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How a mild-mannered Canadian became friends with Kim Jong Un and got up close to North Korea's military parade

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 2018-02-09 Ben Brimelow

north korean army parade © Provided by Business Insider north korean army parade Reuters

  • A Canadian man has managed to become friendly with Kim Jong Un and some of North Korea's highest ranking government officials.
  • Michael Spavor notably helped organize one of Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea.
  • He evidently gets unique access to North Korea's military parades and showcased some up close video this week.

While only a handful of Westerners can say that they are welcome into North Korea regularly, Michael Spavor appears to move around the restrictive country freely.

Spavor, a Canadian national who runs a non-profit and offers trips into North Korea, can even claim to be friendly with high level members of the North Korean government, including Kim Jong Un.

Essentially all foreign media was blocked from documenting North Korea's military parade on Thursday, but Spavor was somehow front and center, streaming an unfiltered view of the tanks and missiles that rolled by. Take a look:

Spavor became infatuated with North Korea during a trip to Seoul in the late 1990s, according to a 2013 profile in Canadian magazine Maclean's. Reporter Nicholas Köhler described him as "an affable, mild-mannered type" and "not what you'd expect from an emissary to North Korea."

Spavor eventually went to live in North Korea's capital Pyongyang for six months in 2005, working as a teacher at a school affiliated with a Canadian NGO.

Since 2005 he has been in and out of the country so many times, that he now speaks the North Korean dialect fluently — so fluently that he sometimes fools people on the phone, he said. He also ran a school in Yanji, a city in China that's close to the North Korean border.

Spavor notably helped former Chicago Bulls star turned self-styled diplomat Dennis Rodman get back into North Korea after his trip there with Vice News in 2013.

Spavor was able to get Rodman, a mixed-martial-arts fighter named Christopher Volo, and Joseph Terwilliger, a geneticist at the Columbia University Medical Center into the country, where they spent time with Kim at his seaside estate.

"In the media, Marshall Kim Jung Un is portrayed as serious," Spavor told Maclean's. "But we were able to see a more charismatic, friendly side to him. He has a good sense of humour."

He echoed these remarks to the Washington Post in 2017, describing Kim as confident and well spoken.

"He was acting very diplomatically and professionally," Spavor said. "He felt old beyond his years. He could be serious at times and fun at times but by no means did he seem weird or odd."

Dennis Rodman Kim Jong Un Michael Spavor © Provided by Business Insider Dennis Rodman Kim Jong Un Michael Spavor REUTERS/KCNA

Spavor currently runs Paektu Cultural Exchange, a Canadian-registered non-profit that promotes business and cultural ties with North Korea. Its website touts an "extensive network of contacts within the DPRK" and claims Spavor himself has "high-level contacts with government ministries and organizations throughout the DPRK."


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