My short bio:

I am Jen, 25 y/o Canadian living in Shanghai, setting up a foreign athletics brand in China. I am an entrepreneur at heart, avid traveller, yogi, shutterbug and foodie. My motto in life is always “to do one thing a day that scares you.” I travel to at least 3-4 international races each year to explore the sights and sounds of a new city while on the run. It's the most authentic when you see a whole city gets behind runners, cheering, clapping, dancing.

I stayed in DPRK for a full week seeing all the Pyongyang monuments, taking part in Kim Il Sung's birthday (biggest dprk holiday of the year), and checking out the countryside in DMZ (world's most militarized area), Kaesong, Sariwon, and Nampur.

My Proof:

Comments: 170 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

Dabee62554 karma

Who is your favorite supreme leader, and why is it Kim Jong-un?

loongstoryshort20 karma

Don't have a favorite given my personal opinion on their policies and treatment of their citizens. But I was surprised to learn that Kim Il Sung overshadows the other two leaders. Every milestone and monument ties back to him entirely. Even though Kim Jong Il is painted as such a distinct figure across international press in recent history, Kim Il Sung's legacy dwarfs over his son's. For starter Kim Il Sung is the eternal president, Kim Jong Il is the eternal general, and Kim Jong Un is only the marshall.

Rizzpooch38 karma

Be honest... did Kim Jung Un really come in first place?

loongstoryshort29 karma

Ha! Surprisingly his presence is actual minimal either than front-covering newspapers and various TV news. For the most part he is not seen anywhere, unlike the other two leaders before him whose portraits are decorated on every public building and structure. So no he didn't even show up for the race!

fuckfuckfuckfuk29 karma

Do you feel you're legitimizing the North Korean government by participating in their arrangements?

loongstoryshort64 karma

I flipflopped on this before going too. The only thing I am legitimizing is the support for NK to open up to the rest of the world, and allowing foreign runners to go in and see it on their own accord was truly a step in that direction. When the race started we ran around the stadium with 50,000 cheering Pyongyang citizens clapping away. I hope NK gov't will bring more of this international perspective to their citizens.

What's more is seeing all the smiling races on the children along the run, looking at us for hope and smiles!

HoochieKoo17 karma

I think this is the right answer. Hopefully this is a small step in NK opening up.

loongstoryshort13 karma

me too, only time will tell!

Pinwurm8 karma

Check out the Vice Documentary on "Basketball Diplomacy". They send some Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to North Korea. They do some spectacles, show local players some tricks, and tour the country.

It's damn interesting because although the US is seen as 'the enemy', sports is a rather universal language. The fans didn't care they came from America - all they cared about was that they were in the presense of talented and respected athletes. These sports expose North Korean Citizens to positive foreign influences - and could lead to healthier diplomatic relations and progress.

skarface64 karma

Until they do their usual shtick and close off entirely. IMO North Korea is only open and hospitable and diplomatic when they want something. Once they get that, they go back to doing whatever they want, however they want.

loongstoryshort6 karma

That by definition is diplomacy no? And which developed/first-world nation doesn't do that already right?

skarface6-2 karma

Haha. Are you saying every developed nation acts like North Korea?

loongstoryshort5 karma

I think be it a first nations country or totalitarian states, there are common foundation to how diplomacy shows up in these governance to get the job done, and judgement comes easy at the eyes of the beholder.

666lumberjack17 karma

How long did you / have you spent in North Korea? What's your favourite part of being there? Least favourite?

You said you're a foodie, what's your absolute favourite dish?

loongstoryshort20 karma

I was there for full week. The marathon was on the Sunday, followed by Kim Il Sung's birthday commemoration on the Tuesday. It was truly an unusual week to visit DPRK. Fav part is running into the stadium for the opening ceremonies to a stadium packed full of 50,000 citizens. Least favorite was seeing soldiers waving kids off away from us with a handgun in hand.

I was so surprised at the food options. Though I am sure we were served way more elaborate meals than the average locals, but the food was not at all as blend as I thought. Funny enough lots of fried chicken, noodle soups and kimchi of course. My fav dishes were duck bbq and bimbimbap!

IllinoisInThisBitch11 karma

What was Pyongyang like?

loongstoryshort21 karma

If I had to summarize it in one sentence, Pyonging is like Beijing in the 1950s stuck in a time warp.

skatyboy10 karma

Were you subjected to the same restrictions as foreign tourists coming to Pyongyang (e.g. being watched by minders nearly 24/7)?

loongstoryshort19 karma

This was one of the special perks of the run, where we ran unguided for the full distance, high-five-ing locals along the way. We couldn't run off tracks surely with soldier on every block, but running at your own pace and interacting with locals was good enough for me!

skatyboy7 karma

Hmm, so were the soldiers guarding the road blocks for the marathon or just doing their guard duties which are irrelevant to the marathon?

If so, did they even care about you interacting with locals (even if it is a simple high five)?

loongstoryshort15 karma

Soldiers were guarding road blocks and helping with directions, but of course their bigger task at hand is to make sure not foreigners or local deviate from where they are supposed to go. High-5s were friendly, even did that with a few soldiers giggling away. To give you an idea, the last 2km runs through the downtown main street into the stadium, and it was literally a non-stop high-5 stretch the whole way down the 2km with packed streets of curious kids and women. Soldiers saw how happy everyone was I suppose.

ananioperim9 karma

Hey Jen,

So what were you scared of then before going, and how did these fears change after your visit? What surprised you the most about North Korea, and were there many other foreigners besides you?

P.S. I love your attitude. I'm full of passion for traveling, "walking in the shoes of another person", and challenging my boundaries, but I'm relatively young and still getting started (financially restricted). To see someone do "crazy" things like that motivates me and reminds me that it's almost always our own mind, not the environment, that stops us from reaching our goals.

loongstoryshort7 karma

Thank you! that's so very kind of you to say.

I was scared that this was all a scam to lure in innocent foreigners who would die by their curiosity actually! But genuinely I was never confronted with a moment that impinged on my personal safety.

We went in a tour group with the Young Pioneers Tour (mandated to visit with a tour group) and most of the participants were all fellow expats living around China too so we had a good time.

I was surprised at a lot actually -- how graceful the women danced, how NKs loved to dance/sing really, how kind and friendly the locals were, how delicious the food was, how polluted the air still was in an isolated country (!), how many taxis there were, how often power outages do actually happen, and how free we were to take footages!

Don't let age/financial means restrict you, if there's truly a will, there's always truly a way :)

sadlittlebunbun7 karma


loongstoryshort5 karma

Ha. Having lived in China for too long I supposed :)

boymeetscurl13 karma

I feel like alot of the grey skies is just a result of the wind blowing the pollution from China. That whole area in the NE is just covered in smog.

loongstoryshort2 karma

That's exactly right. Additionally though NK is also sitting out mountain of coal which they use to power electricity, casuing smog of their own also. It's one of the reasons why it's all clouds and smog on the flight in and you can't see the ground!

what_heroin8 karma

Did you stay the night in Pyongyang? If so how was the room?

loongstoryshort9 karma

I stayed a full week touring the countryside and rest of the capital.

The room was in Yanggadoe Hotel, which is where they put all foreigners on this one hotel isolated on an island. Within the hotel we were free to roam around as we pleased. The basement of hotel felt like soviet-era tunnel dungeons with the dim lighting and low ceilings, but it did host casinos, spa's (awful massage), billiard room, bowling lanes, etc.

The rooms looks like something out of a 1970s movie set with the floor stereo, maroon carpeting, etc. The hotel was actually built in 1995, which leaves me wondering where they got all these backwards furnitures from. The shower tap rained out brown water (literally) at first use, but other than that it was mildly comfortable.

I was told the rooms were tapped, so whispered most of the times while I was in the room, HA!

teracrapto7 karma

I was told the rooms were tapped, so whispered most of the times while I was in the room, HA!

why what were you talking about, and did you poop quietly?

loongstoryshort4 karma

No it's more just being cautious that we don't speak illy of the regime. Imagine you walked around all day seeing cool encounters but you're too cautious to talk about it at day's end in the room.

PointOfFingers5 karma

It sounds like you got better accommodation than visitors to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

So you were given enough freedom to travel and tour and talk to the locals?

loongstoryshort7 karma

Freedom to walk around within the hotel, but anywhere else was strictly with guides apart from the marathon itself.

Accommodation definitely superior to Suchi's. Granted much of the building is decorated in Soviet Era style nonetheless. Then again we couldn't get a hashtag going in NK.... :)

_participation8 karma

How was the medical support?

loongstoryshort10 karma

They had 2-3 ambulances driving around the course, and volunteers at almost every 5km. I actually saw more medical support presence than say races in China, so that was a lovely surprise.

a_grated_monkey8 karma

Do the DPRK people seem to know how big of a laughingstock Kim is sometimes, or is the Glorious Leader still Glorious?

loongstoryshort7 karma

They don't know what they don't know and no can blame them for their innocence.

Through their lense, the leader allowed for them to live freely rent-free, tax-free, with lots of rations for food, theme park admission etc. Pretty utopia on their paper.

lucasyong8 karma

My girlfriend thinks that they probably made everything look more sunshine and rainbows for while you were there. Do you think changes were made to change your perception?

loongstoryshort4 karma

To an extent I am sure. I tried to be as non-biased as possible while on the tour, but it was evident that certain happenings will be staged. For example groups of children in their Sunday's Best equivalent costumes will come streaming down a plaza in perfect formations waving at us insisting for pictures. This happened on a Monday afternoon 2pm when they surely should have been in school.

But this tour in particular was so much more authentic because it's the first time the race had this type of scale and reach. They had minimal prep with last minute details changing the night before the race regarding the race cutoff time even, whether or not we are allowed music, etc. This led me to think that they couldn't have rehearsed much with the citizens since it was a first dry run for the gov't even! Maybe next year's race will be even more choreographed, I hope not.

Dancing in the park with the locals to drums and claps -- that was genuine. Genuine smiles and cheer that you can see on someone's face, lost in music and good company.

lucasyong5 karma

Thank you for the reply! I sometimes feel that the media doesn't depict the situation very accurately. Many people I know think North Korea is one big concentration camp. I believe it is probably worse than many places but not as bad as everyone thinks.

loongstoryshort3 karma

Media is powerful, and it's part of our privilege - and responsibility - to travel to as many of these places as possible to make our own observations then to form our own opinions and actions around the cause.

legalize-drugs7 karma

Did you see any marijuana smoking?

loongstoryshort1 karma

definitely not.


How was your time? I'd assume you must have been blazing fast to finish ahead of the time cutoff. How was the support along the course, could you get gatorade or a similar drink or was it just water?

loongstoryshort5 karma

Lots of water bottles and strange yellow liquids that tasted salty. There was water station maybe every 5km which is pretty standard.

givemegreencard6 karma

"strange yellow liquids that tasted salty"

hmm... the great leader's urine? it will give you a speed boost, according to the Great Leader's Institute of Health Sciences

loongstoryshort3 karma

hope not!

shastikk6 karma

What was North Korea like? Poor? Richer than we thought?

loongstoryshort10 karma

I shouldn't use Hunger Games as an analogy, but it's just that. The capital of Pyongyang is much more well-off, and citizens there just look comparatively backwards and slow to develop, but still well-served. In the countryside or other districts, it's as poor as you would imagine.

wesypoomagoo6 karma

Were the locals hesitant about talking or dealing with you? Also how was there attitude in general? Also how were the living conditions?

loongstoryshort12 karma

Along the run, the locals were as enthusiastic as any citizens cheering for a Boston or NY marathon. They were genuinely kind, rooting us in Korea, and even clapping/dancing for us.

In Pyongyang, I genuinely felt like they were content and happy (particularly on Kim Il Sung's birthday) seeing all the locals drinking and dancing in their parks. Out in the countryside, I saw more of what you'd expect -- guns, military, bloody cheeks, etc. In part, the capital houses party loyalists enjoying rent-free and tax-free haven so I can empathize with their happiness in not knowing what they don't know.

Living conditions involved collective apartments that were so warn out on the outside. Each apartment block looked largely the same, spotting different colors of paint. The locals loved hanging out on the lawns of their collectives, and lots of women were picking grass by hand as part of April's "cleaning month" campaign.

SerpentineLogic2 karma

bloody cheeks, etc

Could you elaborate?

loongstoryshort3 karma

Specifically when we climbed a small hill out in a town Sariwon close to the South Korea border, military presence was evident. When I passed some school children on the hike up I ended them some candies. When I got to the top I looked down seeing a soldier waving these kids off the mountain with a handgun, and proceeded to even throw rocks at the poor children.

That was an isolated case of violence that I witnessed, but it's highly correlated to the military presence there also.

SerpentineLogic2 karma

The kids probably had to give the candies back.

loongstoryshort1 karma

I saw them having to....

wesypoomagoo2 karma

So it seems the lens of the western media hasn't painted North Korea, at least Pyongyang, correctly. That very interesting. Is this a place you would like to return to in the future? Also do you see hope for North Korea opening up its borders within the decade?

loongstoryshort2 karma

Agreed. It's more cheerful, friendly and at ease then I had imagined. That is for the capital anyway.

I will surely return, aiming to go back with a non-profit or humanitarian cause though. It's a delicate balance between opening up to the rest of the world without loosing the moral innocence also. This may sound shocking, but the fact that they don't know what they don't know, they are genuinely supportive for their neighbours, minimal crime, no blind and numbing chase for materialistic rewards, and most of all they are kind to one another (by force or otherwise).

shbababa5 karma

What sort of restrictions were there when you arrived (such as not taking pictures, leaving your hotel after certain hours, etc.)?

loongstoryshort10 karma

Not short of restrictions that's for sure. For the race itself we were not allowed to take pictures in the opening ceremonies in the stadium, not allowed to listen to our music, no snacks on the run, and we had to finish the full marathon sub-3h15m. Most foreigners ran the half or 10km as a result of this time limit. You don't want to be on the other side of the shut down stadium doors!

For the rest of NK for the most part actually not a lot of restrictions were imposed as I imagined. Other than not allowed to take pictures of soldiers, anything else was fair game. We even danced with some locals in a park one day and video-recorded it!

loongstoryshort7 karma

To add on, when I did try to take pictures of the DMZ (world's most militarized area), even though the photos didn't consist of soldiers, more so just camp ground and what not, I had a soldier who tapped me on my shoulder to delete the pictures. They are watching like hawks undoubtedly.

8ofwizards5 karma

Running through North Korea makes sense... If you're being chased.

loongstoryshort6 karma

If I was chased though I would have beaten my PB. Jokes aside, that's my biggest motivation for going there in the first place. Aside from how media paints it, Pyongyang citizens (drastically different from what I saw in the countryside) included people who were content and happy. They live rent-free and tax-free with even occasional rations to go to the local themeparks!

Corticotropin5 karma

The Hunger Games' setting seems apt. Pyongyang is the Capitol, and the countrysides the Districts.

loongstoryshort2 karma

In every sense of the analogy too. Running into the stadium at the beginning of the race truly felt like a champion's display (except we weren't quite champions/tributes yet at that point)!

tctimomothy4 karma

If you could do it again, would you?

loongstoryshort4 karma

100%. I think it's the most authentic way to see DPRK, and stay the 1-week after to check out all the usual sights and tourist attractions. I highly recommend to anyone on the fence, check out:

Motophoto-8 karma

I don't think any rational person would want to go to the land of the nusto fat kid with the crappy haircut... especially with their always threatening war and killing, I feel sad for the fat kid he could do so much good but starves his people and has to rule by fear and killing.... and supporting their propaganda is not something I see as of value either...

loongstoryshort2 karma

As mentioned in many threads, leaving an isolated state even more isolated is like leaving a plant to rot blatantly. The least that I can do is to go in with utter most positive spirit to hopefully instill any sense of faith possible to those I came across - from tour guides to children - through my actions, in order to let them know that some people do care about their development, and more importantly the outside world is keen and anticipating. That's at least watering the rotting plant and showing humility to move past this as a mankind.

JimsApplePie4 karma

I hope you can answer this ad I've asked other previous visitors of NK and got no answer.

Nightlife - is there bars and clubs that locals can go to and are foreigners allowed in?

loongstoryshort6 karma

There are microbreweries in Pyongyang, and less so actual clubs/bars in the western sense. We were shown two microbreweries that locals also mingled at. NK beers are very tasty, rice/grain texture but not so flavourful like US beers. I actually prefer the clearer taste it's extra refreshing.

In the countryside, locals just drank rice wine soups at their local eateries.

bullshit-careers3 karma

How long did you stay?

loongstoryshort2 karma

A full week actually, saw all the monuments and museums in pyongyang, along with some countrysides in DMZ, Kaesong, Sariwon, and Nampur.

bullshit-careers3 karma

Best food?

loongstoryshort3 karma

Duck bbq hands down, served with this spicy plum flavored dipping sauce. We order 2 plates of duck each (guiltily that is)!

Runnermikey13 karma

Avid runner here. What was your preparation like? Also, do you feel the difference in food from what you normally eat effected your performance at all?

loongstoryshort3 karma

Actually have been on the road the whole month for work so didn't get much chance to prep.

Didn't carb up as much as I used to the night before either so I felt I showed up to race day with much lower energy (and ran significantly a lot slower too but soaked in all the crowd's energy if anything).

I rely heavily on water stations to stay hydrated which wasn't the case, heck it's worth the experience nonetheless! You should consider it for next year!

blueangora3 karma

Why did you want to visit N. Korea? Once there, why participate in a race?

loongstoryshort6 karma

It's the world's most mysterious state; I've read many books and journalism on N. Korean generalities, and I had to go there myself to see it with my own two eyes to make my own judgement. The run is the only way to see Pyongyang unguided, and heck what a great adventure it was!

PointOfFingers3 karma

How many North Korean police were chasing you?

loongstoryshort6 karma

None thank god. But if there were any chasing me then heck maybe I would have beaten my PB! :)

Schrodingers_Nachos3 karma

What where the ceremonies like? Where there a lot of tributes to the fearless leader?

loongstoryshort3 karma

I made a video clip for the opening ceremonies actually, watch it here:

50,000 pyongyang citizens crowding out in the stadium, sat according to their respective districts. We marched in with our groups and walked on lap around with the locals clapping until we ended up in the centre lawn facing the leaders' table. Kim was not in presence but we sang the national anthem before beginning the race.

vinh3592 karma

How much for the entire trip cost? and getting granted into the country?

loongstoryshort1 karma

I travelled with, and YPT offered a more budgeted option travelling with young professionals! 8000RMB for the tour inclusive of all accommodation, food, and travels, 400RMB for the run itself, 2000RMB for spending money and tips. Well worthy investment no less.

argonaut9422 karma

Good going! Did you go with Koryotours? I went with them in 2008, recently saw the photos of the marathon online, and am now considering to return next year to join the race!

loongstoryshort1 karma

You should! I truly think that the most authentic way possible way to see dprk is to run the marathon and celebrate kim il sung birthday over any other tours/occasions. I went with Young Pioneers Tour which is more affordable, and a lot more young professionals!

YoYoDingDongYo2 karma

Where are you originally from and how long have you lived in Shanghai? How's that going?

I'm thinking of moving to Asia.

loongstoryshort2 karma

I am Canadian, born in HK, then moved to Vancouver at 11. My dad's side of the family is Shanghainese, so coming back here 2.5 years ago is partly to rekindle with my heritage!

HorseCockTony2 karma

Not trying to be racist here, but were there any white people who competed in the marathon as well? Was it just residents of China, or was it open to any foreigner?

loongstoryshort1 karma

Ha! Out of the 200 foreigners running many were indeed westerners. One of them even flew in from Dublin, placed 2nd in one of the categories, then flew on to run the Boston Marathon even. That's why the race was so very special, it's the first time any foreigner of any nationality (US included) can run the amateur category. History in the making for sure.

sambravers2 karma

I feel like this AMA should have gotten/should get more attention. What was the most peculiar thing you experienced while in the DPRK? Mostly asking because I've watched the VICE documentary when they bribed their way into North Korea, along with some other documentaries, but I wanted to know how you specifically were treated as an athlete in their games.

loongstoryshort1 karma

Thank you for the kind words! A lot of other runners there were also inspired by the VICE documentary (or curious of it anyway). I was treated with utmost respect at least along the run. I have truly never smiled ear-to-ear so much being greeted by everyone. Our guide was instrumental in setting us up for ease of course, he recognized that camera and music regulations were washy, even the qualifying time was grey, but at the very least he tried to do his best to cater to our needs.

Any of the negative or less optimistic encounters were after the race itself.

ABC news did pick up on this reddit and my instagram feed apparently!

SFCRhabdo2 karma

What kind of cost should I be ready for if I were to consider doing this myself?

loongstoryshort1 karma

If you go with Young Pioneers Tour, it ended up being around 8000 RMB (1.2kUSD) for the tour inclusive of all food and accomodations and transport, along with an extra 400RMB for the race itself (60USD), and additional 2000RMB for spending money and tips (about 285USD).

scrubbyk1 karma

So it's about $1600 USD plus travel costs? How did you get that arranged? This is significantly cheaper than other tours to DPRK than I had heard of in the past.

loongstoryshort1 karma

Different tours do different tiers of pricing, and is on the lower end. Also, I am travelling from Shanghai, so if your port of departure is further then the cost may be higher to factor in also.

NYJets72 karma

How does a normal guy like me go to the DPRK?

loongstoryshort1 karma

I am a normal gal myself!

As mentioned above, check out whom I travelled with affordable and fun with lots of young professionals! 8000RMB for full tour inclusive of food, accomodation, and travel, 2000RMB for spending money and tips, 400RMB for the race itself.

Do it! :)

bassocontinubow2 karma

Hello Jen, If you don't mind me asking, I was wondering how much money it cost you to take this trip. It must have been such a surreal experience, but it sounds totally worth it. Just seeing what the qualifications were, specifically the cost value.

loongstoryshort1 karma

Hi there! I responded above also. I travelled with these guys ( which ran the more budget-oriented tours compared to other operators.

For cost, the trip cost about 8000RMB for the tour which is inclusive of all transport, accommodation and meals, 400RMB for the race, and an additional 2000RMB for tips and extra spending. Hope that's helpful. Well worthy to be able to walk away having seen the world's most isolated state first-hand!

Recov71 karma

Did you happen to gain access the secret floor of the Yanggakdo Hotel with all the propaganda, etc?

loongstoryshort1 karma

Ah I heard all about this too, though no success in finding this mysterious "5th floor" but it was apparent that cameras were everywhere.

breakingmad1-12 karma

i find all this kind of gross. YOu were let in solely so you could be shown propaganda. I hope you enjoyed high 5ing locals, who were proabably forced to look happy under threat of gulag, or stuffing your face with 2 portions of bbq duck while the real residents are literally starving to death. How can you be so naive

loongstoryshort0 karma

I of course see how you see it this way. I have travelled dozens of third-world countries and I am never naive to what's presented and what's genuine.

It's part of our obligation to go in and be as welcoming and humble as we possibly can. Sure they may be forced to smile back, but it's my minimal contribution to any slight slint of hope through my interaction with every local. Beyond financial and logistical resources, the bare minimum that I can do is to bring cheer and positivity to those I meet -- precisely exactly because of how much they go through. I hope for one smile or one high5 that I can share, they genuinely see that there are those out there who care and who are hopeful for them. That humility is not naive I presume.

To clarify, we did bring bags and bags of snacks to hand out to any passing locals - especially kids - during our whole week there that were rich in dairy content. I wanted to make sure also to pass on nutritions in the minimal ways that I could (without alerting the forces) in day-to-day interaction that I was there.