By Mike Deehan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — When the legislative session slows down next month, Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) won’t be joining the legions of Massachusetts vacationers headed to local beaches or far-flung resorts to blow off steam. His time off is going to be a bit more structured.
Heroux plans to head to North Korea Aug. 10 to see how the isolated communist nation operates.
“It’s an opportunity to be one of 2,000 people, because that’s what I’ve read, only about 2,000 tourist visas are given each year to get into North Korea,” Heroux told the News Service. “What other people read about in the news, I’ll be able to see firsthand.”
If North Korean officials approve his visit, the freshman Democrat from Attleboro will touch down in the country Aug. 12 for an eight-day stay and visit the capital city of Pyongyang, a local university, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and other points of interest.
Heroux said the trip will not be a vacation and that he enjoys spending time in places where he can learn.
Accompanying Heroux will be a group of Harvard University students and graduates who have spent their own money to organize the trip through a Chinese travel agency. Heroux has a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.
According to Heroux, the group will stay at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which is situated on an island to isolate visitors from the rest of the country.
“It’s intentionally on a peninsula so we have less access to everybody else in the country. They will be keeping us completely separated and segregated from the citizens of Pyongyang and North Korea. We’re not allowed to have any contact with them unless they’ve been carefully screened,” Heroux said.
According to Heroux, North Korean authorities will go a long way to shield visitors from the nation’s 24.7 million people, even closing down whole shopping malls when tourists visit.
“That right there is a taste of North Korea’s reality. Even though I’m not getting access to the people themselves, it’s what they’re not showing us and what they’re not saying that makes the loudest statement,” Heroux said.
The North Korea trip wasn’t Heroux’s first choice for a destination. Before the country’s recent election caused enough turmoil for a friend to tell him not to come, Heroux was planning to visit Iran.