Now I am not a tour group kind of person. I like to make my own way and create my own itinerary, to decide where to go and what to eat. That is not an option in North Korea, where we had government minders every minute we were there. Walking down the main thoroughfare in Pyongyang, I saw a barbershop, and because I needed a haircut, I ducked inside, where an old man sitting on a stool stood up in shock when I started pantomiming the use of scissors with my hands. I was summarily pulled outside by one of our minders. A haircut, he assured me, was not on the agenda.
By 2007, I think, only something like three hundred Americans had been to North Korea since before the Second World War — there was some strange statistic like that. Virtually no Americans had been allowed to go there since General Douglas MacArthur's troops went across in the early 1950s.
It was clear to me that the North Koreans knew that their country needed changing. And it was not hard to understand why. All the North Korean generals, as young officers, thirty years ago, were sent to places like Beijing, Moscow, and Shanghai. Today they go as generals and see the changes that have taken place, and when they return to Pyongyang they say to themselves: Look at what is going on in those places, and now take a look at where we live — nothing has happened here, this place is still a disaster.
The country's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, was educated at a private school in Switzerland. It is very unlikely that a guy who is thirty years old and spent his formative years in Europe is going to come back and say, "Boy, I really like this, with no bars, no entertainment, no cars, no nothing."
These men have been exposed to the outside world, and they know what is going on there. And in my view that is why North Korea is about to open up. And when it does, it will be a formidable player on the world stage. The Chinese are already pouring in. Up in the northwest, they are building new bridges connecting the two countries. There are new trade zones up there. So change is happening.
- Source, Business Insider