After 14 hours of being stuck in a plane, I was thrilled to be at home again.
During my Uber ride, I checked my phone, and I had several text messages from my family and friends asking about my trip.
I told one of them the three most fascinating incidents that happened.
The first one was about homosexuality.
At the Yanggakdo Hotel, I was waiting in the lobby, leaning on the coffee shop's partition, for Mark (fake name for privacy) from my tour group because we were going to go to dinner together.
The whole lobby was packed with tourists.
All of a sudden, someone in the coffee shop raised his voice, shouting,
"What have gay people done to you? I am a homosexual. How could you say something like that in front of our whole group?"
I immediately leaned in closer and guessed what had happened.
In general, I wouldn't miss this kind of juicy gossip, so I couldn't help myself.
It sounded like the guy from the U.K. had said something on the bus, and an American guy was offended by it.
When the U.K. guy apologized, saying he was sorry, the American guy shouted, "You should be sorry!" and rushed out into the lobby.
He was standing near the front desk, just across from where I was standing.
A few minutes later, the U.K. guy approached the American.
I surreptitiously walked behind him so I could listen in on the result.
The guy from the U.K. apologized like a true British gentleman, and the American graciously accepted the apology, shaking his hand.
I, of course, picked up both names.
However, after the U.K. guy left, I saw the American guy's teary eyes.
I wondered what he was thinking.
Did he expect to hear gay slurs in North Korea of all places?
Why had he gotten so emotional all of a sudden?
The scene was a very vulnerable one, and it opened my eyes to see a glimpse into his life.
When Mark arrived in the lobby, I excitedly told him the whole story.
He was also gay and a former member of Los Angeles Frontrunners, a chapter of an international gay jogging club.
"That's shocking. Who knew gay things happened in North Korea?"
He also informed me that there were many gay people among the foreign runners, including couples.
"There were three London Frontrunners and a couple others from elsewhere in Europe,"
and he told me about his own gay drama, which was spectacular, telling me I should write a story about gay slurs in North Korea, using his life as inspiration.
The second incident happened at 2 A.M. in the karaoke room, an underground area below the hotel.
When I came back in from the restroom, there was an argument in front of the cash register, between a North Korean employee, a translator (tourist), and two European women (who I learned more about later; one of them was a doctor, but that's all I'll say for privacy).
The story was that the women had spent four hours doing karaoke before finding out that there was a price menu.
The doctor insisted that she shouldn't have to pay in full since the price menu wasn't visible when they arrived, and it was way too expensive.
The whole price menu for all the services under the hotel. ⓒedward98.com
The translator and the employee said that everyone had to pay for karaoke, which was 20CNY ($3.08) per hour per person.
The doctor said that North Korea was cheating them since the price menu wasn't there; it was unfair to charge them, so they were going to tell the world that North Koreans behave so rudely.
The translator said,
"You have to make sure before you use a facility that you know how much it costs. But you didn't. So that's not North Koreans' fault. It's yours."
The doctor shouted back that it was still North Koreans' fault, insisting on not paying in full.
The translator lost his temper, shouting,
"Is that something that happens in your country?
Do you just refuse to pay after you've used the services because you didn't know the price?
If you went to New York or Paris, would you still behave this way?
Is it just because it's North Korea?
You think you can blame them for everything?
If so, you're a racist!"
She yelled back,
"I'm not. I don't need to talk to you anymore."
And another tourist joined in,
"Whoa, whoa, man, She is not racist, man."
The translator yelled at them,
"If you attack another country's system based on how things are done in your country, that's the meaning of being racist, you f***ing asshole!"
Anyway, the doctor left without paying in full and continued to blame the translator and the employee for their bad behavior.
The third incident happened when I got back to LAX.
Homeland security inspected me for more than two hours.
First of all, I thank them for their hard work and how they treated me very nicely.
This story is about not them; it's about a fingernail-sized flash drive (128GB).
During the trip, I carried it everywhere, and whenever I got time, I moved the photos onto my flash drive.
At night, I transferred all my photos onto my laptop.
When I left the hotel room, I couldn't find the flash drive.
I didn't care about the photos since I had already moved them onto my laptop.
But the flash drive was an expensive one: $40 on Amazon.
I searched for hours, turning my luggage upside-down to find it and figured I'd lost it, just like one of my nice shirts that I'd accidentally left at the stadium.
When I passed through North Korean security at the airport, they asked if I had any electronic devices on me.
I showed them each one. At the Beijing airport, the same thing.
When I got back into the U.S., all of the security people kept asking me if it was okay for us to have gone to North Korea.
They finally called homeland security.
I told them it was my first trip to North Korea, but they had to check my computer and cell phone and everything else.
More than two hours later, they finally told me that I was fine and that I could pass through.
On my way out, one of them said,
I turned back and found what he was holding: the flash drive.
"Oh my god. Where did you find it? I thought I lost it in North Korea."
"It was in your backpack."
I remembered one famous phrase, from George Costanza:
"It's not a lie if you believe it."
So I didn't technically lie to North Korean and Chinese security-I truly believed that I'd never find it!
I would really like to thank homeland security for their hard work.
I've never felt so safe in the many years I've lived in the U.S.A. Another thing was that while homeland security was checking my photos, they asked,
"Is this the Pyongyang airport?"
I said it was.
"Did they allow this?"
I said that we all took photos as soon as we got off our flight.
He was surprised, saying,
"Really? We're not allowed to do that here in LAX."
One more piece of information: if you're going to visit North Korea, keep the printed copy of your North Korean visa until you get home.
You have to show it to homeland security too.
After I told my friend all those stories and more, he suggested that I write about my experience in North Korea as my second novel, since I'd recently published my first novel, Miss Vampire, on Amazon (you can find it by clicking here).
I thought about that… about homophobia, racism, tour guides, and everything else I saw and heard… and imagined my trip if I'd brought West Hollywood drama with me, inspired by Mark's gay drama.
So, I'm going to write it as a new novel, West Hollywood Goes To North Korea.
I will post each chapter on my blog as a series.
By the way, I will tell you South and North Korea's official names, and could you please tell me in the comments which one you think is South Korea's?
[Democratic People's Republic of Korea OR Republic of Korea]
Edward S. Lee.
Read More at www.edward98.com