Of course, J hadn’t been gone a full week before I started to pursue the possibility of a trip to Pyongyang. The idea of going there had always intrigued me, but now I had a purpose. I still felt very skeptical, though, that J would end up as one of my tour guides. First, I found out that one usually had two or three guides with them at all times. Second, how in the world would we ever hope to have alone time? Going to his place would be strictly forbidden. And I’m sure he would not be allowed in my hotel room. Still, none of this hard cold reality kept me from fantasizing about us making out on the top floor of the Ryugyong Hotel, the massive, 105-storied, pyramid-shaped carcass that has dominated the Pyongyang skyline, vacant, for over twenty year. It only recently received a skin of metal and glass over the grey concrete skeleton. It’s said that the building sags and buckles from having been exposed to the elements for so long. What better place to have an illicit love affair?
So these fantasies, and just a desire to see J again, propelled me to go full-on with a plan to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Workers’ Paradise. Getting the time off was easy. I hadn’t had a vacation for a while. Getting tickets to Beijing was a snap, too. That’s where the journey began. The hardest part about getting to Pyongyang was finding the tour agency that arranged the trips. We had communicated via e-mail prior to my arrival in Beijing. Most of the details had been set. But finding the actual office took some doing. I stumbled on it only after several wrong turns. When I found it, I could see why it took a while to locate. The place looked like a boarded up store front from the outside.
Once I was there, though, the final arrangements fell quickly into place. I found myself whistling “Two Tickets to Paradise” while waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to turn.
In Pyongyang, I fell off the train groggy. It had been a long ride. I perked up quickly, though, because the first face I saw was J’s. He clasped my hand with both of his. It felt like the warm hug he undoubtedly intended. Then he introduced me to the other tour guide, Song Jin-ju, and our driver Kim Tae-Hyun. I was the only member of this particular tour group, so it would be just the four of us. This happened sometimes, I was told. They were friendly with me at once and we all spoke on a given name basis. Tae-Hyun did not speak much English, but Jin, as she liked being called, was as fluent as J. And even she called him J, so I still did not find out his full name. Damn.
If the air smelled scented with a perfume I had never known, it was due to my looking into J’s eyes as he looked into mine. A month apart had not dulled our mutual attraction. Our eyes gave each other deep-tissue massages on the streets of his homeland.
Jin stepped between us. She looked like a schoolmarm, gently chiding her unruly students. “I’m sure you must be hungry,” she said to me, “but first, it would be good for you to visit the statues of our Great Leaders, to pay homage.”
I saw J nodding his head behind her.
“We usually request our visitors to lay flowers at the feet of our leaders,” Jin explained. “Normally we do this the morning after arrival, but since it is still morning, we thought it best to do it now. That is, if you’re not too tired.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” I said. Actually I had travel fatigue, but I didn’t want to start the trip on the wrong foot. I thought it strange that this would be the very first thing we did, though. My impression of J was that he respected his country, but had a, shall we say, realistic view of his leaders. He never disparaged them when we were together in Malaysia, but he didn’t seem convinced about their infallible. When we talked and held each other, and looked at the setting sun and starry skies, he told me about the fantastic tales associated with the Kims. How they rode on unicorns, how the earth trembled and the sky clapped with thunder at their every pronouncement. “Fantasies,” he’d say. “All fantasies.”
“It is important to maintain decorum,” J said. “I hope you understand.”
Tae-Hyun drove us as close as we could get, then we walked the rest of the way. Soon I found myself standing before two enormous bronze statues, one of each of the now-deceased Kims. Flowers adorned their feet.
Visions of fucking in the vacant pyramid hotel faded. Maybe my fatigue was getting the better of me, but I started to get annoyed. First, I had to buy my own flowers, €5. Then I had to listen and watch Jin explain the proper way of bowing and presenting the flowers. J watched as I learned all this ritual. His soft eyes had long vanished. He looked cold, officious. I began to think that coming was a bad idea.
I carried out my orders with nervous precision. I felt a marked man, like a bullet would take me out if I did something untoward. What if I coughed? Or farted? Would that get me sent to the camps? J looked on, his stern expression providing me with no comfort. I was too out of my element. This isn’t what I signed up for. I felt like his puppet.
As I robotically carried out my orders, J came up along side of me at the Kim Jong-Il statue. He did the bow, as solemnly as I had ever seen anyone bow, then he placed a small box filled with flower petals and oranges on the ground beneath the statue. After resting the box on the ground, he bowed again. Then he looked at me. His dimples returned along with a puckish grin. He winked an eye. The man I met in Malaysia returned. My fears abated. I bowed with him one final time. Jin and Tae-Hyun then came and left their tributes. Afterwards, we all removed ourselves from the feet of the Two Leaders.
We arrived at the hotel, the Yanggakdo on an island of the same name in the Taedong River. J accompanied me to the hotel room. He asked many times of the accommodations were OK. The room looked dated, like something from a 70s drama series, but it was clean and comfortable. I made a point of saying how much I liked it. That pleased J very much. “This is our best hotel,” he said. I guess the large pyramid, the Ryugyong, was still closed. I didn’t want to embarrass J by asking about it.
After we left the room, we went to another floor and met Jin and Tae-Hyun in a large banquet hall that could seat at least 80. I thought lunch would be a modest fair. Instead we feasted on a smorgasbord of food tastefully displayed. They had a variety of vegetable and tofu dishes to accommodate my vegetarian diet. And of course there was kimchi. J assured me that all lacked meat or chicken broth. We sat next to each other at a round table, with Jin and Tae-Hyun sitting opposite.
It all seemed too much. So much food for just four people in so large a room, I felt uncomfortable, knowing that just a few miles away were likely scores or event hundreds of people who wouldn’t see an eighth this much food all day, or even during a week. But J seemed much more relaxed, even giddy. We all talked amiably about my travels. Tae-Hyun asked if I played basketball. I laughed and told him that I was terrible at it. I’m a tennis kinda guy, I said. He seemed disappointed. He wanted to learn some moves from me, I think.
J loved the comfortable banter. His officiousness vanished and his eyes caressed me again. At first it seemed awkward. I expected a guard or five to rush in and haul us away. But we had the large banquet room to ourselves. If Jin and Tae-Hyun noticed our eye flirtations, they were unfazed by them.
Four days went by quickly. We toured the city’s major sites – Juche Tower, Arch of Reunification, the Grand People’s Study House – and we also went out of town, to the DMZ and a palace where the Kims kept over 60 years worth of bling. Included was a limo given by Stalin to Kim Il-Sung.
The nights were the hardest, though. Each night, J accompanied me to my room. I’m not sure if this was normally allowed, but he did it without hesitation. “We have to make sure that you are comfortable,” he said. On the second night, after a day of hard touring, we groped and kissed just inside the restroom. Hot passion controlled our hands and lips. We played music to drown us out, to thwart any listening devices. I call nights the hardest because, just as before, by the time I got used to his taste in my mouth, he had to leave. Staying in the room together for too long would have been dangerous for us both. But then I was alone, without his touch or taste. We never slept together a whole night back in Malaysia, but we did spend more quality time together there. Here, in his birth land, we had fleeting moments alone at best, and always tinged with the angst of discovery. Though in a way, that made it sort of exciting, like when I cruised Griffith Park back in the day.
J had a surprise on our last full day. Jin did not accompany us while Tae-Hyun drove J and me out of town and into the country. It seemed a strange, out of the way place to go. The air in the car inhibited questions, so I remained silent along with my travel companions. We stopped at a modest house on the edge of a wood. J and I got out. Then Tae-Hyun drove away.
“Come on,” J said. “Hurry!”
We went into the house, which looked like it hadn’t been lived in for quite some while. Sheets covered the furnishings and dust was everywhere. I tried a light switch, but there was no power. That didn’t surprise me. There had been a few nights where the power in the hotel went out. We went into a smallish room with a single bed. J invited me to sit down. He then sat next to me and gave me the most passionate kiss I had ever known. Its length could be measured by years of pent up feelings and unexpressed emotions. I savored every moment of it, though when we stopped, and sat back a bit.
“Isn’t this incredibly dangerous?”
“No,” he said. “We won’t be found here.”
“I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.”
“My family once owned this land, long ago. There are rice patties about a kilometer away. I may be working there later, after you have gone home. So I knew of this place, and have come here often. You are the first I have brought here.”
His smiling dimples set my heart afire, though I still had reservations.
“But if we’re caught. . .”
“There are no bugs here, like in your room. And no one comes here. Think of this as our Griffith Park.”
We made love, long hot passionate, sweaty, sticky, messy love. It was the type of love that teens have their first time. It was the sort of love that one read about in romance novels. I don’t think it was J’s first time with a man – lord knows it wasn’t mine. Yet that’s what it felt like for the both of us. Then he explained it all to me. When we made our tributes to the Dear Leaders, it was in the manner of newlyweds after their wedding. Then we followed that with a wedding banquet. He said that Jin helped to arrange it all, just as she provided cover for us while we carried on in this abandoned house. “She’s like a sister to me.”
After a couple of hours, Tae-Hyun returned to fetch us. We both straightened up our clothes as best we could, neatened our disheveled hair. Our driver said nothing as we entered the car, though I thought I caught a wry grin on his face. Did he know? We remained silent during the drive back into town. Somehow, no one seemed to notice or care that a black dude rode in a car so far off the beaten path. I didn’t ask what sort of cover Jin provided for us. I figured the less I knew the better.
During our goodbyes, I asked J if he would ever travel abroad again. He said possibly. He still had his mother to consider. I think he wanted me to meet his mother, but that would have been near impossible to arrange. Harder, even, than our tryst in his family’s ancestral house, which I dubbed Griffith House.
It’s been nearly a year since that encounter. I have no way of contacting J or finding out indirectly what he’s doing. Even if I knew his full name, I wouldn’t google it, fearing that someone might track my searches back to him and get him into trouble. My mind still fills with fantasies about him, his flesh, his sweet nature. I worry about his fate. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a distant relative of the Kim family, which would explain the freedoms he seemed to enjoy. But on the other hand, Dear Leader, Jr. just bumped off his uncle for “dreaming different dreams.” I didn’t like reading about the gory details, speculation that he fed his uncle to ravenous dogs. Such things were known to happen to gay folks in Nazi Germany.
It would have been much easier for us to have had sex while in Malaysia. No one would have been the wiser. There were no bugs in my room there, no guards checking in on us. But eventually, I figured out why he waited until I came to Pyongyang. I was his fantasy, his unicorn, his clap of thunder in a portentous sky. He wanted our love to be an act of civil disobedience, carried out almost literally under the noses of the giant bronze statues of the Kims.
I hope he didn’t have to pay the price for it. I hope to one day see my Dear Beloved Comrade again.
© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.