Program Note: CNN's Alina Cho reports on Project Walk, a spinal injury clinic that has patients rising to their feet and doctors raising eyebrows. In this web-only clip, Cho speaks with clinic patient Kendell Hall about her progress. Watch AC360° at 10 p.m. ET. for the full report.
I'm back in Seoul, South Korea after four days in communist North Korea covering the New York Philharmonic's historic concert in Pyongyang. What a life-changing experience. Being in that concert hall while the orchestra played the “Star-Spangled Banner” before a mostly North Korean crowd was surreal. There were tears in the audience and in the orchestra during the finale, "Arirang," the most famous Korean folk song on both sides of the DMZ. "Arirang" is about the longing for reunion.
North Korea is truly like no other place on earth. In the capital of Pyongyang, the roads are paved, but the streets are empty. Owning a car is a luxury. There are department stores, but no shoppers.
It’s so sad to see how people live there, without adequate food or heat. But the North Koreans I met were exceedingly warm. The elevator attendant at the hotel told me more than once he hopes I can come back to Pyongyang. My government guide - remember, journalists are not allowed to go anywhere without a so-called "minder" - told me that when I talked about how my own family struggled during the Korean War, he was impressed. He said officially he couldn't comment, but as a human being, he was moved. That touched me.
Finally, though I was there for professional reasons, I was also on a personal mission. Two of my dad's uncles disappeared during the Korean War. Nobody in my family knows whether they were kidnapped or defected because they were never seen again. My family believes - if they are still alive - they are in North Korea. I had sent a letter to the North Korean government in hopes that they could track my relatives down and that I could meet them while I was there. It was not to be, at least not this time. The government told me there was simply not enough time to find them. I still have hope, and I'm certain I'll be back someday in Pyongyang.
– Alina Cho, CNN Correspondent
My cell phone and blackberry were confiscated by the North Koreans when I entered the country, but I was given a government issued cell phone, so I was able to call in this blog to my producer in New York.
I traveled with the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang. It’s the first time an American orchestra has been invited to play in this secretive country. The Philharmonic included both the North Korean and the U.S. national anthems in its opening concert.
Seeing and hearing this premier American orchestra play "The Star Spangled Banner" for a North Korean audience was something else.
The concert ended with the Korean folk song "Arirang," one of the few popular on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. It’s a love song about longing and reunion.
That song brought back childhood memories for violinist Michelle Kim, one of eight Korean-Americans in the orchestra tonight. Michelle's parents were born in the North but fled south during the Korean War, never to see their homeland again.
Michelle says she has a sense of awe visiting the country where her parents were born. She calls herself the "eyes and ears" for her parents, since it’s likely they will never have a chance to go back to the North.
Michelle also expressed sadness at being in North Korea because the people are, in her words "so bright" yet the country is still divided. I'll have more on her story on 360° tonight.
-Alina Cho, 360° Correspondent
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