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The Day I Hit the Wall in North Korea

05/02/2016 04:24pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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2016-05-02-1462203935-4951229-172_0G7A1495kaesong.jpg
Me and Boyfriend General at the Concrete "Wall"

Chapter 15 Excerpt
THE DAY I HIT THE WALL

I didn't remember selecting "Concrete Wall" from the list I'd been given when choosing activities for my customized itinerary. And a concrete wall certainly didn't sound like something that would normally have piqued my interest (akin to choosing "watch paint dry"). But it was on our agenda for the day after the DMZ, and quite frankly it sounded better than some of the other shit I'd been dragged around to (can you say, Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum?), so it felt like a win.

For a minute it seemed like Fresh Handler was trying to talk me out of visiting the Concrete Wall--not that I was dying to visit it, or even had any idea what the Concrete Wall was, aside from the obvious.

FRESH HANDLER: You want go Concrete Wall?

ME: I don't know. What's the Concrete Wall?

FRESH HANDLER: It's a concrete wall.

ME: I don't understand. It's just a concrete wall?

FRESH HANDLER: Yes.

ME: Why would we go look at a concrete wall?

FRESH HANDLER, giggling, shrugging shoulders while making a face that says, "You got me...I don't know why we'd go look at a concrete wall": You can't see wall.

ME: What do you mean we can't see the wall? I don't understand. I thought you said we were going to see a concrete wall?

FRESH HANDLER: Wall is very far. You can't see it. You look at wall through hole.

ME: What do you mean we look at wall through hole?

FRESH HANDLER, giggling, covering her mouth with her hand while looking to the sky for the right word: Ahh, wall is very far away. You look through, ahh...

ME: Binoculars?

FRESH HANDLER, delighted: Yes! You look through binoculars to see wall. But can't see wall.

Okay, got it. We look through binoculars to see a concrete wall that we can't see. I'm so happy I understand her that I momentarily forget I don't understand her.

ME: So we're going to look at a concrete wall that you can only see through binoculars, but you still can't see it?

FRESH HANDLER, motioning with her hand to indicate something close to "Yes...I told you this was a stupid idea.": Sort of.

She looked a little embarrassed.

Sensing that my current line of questioning was likely to end up with Fresh Handler in tears, I changed tack.

"Is it close to where we are now?" We were still at the DMZ.

FRESH HANDLER: Ohhh, nooo. Very far. More than one-hour drive back to Kaesong, and then one-hour drive back to wall. And road is very bumpy. Road not so good.

This was sounding fricking awesome.

"So we drive from here all the way back to Kaesong, then we drive another hour on a bad, bumpy road to a concrete wall that we can only see by looking through binoculars? But we can't see it. So what do we see?"

FRESH HANDLER: Just wall.

She smile-giggle-shrugged.

I was in, and we were off.

Excerpted from MY HOLIDAY IN NORTH KOREA: THE FUNNIEST/WORST PLACE ON EARTH. Copyright © 2016 by Wendy E. Simmons, Vendeloo, Inc., all rights reserved. To be published by RosettaBooks on May 3, 2016. Photos of Pyongyang Metro by Wendy E. Simmons.