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The Beijing-based Briton seeking to promote ties with North ...

2020-10-9 23:24| 发布者: 忘忧草| 查看: 2334| 评论: 0

摘要: The “fork in the road” came for Nicholas Bonner when he was asked to become a lecturer at Sheffield university, not far from his native Cheshire, just as he was preparing to establish a travel agenc ...
The Beijing-based Briton seeking to promote ties with North ...
The “fork in the road” came for Nicholas Bonner when he was asked to become a lecturer at Sheffield university, not far from his native Cheshire, just as he was preparing to establish a travel agency focused on North Korea. “It’s the only time I was really poleaxed,” the 53-year old says over lunch in Beijing, his home since 1995. “It really knocked me down.”

The “Hermit Kingdom” won. Bonner is a regular fixture in his Beijing neighbourhood, dispensing a cheery “hello darling!” as he pedals from home to the office of Koryo Tours. The North Korean paintings on display there offer the first taste of the business he has built in one of the world’s most sealed-off countries.

He and business partner Simon Cockerell have so far taken more than 20,000 western tourists to North Korea on government-supervised tours that they hope will allow a few glimpses of insight and mutual understanding.

In most of the world’s eyes, North Korea is a pariah state. Bonner promotes an engagement that goes well beyond tourism. He and Cockerell have ploughed most of their savings into three documentaries and a feature film shot in North Korea.

The company’s first project, a film about the North Korean football team that, against all odds, advanced to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1966, brought him full circle back to the north of England. The Game of their Lives (2002) was directed by Sheffield-based Daniel Gordon. Bonner was too young to join the North Korean’s ragtag band of English supporters in 1966, but he relished the original team’s return to Middlesbrough in 2002 where a crowd of 30,000 gave them a standing ovation.

Recalling the trip, Bonner says: “These projects we do take time, they just take time, take time, take time, and then it happens?.?.?.?One minute [you’re] having a drink with the lads having made the film?.?.?.? and them saying we’d love to go back [to England]. And the next minute — it really feels like it — you’re there.”

From its base in Beijing, Koryo Tours serves as international liaison for Pyongyang’s biennial film festival. It also helped exhibit North Korean art at the 2014 Venice Biennale and, in April this year, it brought westerners to run in the Pyongyang Marathon. That caused Koryo’s staff more than a few grey hairs after North Korea sealed its borders in October 2014 due to fear of Ebola and only reopened them in March — after Koryo had already started refunding clients’ deposits.

Bonner is a big believer in engagement with North Korea, which has been hit with US and European sanctions in an attempt to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programme. He believes that those in the west who believe any interaction with North Korea, including tourism, gives the ruling elite financial support and moral legitimacy “are a bit naive, although I am sure they think I am just as naive”.

Part of his optimism stems from his experience in China. Bonner first visited the country in 1993 when relations with the west were still chilly following the bloody crackdown on protests around Tiananmen Square four years earlier.

He moved permanently to Beijing in 1995 and invested in Poachers Bar, at the time a magnet for expats and trendy Chinese. As Bonner puts it: “That was the time we had the US marines and the Russian mafia and the Chinese girls and the Mongolian gang”.

His first trip to North Korea was also in 1993. “At that time it was a really seamless journey from Beijing into North Korea, there was no difference. They were still putting in the escalators in the subway. That’s the thing that reminds me how backwards China was, the escalators in 1995.”

Bonner had studied and taught landscape architecture at Leeds Metropolitan University. Growing up he thought he would be a countryside ranger but became fascinated with Asian landscape architecture. He decided to seek out the North Korean version of the discipline, for no better reason than “no one knew about it”.

“I then realised that although there were some things going on in China, and that I could be involved in a small way — you know, bloody hell, you can do anything [in North Korea].”

The biggest challenge to date has been Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012), a 1m(euro) feature film about a coal miner who struggles to become an acrobat, directed by Kim Gwang Hun. It is a fun if cheesy film of a young woman triumphing over sexism and class prejudice. Bonner along with producer Ryom Mi Hwa and Belgian co-director Anja Daelemans pushed for the “girl power” theme against the resistance of the male film establishment.

Bonner views the films and Koryo’s charitable work with orphanages — the company raises funds to send food packages — as an integral part of the business. “Just taking in tourists is, in my opinion, not enough. Tourism should be part of a process of improvement and not a zoo tour.”

Comrade Kim Goes Flying is one of only a handful of North Korean films to have been screened publicly in South Korea, a small victory even though it failed to be a commercial success. Sanctions dogged the production, hampering money transfers as international banks shut down two of Koryo’s accounts. Bonner, however, believes the film shows what could be accomplished if greater resources were devoted to engaging rather than isolating the country.

“There are enormous problems,” he says, “and it’s a very difficult country to work in, but it’s amazing what you can do if you persevere.”

Bonner’s verdict . . . 


● North Korean colleagues are enthusiastic and where necessary creative about working in ‘rather difficult circumstances’

● English is taught as a second language in schools, which means many North Koreans speak good English

● Despite the level of government control, North Korean ‘pioneers’ want to engage with the outside world


● Poor internet connection and communications

● The international banking network is very weak if non-existent

● Plenty of room for misunderstandings and a sharp learning curve for both sides

Tips for working in North Korea . . . 

● Do not rush into anything. Build up relations and trust and understand what you are getting involved with

● Consult the UN Security Council’s sanctions against North Korea before committing any finances

● Travel to North Korea as a tourist first to familiarise yourself with the country before committing to a specific partner. There are no private companies in North Korea, all belong to the state

● North Koreans prefer the country’s official title of DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)

Lucy Hornby is the FT’s China correspondent

Photograph: Nora Tejada
尼古拉斯?邦纳经历过一次重要的人生抉择:一方面,他受邀出任距自己出生地英国柴郡(Cheshire)不远的谢菲尔德大学(Sheffield University)教职;另一方面,他那时又想创办专赴朝鲜旅游的公司。“这是我平生唯一一次深感不知所措的时刻。”53岁的邦纳在他北京的寓所一边吃午餐一边对我说。他自1995年以来就一直定居北京。“我当时真是晕菜了。”

最终他决定创办赴“隐士之国”(Hermit Kingdom)旅游的公司。邦纳的熟悉身影如今时常出没于自己所在的小区。每次骑车从自家到“高丽之旅”公司(Koryo Tours)上班时,打招呼问候声不断。他的公司陈列着很多朝鲜图片,算是对他在这个全世界最为封闭的国家开展的旅游项目有个初步了解。

到目前为止,他与自己的合伙人西蒙?科克雷尔(Simon Cockerell)已成功安排2万多西方游客赴朝鲜旅游(尽管整个行程受到朝鲜政府严格管控),他俩希望这种旅游能对朝鲜有一定了解,并增进朝鲜与外部世界的相互理解。


公司拍摄的首部影片,让邦纳重回英格兰北部地区。这部影片讲述了1966年的那支朝鲜足球队过五关、斩六将,最终成功晋级世界杯八强的故事。《人生的赛事》(The Game of their Lives, 2002)由来自谢菲尔德的丹尼尔?戈登(Daniel Gordon)执导。1966年时的邦纳还是个毛孩,不可能参加到英国普通民众支持朝鲜队的拉拉队中去,但在影片中,这支球队的“原班人马”来到米尔德斯堡(Middlesbrough)后,现场3万名观众站起身长时间为其鼓掌,邦纳深切感受到了昔日盛况。


总部位于北京的大本营“高丽之旅”公司成了平壤电影节(每两年举办一次)的国际联络站;它还帮助朝鲜艺术参加2014年威尼斯双年展(Venice Biennale)。今年四月,旅行社安排西方运动员参加了平壤马拉松赛。2014年10月,因担心埃博拉病毒扩散,朝鲜关闭了边界(直到2015年3月才重新开放)后,开始退还西方参赛者的定金,把旅行社员工急得平添了几根白发。

邦纳深信必须与朝鲜进行接触才能改变它,而朝鲜因美欧制裁(旨在迫使平壤政权放弃核计划)而深受打击 。那些西方人认为与朝鲜进行任何形式的交往(包括旅游在内)会给平壤的统治集团增加经济支持度以及道德合法性,他认为这些西方人“有点天真,尽管对方觉得自己同样天真。”


1995年,他永久定居北京,并投资开了Poachers Bar酒吧,当时它是外国侨民与中国新潮人士最喜欢光顾的地方。正如邦纳说:“我们当时的顾客中,既有美国海军陆战队员、俄罗斯黑手党、中国姑娘,也不乏蒙古黑帮。”


邦纳曾在利兹都市大学(Leeds Metropolitan University)学习景观建筑学,并于毕业后留校任教。长大后他原想当名乡村护林员,但对亚洲景观建筑萌生了浓厚兴趣,于是想去看看朝鲜的景观建筑,原因无它,只是 “当时无人了解”。


迄今为止,最大的挑战来自《飞吧,金同志》(Comrade Kim Goes Flying),这部由金光汉(Kim Gwang Hun)执导、耗资100万欧元拍摄的娱乐影片(制作精美)讲述了一位年轻煤矿女工在战胜性别歧视以及阶级偏见后,经过个人奋斗成长为一名杂技演员的励志故事。邦纳与制片人罗美花(Ryom Mi Hwa)以及联合导演、比利时人安嘉•戴尔曼(Anja Daelemans)力推“女性奋斗”题材,以挑战长久以来男性主导电影题材的状况。

















●朝鲜人更喜欢自己国家的官方称谓——朝鲜民主主义人民共和国(DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)。


照片由Nora Tejada提供。





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