The Most Secretive Place on Earth: Inside North Korea with Will Ripley

This is the oldest theater in Pyongyang built after the Korean war, a time of rapid growth for North Korea.

This is the oldest theater in Pyongyang built after the Korean war, a time of rapid growth for North Korea.

“I asked our government minders if they’d be willing to show us what life is really like for regular people in North Korea.”

Pyongyang (CNN) — Will Ripley: It is exceedingly rare for Western journalists to be allowed inside the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) — commonly known as North Korea. It is even less common for an American reporter to visit this reclusive nation, home to nearly 25 million people who are essentially isolated from the rest of the world.

“They said they’d ask their superiors and get back to us.”

Yet here I am, an American member of a CNN crew, reporting from Pyongyang about the latest high profile sporting event to sweep this city since a bizarre basketball tournament earlier this year.

Our hotel, the Yanggakdo, is on its own little island inside Pyongyang but still apart from it. Water separates us from everyone else.

Our hotel, the Yanggakdo, is on its own little island inside Pyongyang but still apart from it. Water separates us from everyone else.

Even though decades of isolation and crippling sanctions have left North Korea struggling economically and lagging far behind much of the developed world in terms of technology and infrastructure — the nation is nearly unrivaled in its ability to mobilize tens of thousands of citizens to put on a spectacular show.

You probably remember when American NBA star Dennis Rodman organized a basketball tournament in Pyongyang.

rodman-kim

Rodman was widely criticized in the United States for befriending the DPRK’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, whose authoritarian regime has been accused by a United Nations panel of widespread human rights abuses, charges that North Korea strongly denies.

Haircuts are chosen by number, here 1--15. We're told the most popular is 7.

Haircuts are chosen by number, here 1–15. We’re told the most popular is 7.

‘Sports diplomacy’

Outside press were not invited to cover Rodman’s trip. This time, CNN is among a handful of news organizations granted rare access to Pyongyang to cover the International Pro Wrestling Festival.

[Also see: Japan Lawmaker Kanji ‘Antonio’ Inoki Takes Sport Diplomacy to North Korea]

Don’t miss this Pundit Planet Exclusive: Mashup: Dennis Rodman and Marylin Monroe sing Happy Birthday to Kim Jong-Un]

Retired Japanese wrestling star turned politician Kanji “Antonio” Inoki is organizing the event. In his professional heyday, Inoki fought in a memorable and bizarre 1976 match in Tokyo with boxing great Muhammad Ali. Today, as an aging member of the Japanese parliament, he is once again in the headlines for his latest attempt at what he calls “sports diplomacy” between Japan and North Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


He’s Back! Dennis Rodman Returns Humble and Refreshed After Visit to North Korea

"The hookers in North Korea are so... amazing, it's like.. I feel really special when I'm there, I'm treated extremely well..."

“The hookers in North Korea are so amazing. I feel really special when I’m there. I’m treated extremely well…”

BEIJING (CNN) — Dennis Rodman is apologizing. Again.

Last week, he said he was sorry about his bizarre, drunken outburst on CNN about an American citizen held prisoner in North Korea.

Now, Rodman says he’s sorry about what’s going on inside North Korea, a nation renowned for its human rights abuses.

But the eccentric former NBA star known as “The Worm” isn’t contrite about his latest puzzling visit to the secretive state.

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North Korea Escapee Writes Letter to Dennis Rodman

North Korea Escapee

Daniel J. Flynn writes:  Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only person born in a North Korean political prison camp to escape to the West. His memoir, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, ostensibly reads as the story of liberation from oppression. It’s really a book about food. The starving Shin tells of dining on barbequed rat, tree bark, and the undigested corn kernels in cow mess. For Shin, freedom is a hamburger.

So hearing that Dennis Rodman, a man he had never heard of until his trip to Shin’s native land in February, enjoyed fine food and fine wine with the leader of his country naturally made the former political prisoner cringe.

Read the rest of this entry »