The last time I was in North Korea, I got grilled ….

DPRK, North Korea

On my last trip to North Korea (the 3rd trip I had taken), I was grilled about having been to South Korea in the intervening time.  I denied it.  They were insistent that I had been there.  I denied it.  I told them emphatically that I had not been there and had never been to South Korea…not once.   They insisted I had.  I was even more emphatic.  It got a bit testy but I was certain and did not back down.  

Despite our disagreement, they were gracious hosts – let me arrive, showed me around, and let me leave.  I was grateful for the opportunity to visit their country again.

It was only sometime later in thinking about the inquiry, that I remembered something.  I was not trying to deceive the North Koreans — I had just completely forgotten something.  I would not have been dishonest with them. 

 In the intervening time (between trip #2 and trip #3 to North Korea) I had gone to Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on an Air Force plane.  Her trip included a journey to Viet Nam which I did to go on.  I was on her Air Force flight out of Afghanistan and the flight to Viet Nam refueled in Seoul, South Korea.  

As was the plan, I jumped off her plane  in South Korean Air Force base…jumped in a car that was waiting for me…and had less than two hours to make it to the Seoul commercial airport an hour away to make a flight back to Washington, DC. We were so late getting into Seoul, so I was in a rush.

I was so short of time on the ground when the plane refueled that I had to leave my bags on the Air Force plane (to retrieve when it got back to the USA several days later.)  I didn’t even have 10 minutes to wait for my bag to be offloaded.

I was in South Korea for less than 2 hours — all in a car traveling quickly from one airport to another.   I just changed planes.   Had I even remembered it when I was being questioned by the North Koreans, I would not have considered changing planes (and airports) as being in South Korea.  

I saw nothing of South Korea – just the highway between two airports.  I talked to no one in South Korea — other than to buy an airline ticket, go through security and board a plane (I even slept all 13 hours back to DC!)  I travel so often and change planes so often that I never consider it being some place when I am simply in transit, changing flights.

The only reason that flight has ever stuck in my memory is because I showed up at the airport in Seoul to 1/ buy a one way ticket; 2/ an international flight; 3/ with zero baggage; and 4/ with a passport that had as its last two stamped entries Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I had all the earmarks of a terrorist, right?   And yet it was the easiest flight I had ever boarded – no one asked me one question.  

As it turns out, I was somehow being watched….

I did not lie (I would not.)   I just forgot.  


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