Milwaukee man shares stories after spending week in North Korea

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Japan on Sunday, April 14th for the last stop of his Asian tour, a trip that has largely focused on the provocations coming out of North Korea. North Korea threatened in early March to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the U.S. and South Korea and has made a series of other threats since then.

As the world's eyes are on North Korea, a Milwaukee man is sharing a perspective few Americans have. Last summer, he spent a week in the country.

"North Korea is a very rigid society. I've never seen anything like it and I've been to about 60 countries," John Neu said.

Neu is a retired history and geography teacher who says he jumped at the chance last summer when he found a travel agency in suburban Chicago offering a week-long trip to North Korea.

"The only way into North Korea is on a tour. There's no individual travel allowed. So once you get into North Korea, you have to check in your cell phones. You're given a receipt and then your (guides) meet you at the airport and are with you throughout your journey whenever you're outside the hotel," Neu said.

Neu says two of the things that jumped out at him while he was in the country were violent pieces of propaganda and the expressions, or lack thereof, on faces he saw.

"There's no individualism. Nobody seemed to smile and they kind of walked around in a daze," Neu said.

While in the capital city of Pyongyang, Neu also attended the "Arirang Games" -- something he says compares to nothing he had ever seen before.

"The Arirang Games -- no government could arrange a performance like this other than the North Koreans who put that many people together for a performance," Neu said.

Neu says that commitment to the government is driven by fear and isolation.

"It's strange because these people look at these leaders as deities, as gods, and god-like figures and they don't know any better because they're closed off from the outside world. They have no idea what's out there," Neu said.

Because of that isolation, Neu believes it is impossible to know what North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un will do next.

"It's just hard to predict what they may do because they're caught in a corner -- because the country is hungry, they have no fuel, no electricity and when someone's backed into a corner, they may react," Neu said.

Neu says he is not worried about any repercussions for sharing stories from his strip to North Korea. He says it is almost certain he won't be allowed back in the country, but he says he is okay with that.

Neu says what bothers him the most is knowing he won't be able to keep in touch with his tour guides, with whom he spent the entire week.