North Korean Motorcycle Diaries
How a Group of Bikers from New Zealand Planned a Road Trip Across Korea’s DMZ
For the past decade, New Zealanders Joanne and Gareth Morgan have been living the semiretired lifestyle of their dreams, traveling around the world on motorcycles alongside a few of their closest friends. They’ve traversed all seven continents on their bikes, with routes as varied as Venice to Beijing, Florida to northern Alaska, and South Africa to London, just to name a few. Gareth funds his own trips, many of which he uses to pursue philanthropic endeavors, particularly in the social-investment space. He is able to do so with money he’s made as an economist and investment manager—one who has earned the reputation for criticizing unethical practices in New Zealand’s financial-services industry.
In late August, the Morgans embarked on their most ambitious journey yet, at least physically. The real journey began years ago, when they decided they wanted to ride the Baekdudaegan, a mountain range that stretches the length of North and South Korea’s shared peninsula. After countless hours of negotiation and coordination with both governments, they were granted permission. It was, the Morgans believe, the first time anyone’s ever traveled through both countries like that since the partitioning of Korea in 1945. By making the trip they hoped to demonstrate how Koreans can come together over what they have in common. To symbolize this, the Morgans took some stones from Paektu, a holy mountain in the North, and brought them to Hallasan, a similarly sacred peak in the South.
Joanne and Gareth shot the entirety of their trip, the footage from which they have graciously allowed us to cut into a short film that will premiere on VICE.com this month. In some ways, the footage makes the Korean coast look alternately like California, China, and Cuba. It’s a beautiful view few foreigners have seen, and even if planning the road trip straight through the Demilitarized Zone required working within parameters set by the highly choreographed and restricted confines of North-South Korean diplomacy, this was a journey worth documenting from start to finish.
VICE: Do you think negotiating your trip constituted a form of diplomacy? Would you like to be viewed as diplomats?
Joanne Morgan: Gareth as a diplomat is actually quite funny. Gareth says exactly what he thinks, and I definitely wouldn’t put him into any diplomatic role.
Gareth Morgan: With this trip, the real point [for us] was just to understand the Korean people. What spins their wheels? What’s their sense of identity? How are they handling this 68-year interruption to their 5,000-year history?
Joanne: In the 80s, when I was standing in the DMZ on the south side looking across to the north, I saw a group of old men standing there gazing north and crying. It was very emotional and I couldn’t quite understand it. That’s always stayed with me, that huge longing that they had to reunite their families.
North Korea Is Open for Business (Sort of) - The Hermit Kingdom Wants Unity and Peace with South Korea
If North Korea didn’t exist, all those Kremlinolgists who were made redundant at the end of the Cold War would be lost without a trail of mystic socialist smoke-signals to semi-religiously divine meaning from. But luckily it does—Hooray!—so for now at least we can keep staring deep into Kim Jong Un’s pudgy, crystal-ball shaped head and continue second-guessing the obscure intentions of the eccentric, autocratic regime that built its people a world-class dolphinarium before it gave them a decent set of roads.
Yesterday Kim, now the world’s youngest leader, broke the silent tradition of his reclusive father and made a New Year’s speech to the people of North Korea, filling them in on his plans for a totally awesome 2013. It was the first time the country has been addressed directly by one of its autocratic czars in almost 20 years, and it seems the gesture was appreciated. The country’s recent rocket launch on December 12 captured the imaginations of the global media and gave North Korean morale an interstellar boost. Despite rumors that the satellite, after making it into orbit, hasn’t been functioning, Kim still felt emboldened enough to let the metaphor of space exploration underscore his rhetoric for a year of new frontiers back here on Earth.
He even gave 2013 a long and clumsy space-themed slogan: “Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as we displayed in conquering space!” Now, not to be a party pooper or anything, but it took China two decades to turn around its backward peasant economy into the global economic powerhouse it is today, so as North Korea analyst Stephen Haggard pointed out, any talk of miraculously becoming the next Hong Kong, Singapore, or *whisper it* South Korea in just one year is little more than the excited talk of an overly enthusiastic young man whose dad gave him the keys to a clapped-out old banger of a nation before he’d even learned how to drive.