my IB account.

Create a New transfer and select the Beneficiary Bank. Citibank is not one of the common ones, so you will need to type it. You can use their onscreen keyboard to type the first two characters "シテ" (which is "shi" and "te") and when you search there will only be one option, "シティバンク、エヌ・エイ".

For the branch name, in the search box, enter "ト" ("to") and then select the only result, "東京支店". Note that this does not match the information IB provides, nor does it match the branch number (015) at the start of the bank account number, however it worked for me.

Keep the Beneficiary Account Type as フ=普通:Savings Account. The 7 digit Beneficiary Account Number is 9170403 (i.e. the last 7 digits of IB bank account number). For the Beneficiary name I entered "インタラクテイブブロ-カ-ズエルエルシ-".

When I did a transfer before the 14:30 cut off, IB sent me an email to say they had received the money before 16:00 the same day. Of course all this is YMMV - I recommend testing with a small amount of money first!

(Mostly) Germany

Reichstag Building in Berlin. I have no idea how the flags seem to be flying in opposite directions.
For those who don't know, I've decided that travel is not something I want to do anymore. And yet, recently I went to Germany. This was due to the good reasons of 1/ agreeing to go a long time ago, 2/ wanting to see friends and 3/ needing another 90 day tourist visa for Japan. Unlike most trips I've been on in my life, I made no effort to see the must-see sights or organise much of anything (thanks to those who did organise things for me!) Therefore I don't have much to say about the trip at all, but I do have a few photos to share.

First stop Heidelberg since a friend of mine grew up there. Pretty city. Next stop was Freiburg; not pictured. Not that I have anything against it - it was a very pleasant place to play copious amounts of Tichu.
Schloss Heidelberg
Carl Theodor Old Bridge (Alte Brucke)

I was somewhat more touristy in Berlin - here are some highlights.
Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Communs, opposite the New Palace, Potsdam
Reichstag Building again. The sunset was beautiful and
the place is so photogenic it deserves another photo.
Inside the New Palace, Potsdam

By the time we got to Cologne I had outsourced photo taking to my friend Pat or my mobile phone.
Cologne Cathedral. Thanks for the photo Pat!
The sun shone briefly on the Hohenzollern Bridge
over the Rhine River, Cologne.
This is how Lindt Lindor Balls are made,

Ostensibly the purpose of the trip was to go to SPIEL, the board game fair in Essen. The first day there I learnt five new well regarded games and met a couple of famous (to a limited subset of the population) people. Not long into the second day I was sick of trying to find a table to play at and my friends had bought all the games I was interested in playing anyway so went and played them elsewhere.
Opening time at SPIEL
Uwe Rosenberg teaching his new game Glass Road.
Robert Auerochs, the designer of Bremerhaven
watches us play it.

I had a 10 hour stopover in Taiwan and went on this no-money-required half day tour. It was definitely worth it - effortless and I got to see some nationalistic touristy things including Taipei 101 and the Martyrs’ Shrine where the guards not only don't move but also don't blink! during their one hour shifts.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

The Grand People's Study Hall as seen from Juche Tower. On the right is the unfinished Ryugyong Hotel.
I'm going to try and keep this post factual and tell you about the sites I saw while in the DPRK, some of the entertainment we got to experience, as well as what I observed about the people I interacted with, the propaganda and general travelling conditions. I might follow up with a more subjective post with my comments about our tour company and how I now think differently about the world.

Warning: this is long.

Pyongyang City
Pyongyang is a very beautiful and grand city. It reminds me a little of Canberra, in that there are lots of monuments and grand buildings built on along various axes, surrounded by parks and rivers. The grass in particularly is very nice - not surprising given it is tended to by hand and cut with scissors. In order to impress upon you that the structures really are grand, many of them are record holding: the Arch of Triumph (modelled after the one in Paris but the biggest in the world), May Day Stadium (the largest stadium in the world and location of the Arirang Mass Games), Juche Tower (the tallest granite tower in the world), the deepest subway in the world and the Ryugyong Hotel (which would have been the tallest hotel in the world for 20 years if it had ever been completed).

There are quite a few vehicles on the roads (and yes we often saw the famous traffic girls, although never doing robotic movements), saw many people using public transport which was generally quite crowded, and there seem to be far more pedestrian underpasses than are necessary. I didn't experience any power cuts and, contrary to rumour, the city is lit up a night.

Interactive 360° of Pyongyang city from the top of the Juche Tower. Looking down the river to the left you can see our hotel on an island with it's revolving restaurant on top. Directly across the river is Kim Il-sung square and down the river to the right is the May Day Stadium.
Schoolchildren entering the Pyongyang subway.
The end of a shift for one traffic girl.
Typical traffic in Pyongyang.
Most of the sites in the rest of this post are in Pyongyang since that is where we spent most of our time.

Military Parade
July 27 was the 60th anniversary of the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War (known to the rest of the world as the day the armistice agreement of the Korean war was signed), and as such was a typical opportunity for a large DPRK military parade. As tourists, we were not allowed near Kim Il-sung Square where most of the action occurs but we were allowed to stand with the locals a few kilometres away while many military vehicles drove by. According to our guides and other westerners who have been visiting DPRK for many years, this was the first time tourists were allowed to see the parade up close.

As the proceedings in the square started, we crowded into the bowling alley to watch the parade on TV. We had already visited Kim Il-sung Square a few times and had watched some soldiers mark the ground to enable them to stand in perfect formation. The TV showed the classic goose stepping soldiers as well as things we could see in real life - helicopters and fighter jets flying overhead, fireworks (in the day time!) and thousands of tiny parachutes being released.

About an hour later, hundreds of locals started coming down the road. They had been forming part of the backdrop in the square by holding fake flowers of various colours depending on their position and timing to spell slogans. They still had their flowers with them, and many hung around where we were (we didn't know why yet, but it was because of the parade). While they waited many of them bought ice creams from a cart on the street (it was very hot). Some people in our tour group went to buy ice creams too - because foreigners are not allowed to use the local currency, if the street cart didn't have change for our renminbi or euro they would instead give as many ice creams as that amount of change bought, pretty much meaning ice cream for everyone.

About 30 minutes and a sunburn later, the military guys who had been stopping traffic and not allowing us to get too close moved down to the main intersection where two rows of people formed down the sides of the road. I got a spot right in the front and soon it became clear that the parade was actually coming by here. Lots of military vehicles with really excited guys on them were waving at us and they were very close. Sadly I do not know my weapons at all, so probably did not appreciate it as much as others would have. There were trucks pulling various shooting implements, tanks, rockets, and towards the end buses with veterans from the war on them. The tanks in particular spewed a lot of fumes on us and quite a lot of specks of oil too. I ended up with many black blobs on my arms and clothes (which apparently don't wash out easily - I suppose it's a souvenir). Here's just some of the many photos I took.
Marking the pavement in the Square a few days prior

Parachutes falling around Juche Tower
The band and some ladies in traditional dress leaving the square
More Koreans leaving the square with their fake pink and red flowers. The building is an ice skating rink.
Military carrying nuclear symbol.
What's a military parade without tractors?

I mentioned the fumes right?
Avoiding the fumes for a while, I watched from behind the crowd

Arirang Mass Games
This is an amazing dance/gymnastics performance of around 100,000 performers. I don't really know how to describe it, although you can easily find a video of it on the Internet. The performance is largely political, including a scene of a rocket launching, of which the country seems quite proud, and another scene where hundreds of people form the shape of the whole of the Korean peninsula.

I was surprised by all the extra elements of the show - fireworks, strobe lights, and human cannonballs that are attached to fireworks and get caught in a giant net (see it here). I was also surprised that quite a lot of the performance was just carefully choreographed “simple” movements, as opposed to difficult gymnastics, although there was some impressive gymnastics, and even the simple movements are not simple when you consider how many participants there are and how precise they all are. The documentary A State Of Mind which follows two of the performers implied that they train all year, Wikipedia states they practice from January (half a year), and our guide repeatedly said that although they usually practice three months, this year they had only practiced two months even though quite a lot of the show was quite different to previous years (I suspect this statement is along the same lines as the many statements of the Koreans finishing building monuments much faster than was estimated). The show is repeated every night for approximately two months a year, although I believe tourists are only allowed every second night.

Around 30,000 of the performers are school children that sit on the opposite side of the stadium to the audience, each with a flip-book which they flip through with great accuracy during the entire performance and each book is one “pixel” of the backdrop (although each pixel can contain multiple colours). I did sometimes see temporary “broken pixels” :)
The mass games are held in May Day Stadium. This is taken from the revolving restaurant at the top of our hotel.
May Day Stadium up close. It is the world's largest stadium.
I can see one of them not in mid-air at the same time as the rest of them...
Most photos only show about half
of the inside of the stadium. Here
I tried to capture a bit more,
including fireworks and a burning
torch above the stadium.
One of the more odd scenes.
Closer view of the human pixels. Sometimes they would all poke their heads out.
Some real gymnastics
From next to the VIP section. The audience makes up one side of the stadium. Many are dressed in military uniforms. 

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (Mausoleum)
This consists of two separate but similar areas, one for Kim Il Sung and one for Kim Jong Il. You enter the building on a series of travelators, reportedly one kilometre in total length where you listen to a moving piece entitled “Kim Il Sung lives with us forever” and look at many photos (Kim Il Sung always looking personable and happy while Kim Jong Il looks significantly less happy and is usually wearing the same parka). Each of them is placed in their own large room behind glass where an orderly queue of people (us, military people, ladies dressed in traditional clothing) bow three times as we proceed around them (once each side, but not at the head). Following this is a room for all their awards (military, honorary degrees etc - numbering at least in the hundreds) followed by a room with a large wall map showing where they travelled (e.g. by train throughout Russia) and containing their train carriages, cars and a boat. Kim Jong Il's train carriage includes his Macbook Pro reminding you just how recent this history is. No cameras are allowed inside and there is a strict dress code for visiting.
The mausoleum and artificial river.

Mansudae Hill
Mansudae Hill has two giant statues, one of Kim Il Sung and one of Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong Il's statues were all erected after he died, so don't expect any statues of Kim Jong Un any time soon). We had been to a park down the hill from it first thing on our second morning where most of the group had bought flowers to present at the statues. Typically for our trip, the plan for what we would do next constantly changed and our actual visit was put off again and again through the day. When we finally made it at the end of the day the flowers had wilted (and the sun was in a terrible spot for photos).
Korean's bowing at the statues.
Grand People's Study Hall
This impressive looking building situated directly behind Kim Il-sung square is basically a cross between a library and a university. Inside there is, of course, a huge statue of Kim Il Sung. We saw a lecture hall, some classrooms including some where they were teaching English, lots of books and a couple of rooms with computers on. We managed to log onto their terminal server and saw various PDF books ("The_Epidemiology_of_Alimentary_Diseases_Pub2005_Edition1.pdf") and could use their online catalogue system (which seemed legit, search was working appropriately and every link I clicked on worked). Books were grouped into rooms focusing on specific themes such as "Social Sciences" or "Works of President Kim Il Sung and books on his greatness". In one room I saw a student watching an old Hollywood movie (with Korean subtitles). A librarian demonstrated for us a system whereby she could request a book on her computer and it would appear from the room behind her on a little train system.
It was certainly more convincing than stories from previous visitors who said no one was using the computers.
Learning English. Written on the whiteboard is "with joy, happiness" and "by bus".

Pyongyang maternity hospital
A hospital is not the sort of place you might consider an interesting tourist attraction and you'd be absolutely right. We did however, visit it twice (the second time because about a third of our group had not flown in early and had missed it on the first day). We were shown many rooms with various machines that, to my untrained eye, seemed like the sort of thing you would see in a hospital anywhere else in the world. Of course the fact that no other country in the world would show off such machines is another matter. That and the fact that they showed off tanning beds. Many of the rooms (here and all over the DPRK) have one or more red plaques over the doorway listing the date and details of any time one of their leaders entered that room. What we didn't see were any patients and I was beginning to believe that everything was just for show. Eventually I did see two people that maybe were patients - one in a machine (see photo below), and one lady with a child leaving the hospital. But then we were taken to see the babies - there were at least thirty of them and they were definitely real and newborn. No mothers in sight though. We were also shown a set of triplets which the Koreans have some sort of weird obsession with - there was a board showing how many sets of triplets (and quadruplets) had ever been born in the hospital and the gifts that their families received. We were told that triplets were looked after by the state for the first five years of their lives.
The hospital did have these contraptions that would cover
your shoes in plastic bags after stepping into the box.
Definitely real babies
Possibly a patient.

Pyongyang Metro
Another place you may not consider a tourist attraction, but actually this metro is very beautiful. I had also read reports of this being fake and staged but it's definitely not (or else the Koreans are by far the most amazing actors in the entire world). Tickets are very cheap and the ticket gates are open by default (like in Japan) but close if you try and walk through them without using a ticket. The metro consists of two lines with 17 stops. These are all marked on the openstreetmaps map of Pyongyang that I sometimes watched as we drove around the city (yes the GPS on my phone worked fine). We travelled 6 stops from Puhŭng to Kaesŏn at the Arch of Triumph with a brief stop at Yŏnggwang to admire the station. Trains came in both directions every couple of minutes and they were all fairly full. When we boarded the train for the second part of our journey, a teenage girl gave me her seat :)
Puhŭng station. Notice the murals
behind the tracks and at the end of the
station and the chandeliers. All the
platforms we saw were similarly adorned
but with slightly different styles.
Yŏnggwang has fancy columns and a
statue of Kim Il Sung.
Newspapers are displayed on the platforms.

Pyongyang Film Studios
This place is a little outside the city and consists of a number of roads lined with buildings from various countries/eras (e.g. Japan in the 1930s, Korea in feudal times) and some buildings which can represent different locations depending on which side of the building is shot. We were told that this film studio produces 20 films a year, which seems like a lot but maybe possible except that the place was deserted while we were there. We were given the opportunity to dress up in traditional Korean clothes here too.
A street for filming scenes from China.

Monument to the Korean Workers Party
There's a hammer, sickle and brush which stand for various parts of Korean society - you may have noticed them on the flags at the military parade too. And, like at most monuments, we were probably told about the measurements of everything; no doubt something was 2.16 metres in reference to Kim Jong Il's birthday or similar. Anyway the point of this section is to tell you about one person in my tour group who accidentally threw up on the monument. Well, the monument is large (too large to leave in a hurry) and he actually threw up down a drain. But the drain is inside the monument and that was not a very respectful act. So our group sat on the bus for quite a while while our Korean guides went to convince the caretakers it was an accident (in fact quite a lot of people in our group were sick this day) while we teased him about what would happen to him and what we should tell his parents. Actually it was somewhat tense but eventually the situation was smoothed over and we went on our way.

Looking down along the grass from the monument
you first come to the statues at Mansudae Hill
and then the unfinished Ryugyong Hotel.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
This museum was opened by Kim Jong Un on July 27, just a few days before we visited it. The museum has a large section devoted to weapons and vehicles which were captured from the Americans during the war (along with photos from where they were captured often quite gruesome). The museum also has the USS Pueblo, the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive. We were allowed to explore the ship and watched a short documentary about its capture. I didn't know anything about it previously and the story they present is quite reasonable and likely true (but with omissions) - basically, a ship entered DPRK territory, after seizing the ship the crew pretended that it was a research vessel however documents found on board made it obvious that it was in fact spying, eventually the crew wrote confessions (on display) and the US government also wrote and signed a confession, apology, and "gives firm assurance that no U.S. ship will intrude again" at which point the crew is released via the Bridge of No Return at the DMZ. The story as told by Wikipedia is quite different however mostly focusing on the fact that the ship may not have entered DPRK territory, the bad treatment of the crew in DPRK and the verbal statements from the U.S. that the document they were signing was not true.
Many service people visited at the time we did.
And looked around the captured weapons with us.
USS Pueblo
Inside the USS Pueblo

Demilitarized zone (DMZ)
This was quite different to my trip from South Korea (referred to as "south Korea" with a little s in the DPRK) earlier in the year. There was no strict dress code, no strict lines to stand in, and no restrictions on taking photos (except of individuals without their permission), so now I have a photo of the South Korean building, and also the inside of the North Korean building. We did not see any South Korean or US military at all, and were not allowed to enter the joint buildings (apparently tourists from the north have not been allowed to enter them since March). We did however go to the room where the armistice was signed. Here we were shown a faded UN flag that had been left from the signing and told "The flag has faded but the aggression of the Americans has not". Also note that the DPRK flag was not at all faded. There was however very little information given on this tour at all. We did see some signs promoting unification and the armistice room contained a lot of photos and artifacts, including the axe incident, but there was no mention of it from our guides.
The South Korean building in DMZ looking from the north.
Korean War Armistice Room
Crops being grown inside the DMZ. The large DPRK flagpole is in the background.

Nampho Dam
This is an eight kilometre long dam a few hours from Pyongyang. I found the English language documentary we watched about the construction of the dam here fascinating. There was the usual references to Kim Il Sung having visited and offered guidance on particularly tricky bits of the construction but also so much emphasis on how the whole country was behind the building of the dam, and how it had been estimated to be built in N years but in fact was built in N-2 years due to the hard work of the Korean people and how the whole country was proud and celebrated when the construction was finished.
A small portion of the dam.

Rural Korea
We drove into the country side in three different directions. The most obvious thing I noticed was the entire countryside is farmland (other than some very steep hills, and, obviously, the rivers). There are crops growing absolutely everywhere (and I heard the scenery was similar for those who arrived by train through the countryside). The second most obvious thing I noticed was that the roads are overkill. For example, the road to the DMZ is at least four lanes and divided (though not at all smooth) with entrance and exit ramps and yet on the trip there, lasting over two hours we did not see another car on the road at all. To be fair, it was somewhat early on the weekend and the day after a public holiday, but still. We stopped by the side of the road at one point to admire a large reunification statue where I was surprised to see flashing lights along the dividing line and along the sides of the road that were each solar powered.

Unlike many other reports I have read, we were never asked not to take photos and I took quite a lot out of the bus windows. There are also a lot of reports about how poor the countryside is, but I did not find this to be particularly the case (certainly no more so than many other countries I have visited). I was somewhat surprised that there were never individual houses - it seemed like everyone lived in communities and therefore there were a lot of crops without any structures nearby. Close to communities we saw many people walking along roads and a fair number with push bikes, which they often pushed while walking along beside for some reason. I did see one old piece of machinery near some fields, and also saw one person plowing a field with the help of an ox. There was very little work going on though, likely because of the holiday or the time of year (crops were mostly already planted and not yet ready for harvesting).

It rained quite hard while we were having lunch in Kaesong and it became very obvious that the road had no drainage. There was not a lot of traffic but I did see a motorbike drive through an intersection where the water went about half way up the bike.
A community part way between Pyongyang and Kaesong.
The divided road heading to Kaesong and the DMZ.
Kaesong, near where we had lunch.
Phyongsong, a city about 40 minutes north of Pyongyang where we stayed one night.

Other sites
Our days were packed and long (16 hour days) and we saw many other things not yet mentioned here since I don't have particularly interesting stories about them. This included Juche Tower, the Korean People's Gift Museum (we could not visit the International Friendship Exhibition because the roads had been washed out by floods), more monuments, a lookout, an art museum and a few things that I will include photos of:
In case you're still not clear on this: there are statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il everywhere. This will be the last one I include, from the Mansudae Art Studio. I was surprised that a lot of the art was of nature, not of the leaders. We saw three of the artists "working" but all three of them were just slightly changing already finished paintings...
This is the most interesting photo I took at the birthplace of Kim Il Sung.
A couple of the hundreds of busts at the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery. These are the ones in the prime position, specifically Kim Jong-suk, first wife of Kim Il-sung. Four dates are important for them written on the plaque; their birth date, date they joined revolution, date they joined the People's Party, and the date they died.
We visited a few historical sites at Kaesong, the capital of Korea during the Koryo Dynasty, including one of the wood blocks from the Tripitaka Koreana and these tombs that are similar to ones in the south. While I was waiting for our group here a man (the caretaker) was looking at me and I instinctively said “Hi” to him. He suddenly got very embarrassed and eventually said “Thankyou”. Then he pointed to the tombs and said “Okay?” (I took to mean he was asking me if I was impressed by the site). I laughed and replied “Okay”.
A number of sites had display boards covered in photos of various things. This is a photo of a photo of the control room for the North Korean rocket launch. Most photos had great captions (in Korean and English) such as "Kim Il Sung, an ever-victorious and iron-willed commander", "Soldiers of the KPA are firmly determined to annihilate the aggressors without any mercy should a war break out again in their country", and (under a photo of the military parade) "Columns of the KPA mechanized units march past, demonstrating the power of the self-defensive industry of the DPRK."

I was surprised by the amount of entertainment options here, and we got to participate alongside the Koreans at quite a few. We drove past at least three theme parks (the one known as the Fun Fair we visited and it had some pretty good rides), a water park, two ice skating rinks, basketball courts, a skate park, a bowling alley (with at least 20 lanes and pool tables and video games. The place was full but we were able to play one game), and we went to see the symphony (because we missed out on tickets to the circus). The Mass Games could also be mentioned here.

The symphony was very talented. The music was all military style due to it being a performance for Victory Day. Our guide said that the pieces were composed by a few different Korean composers but that sometimes they played western music. She also mentioned that some of them study overseas. None of them wore Kim Il Sung pins, which surprised me. Apparently this is because the pin can sometimes get in the way of playing. The hall they played in was not particularly large but it was beautiful like most classical music venues and worked well even without a sound system. About half the audience was Korean.

We also visited a micro brewery, the Diplomat's club and a pizza restaurant that were probably aimed more at foreigners but there were also Koreans there.
Military men on one of the rides at the Fun Fair.
A water park beside the river.

We were in close proximity with the locals many times; at multiple parks, the Fun Fair, the military parade, the subway etc. In addition we saw many people from the bus window. People were generally pretty well dressed and many women had beautiful sun umbrellas. They all wear a pin with an image of Kim Il Sung (and sometimes also Kim Jong Il) on it over their hearts. Quite a few of the men were dressed in military uniforms and were often in a group but not necessarily working, for example we saw them at the Fun Fair (screaming while on the rides :) ) and at the film studio.

In many of these situations we were generally ignored. For example at the Fun Fair, I sat for a long time on a bench near other Koreans but no one paid any attention to me. Similarly during the military parade I spent a while walking up and down the road (along with many Koreans) and none of them seemed surprised that I was there or cared that I wasn't with my guides. At the parks the locals were generally picnicking, playing music and dancing and were more interested in us. In one of the parks quite a few people from my tour group were dancing with the locals to the drums that a few of the locals were playing. I showed up a bit late and was about to take some photos when a couple of 20-something boys came up to me and asked me where I was from. I ended up having a pretty decent conversation with them (by the end there were about 10 of them, one girl). I said I was from Australia but that wasn't enough detail for them (“but where do you live”) so I told them Tokyo to which they responded “Ahh, Japan” with approving nods. They asked me where others from our group were from and I told them - they seemed a little surprised that there were some Americans (but not hostile) and wanted me to point out who was from England (not sure why and I couldn't find any of them at the time). I told them I programmed computers and they told me they did bio-engineering (a few of them were still studying). They told me they learned English at GPSH (which I expanded out to Grand People's Study Hall - somewhere I had seen people learning English already). We also talked about football (soccer) a bit. They told me Australia was pretty good at it :)
Koreans picnicking in the park.
Koreans dancing in the park.

Our Korean Guides
Our Korean guides (minders) met us at the airport and travelled with us everywhere. They were Ms Pak, 26, with impeccable dress, hair, makeup and (likely fake from China) designer handbags, who explained everything on the trip, and Mr Oh, an older gentleman who was relatively quiet. We also had a full time videographer, who produced a very professional 80 minute video of our trip, a bus driver and a trainee guide who had just graduated.

Contact with the outside world and western products
Ms Pak told us that Koreans were free to travel to other countries. I have no way to verify if that is true except to say that Mr Oh, our other guide, has travelled to a few European countries. We also met a girl with amazing English in one of the restaurants who told us that she had done a study exchange placement in Egypt. There were also Koreans on our flights, including the Taekwon-Do team.

I saw a surprising number of people talking on mobile phones, and taking photos on digital cameras (e.g. at the mass games, or parents taking photos of their kids at the Fun Fair), though not as many as you might see in other countries.

Although Coca-Cola is not officially sold in DPRK, it, and many other western products were available in most of the restaurants we ate at and in the hotel store. Mostly these are imported from China but at least at the pizza restaurant, the Coca-Cola had an Italian label.

At the Fun Fair, someone in our group from the Netherlands spotted a kid in a Netherlands football jersey and got a photo with him.

At the film studio, Ms Pak listed quite a lot of countries that they get movies from. She said they sometimes watch American movies and that she liked Bend It Like Beckham.

Tour companies recommend bringing gifts (e.g. of the duty free variety) for the Korean guides, since western products are hard to come by and prized however I am somewhat sceptical about this due to, for example, the aforementioned designer handbags and a story told to us by our western guide, Chris. He had once told Ms Pak that he had a gift to pass on to her, which he described as “a nice makeup kit”, to which she had replied “What brand?”.

Before I arrived I was led to believe there were anti-American signs all over the country. In fact we saw none (though the souvenir shop at the DMZ did sell some anti-American postcards). The only anti-American thing I can remember hearing was from the guide at the DMZ as mentioned above.

Then there is the Pyongyang Times, an English language newspaper we were given on the plane. To be honest I'm not sure what to make of it, it was so over the top. It reminded me of a primary school newspaper where there isn't much newsworthy and it is put together mostly for the purposes of entertaining the readers. At least, it entertained me. You can read at least some of it online, but when I tried to find my favourite articles that I had taken pictures of I couldn't find them online.

After reading a few issues of this newspaper, I think I can give you a summary of what it is likely to contain. Unlike most newspapers in the world, there are no stories about individuals committing crimes, no complaints about any government policies and no discussions of companies or organisations within the DPRK doing anything unwanted. In fact there is very little current news at all, typically only consisting of the public projects Kim Jong Un visited this week and some recent sporting achievements. Then there will be some articles about events that happened a long time ago but presented somewhat like breaking news (“Wise leadership produced brilliant victory in war” or “Postwar reconstruction planned during war”) - the articles appear even more current because Kim Il Sung is referred to as President, which he is, despite dying almost 20 years ago. There is usually an article about some scientific breakthrough (“Efficient anti-cancer drug developed”), an article about some other country honouring the DPRK or Juche or Kim Il Sung, some articles that do not even pretend to be news (“Oldest apple tree” or “Popular Koryo insam foods”), an article about people in the world who are worse off (“Africa strives to ease food shortage”), an article about why the DPRK needs nukes (from “Where does nuclear threat come from?”: “The US and south Korea have staged nuclear war drills every year since 1969... Under decades long nuclear threat and through its unilateral and abortive denuclearization efforts, the DPRK keenly realized that the best choice was to fight back with nukes.”), and an article saying something bad about something in the south.

Here is a long but fantastic quote from an article entitled “Press backbiting slammed”: “At this time Choson Ilbo [a south Korean newspaper] given to plot breeding and framing is working to build up public opinion in a bid to desecrate the DPRK's supreme dignity... Such a puerile story is only invented by the nasty hacks who have been reduced to a waiting maid of the conservative south Korean authorities and sustain their ignoble lives with incitement of confrontation with the DPRK. The report is a deathbed cry of those terrified by the might of the DPRK where all the service members and people are bringing about new miraculous achievements and upsurge and adding brilliance to its proud war victory, united around their leaders as a single entity... There is no one on earth who will lend an ear to the rubbish of such a reptilian paper. The DPRK, however, will surely settle accounts with it for the sacrilege and make the schemers pay dearly.”

I also find it amusing that whenever they first mention Kim Jong Un in an article, which is often, most of the paragraph is taken up describing who he is i.e. “first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, first chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army”. If only he could be given a simple title like President.

Restrictions on tourists
On our way into the country our phones were looked at (for about thirty seconds in full view of us) and they wrote something down alongside our passport details. Our western guide said this was so they could verify that we also took the phone out with us but it was not checked on the way out. I've mentioned before that we were basically allowed to take photos of anything we wanted (while being cautious around military, and asking for permission from individuals as would be the case in any country) and the photos we took were never looked at.

We were not supposed to go anywhere without our guides except around the island our hotel was on. At least two member of my tour group did go into local “supermarkets” by themselves and both managed to buy something. It was quite frustrating and a little ironic that the Koreans had much more freedom in what they did that we did. While I was standing outside the pizza restaurant (avoiding the loud karaoke), two Korean women showed up in a taxi which I would have loved to take back to the hotel.

Both our flight times were changed last minute and we ended up flying both ways on Air Koryo. Actually people from our tour group arrived on at least three different planes which didn't seem to be a problem. On board in addition to giving us the Pyongyang times, we were also given burgers and drinks. Entertainment on the way in was Korean karaoke videos, but on the flight out there were no announcements made at all (no safety briefing, warning when we would land, welcome and being told the local time etc).

Limited flights mean it's likely you'll fly with someone interesting. We flew in a few days before a major holiday, the same day that the vice president of China (who we didn't see), as well as many diplomats (I met an Australian diplomat staying in our hotel who said he was one of 300 diplomats with about 6 from Australia). Our plane had some diplomats from Iran and Congo on it as well as the DPRK Taekwon-Do team, returning from the ITF World Championships in Bulgaria where they had been very successful (21 gold medals, compared to the next best country, Russia, with 4 gold medals). One of the medals was large enough to require it's own seat.
Our Air Koryo flight pulling into the gate at Beijing Capital Airport.
For all but one night we stayed in the Yanggakdo Hotel on an island in Pyongyang. Given this is apparently the best hotel in the DPRK, I expected more - it is pretty worn (particularly the carpet) but has hot water and electricity and was clean. This is where most tourists stay and when we were there is was full and the elevators in particular couldn't handle that number of people (often we missed breakfast because after 15 minutes we still hadn't got an elevator to the restaurant and the stairs were often locked).

For some reason (that I don't believe but won't go into here) we stayed one night at the Jangsusan Hotel in Phyongsong, a city about 40 minutes north of Pyongyang. It was much more basic - in our room the toilet didn't flush, though we did have a bucket, no shower, though see the aforementioned bucket, and no light in the bathroom.

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