“Are you two the Americans?” she asked with a smile.
I had been watching her make her way from the front of the bus to the last row of seats where I had been with my travel companion, Joe Skeel. Obviously we stood out in a bus filled international journalists.
“Yes, we are.”
“Do you have anything with you, anything you are wearing, that is a symbol of the United States? Do you have an eagle, flag?”
“No,” we answered, not entirely puzzled by the questions. We were, after all, sitting in the DMZ moments from disembarking and walking into North Korea.
“Good, because you are not allowed to have it where we are going.”
Where we are going? You mean North Korea in 2007, that oppressive country which hated the United States and pretty much anything that resembled democracy? That North Korea led by dictator Kim Jong Il who always seemed to have his finger inches from a nuclear launch button?
Where we were going was only half the story. The rest unfolds in a bizarre 36 hours that involved a drunken Chinese leader, two hours on a bus while Czechs were detained for filming soldiers, and the near arrest of a surly Italian reporter who was generally uncooperative with our hosts the entire week. And there was lots of undistinguishable, high-octane alcohol.