When it comes to jobs that raise eyebrows, Nick Bonner’s line of work is up there with crocodile wrestler and organ procurer. As the founder and director of Koryo Tours, the 50-year-old Englishman makes a living guiding tourists into the world’s most isolated state — North Korea.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it and if I didn’t love the people,” he said. “If I wanted the easy option, I would be doing tours to Hawaii.”
Bonner’s life path was not paved in advance. Having studied landscape architecture in the U.K., he planned to be a countryside ranger. But a visit to Beijing in 1993 at the invitation of his friend Josh Green, leading to a friendship with a North Korean, changed his future.
“We played (football) with him and became mates, and he was going back to North Korea to work for the tourism board,” Bonner recalls. “He said, ‘We need Western tourists. Do you want to come?’”
Green and Bonner gathered a group of eight pals and entered the Hermit Kingdom. ”It was an eye-opener,” said Bonner, who was drawn to both Pyongyang’s cityscape and its inhabitants. (The latter is something visitors to the North often remark upon — the unsophisticated, old-fashioned charm of the populace.)
Sensing opportunity, Green and Bonner founded Beijing-based Koryo Tours that year. Although their Pyongyang contact greased bureaucratic skids, business was slow, so Green and Bonner decided to open “Poachers,” Beijing’s first live music nightclub. Green then departed, leaving Bonner as the sole operator of Koryo. Read the rest of this entry »