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更新时间:2017-6-25 10:11:44 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Dangerous Exploits: Otto Warmbier and the Risks of Travel to North Korea

My heart breaks for Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student who died Monday after returning home from North Korea in a vegetative state. His crime: He was young and curious, possibly mischievous and certainly naïve.

22岁的美国学生奥托·瓦姆比尔(Otto Warmbier)让我感到心痛,他在植物人状态下从朝鲜被送回家后,于周一去世了。他的错不过是:年轻、好奇,可能有点淘气,但肯定是太天真。

Mr. Warmbier’s ordeal makes me shudder, not only for his tragic fate but also because less than a year before Mr. Warmbier’s arrest, I had traveled to North Korea. And I had taken my teenage son.


It has become fashionable to treat North Korea as a kitschy joke. Vice, the millennial-focused media company, has made entertaining, snarky videos there. They accompanied Dennis Rodman to see Kim Jong-un, but Mr. Rodman didn’t seem to understand that the trip was a stunt and not Ping-Pong diplomacy. North Korea is not a joke, as Mr. Warmbier’s experience has shown.

外界一直很流行把朝鲜当成一个俗气的玩笑。专注于千禧一代的媒体公司Vice在那里拍摄了一些既娱乐又尖酸的视频。他们陪着丹尼斯·罗德曼(Dennis Rodman)去见金正恩(Kim Jong-un),但罗德曼似乎不认为这趟旅程是一个噱头或乒乓外交。朝鲜不是一个笑话,瓦姆比尔的经历说明了这一点。

Most tourists to North Korea are Chinese. But there are a handful of companies that market North Korean tours to Westerners. They package otherwise dreary trips in cheerful and quirky wrappings, targeting young people who are looking for adventure. The Pyongyang Beer Festival is a typical offering.


But the tour companies are simply agents. Once people cross the border, a North Korean travel bureau takes over, shepherding visitors through fixed itineraries meant to show as little of the impoverished country as possible while bringing in badly needed hard currency. Most people are treated to the same things: stops at socialist-realist monuments and vast, empty squares; cavernous state-owned restaurants serving desultory meals (fried fish, mounds of shredded cabbage), and a brief ride between two stations on Pyongyang’s metro — the only real brush with North Koreans that most visitors ever get.


I had long been curious about the shuttered country.


I booked a private tour of North Korea through one of the agencies.


Things started off-kilter. Hours before we left Hong Kong, I put my passport through the washing machine. It came out curled like a faded denim flower and was still damp when we arrived in China to change to a Russian-built Tupolev plane. A Chinese immigration officer smelled the passport and consulted with his superior before letting me pass. The North Korean immigration officials seemed less suspicious, though the passport looked doctored.


Our North Korean guides met my son and me at the airport: a chatty woman carrying a designer handbag and a taciturn man in a suit, who rarely spoke and was clearly there to listen and observe.


Our guides instructed us not to photograph construction sites, military objects or soldiers, which was a significant constraint in a country where about five out of every 100 people are in uniform. They also instructed us not to cut the legs or heads out of the frame when photographing statues of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il.

导游指示我们不要拍建筑工地、军事建筑或士兵——在一个每100人里就有5人穿制服的国家,这是一个不小的限制。他们也嘱咐我们,在拍朝鲜开国元勋金日成(Kim Il-sung)和他儿子金正日的雕像时,一定要拍全像,不要漏掉腿或头。

We were taken from the airport in a minibus directly to monumental statues of the men, referred to as “the generals,” on Mansu Hill in the center of the city. There, we were warned not to chew gum or stand with our hands in our pockets. We were instructed to buy bouquets of flowers from a kiosk, bow before the statues and lay the flowers at their feet. Only then were we taken to our hotel on an island in the Taedong River, which winds through the center of Pyongyang.


We stayed at the same run-down place as Mr. Warmbier did on his fateful journey — the hotel where most Western tourists are housed. The place was almost empty, but we were warned not to venture unaccompanied beyond the gate or it would “cause problems.” On our first night, our female guide turned back to us as she was leaving and made us to promise that we wouldn’t leave.


We did not leave.


Instead, we spent evenings in the underground entertainment rooms, bowling in the poorly maintained alley (the pins often toppled of their own accord).


We covered quite a bit of ground during our visit, from the northern mountains to the southern demilitarized zone. Though it is forbidden to photograph between cities, I took pictures surreptitiously, much to my son’s consternation. The countryside looks like a lot of places in northern Asia — dry and brown in April — with oxen pulling carts, and few motorized vehicles.


The most striking thing was how well ordered the whitewashed villages were and how every possible piece of arable land — even steep hillsides — had been plowed and planted. Of course, we were on roads open to foreigners: Who’s to say what lay unseen beyond the horizon.


I know that we passed about 10 miles from the Yongbyon nuclear complex on one side and about 25 miles from the notorious labor camp No. 14 on the other. Every request to stop and see something of North Korean life, even shops in the cities, was denied.


As we drove, our guides asked nearly as many questions of me as I did of them. They repeatedly inquired about my work. In my visa application, I said that I managed a translation company in Beijing. It was true to a point; I was the managing director of The New York Times’s Chinese-language operations there, which translates Times stories into Chinese.


Their questions were unsettling, however, and I stuck to my story as much as my smile. They talked a lot about how many spies they have in North Korea, and I realized this wasn’t a game I should be playing with my son by my side.


On the last day, my son asked if we could go back to see the monumental statues of the generals. The guides seemed puzzled, even perturbed, but acquiesced. When we got there, I lost track of our male guide, but he soon joined us. On the way back, he and I fell behind my son and our female guide.


“Why did you want to visit the generals again?” he asked. I explained that because we had begun our trip there, my son wanted to end it there. He fell silent as we approached an outbuilding. “Would you write that down?” he finally asked. I imagined being proffered a guest book where visitors wrote glowing tributes and answered yes.


A man came out of the outbuilding and they conferred. Then the guide said I only needed to tell him the reason again, and he would go inside and explain. I repeated what I had said. Curious, I followed him into the building.


There was no guest book inside, but rather a group of men in military uniforms. They seemed annoyed that I was there and motioned for me to step outside. After a moment, my guide reappeared. “They are satisfied,” he said.


It was then I realized that we had fallen under suspicion. In retrospect, given what happened to Mr. Warmbier, the entire trip was an unnecessary risk. The obfuscation about my identity, my damp and beaten passport, the surreptitiously taken photos — some of them cutting the head off Kim Il-sung — could easily have been used to construe nefarious intent.


On the plane back to China, I picked up a copy of the English-language Pyongyang Daily. “Nukes will put an end to DPRK-US Standoff,” a headline read, referring to the uneasy relationship between the U.S. and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

在返回中国的飞机上,我拿起一份英文版的《平壤日报》(Pyongyang Daily)。“核武器将终结朝美僵局,”其中一篇文章的标题这样写道,指的是美国和朝鲜人民民主共和国此前的不和。

“The DPRK will advance the timetable for the great war.”


A lot of people say I was stupid. But it’s easy to underestimate the danger of a place like North Korea, to feel that it’s not real.


Mr. Warmbier was naïve, and so was I.