FourSquare is everywhere … even North Korea

Whether you tweet or not, log into Facebook or skip it, you know that social media is everywhere. You just can’t get away from it. There are references on prime-time television, news stories all over the place and special deals at stores large and small. If you think you’re surrounded by this stuff, brace yourself: it’s more pervasive than you realize.

As I was scanning my Twitter stream this week, I saw a tweet by social media company FourSquare, a service that allows people to “check in” at different locations, track their friends and, if they choose, share their locations with the world.

The tweet contained a bold claim, specifically, that the service had recorded check-ins in every country in the world in November … even the most reclusive one:

With 8 check-ins in North Korea, foursquare users visited EVERY country in November! Bouvet Island, you’re one of just 5 territories left…less than a minute ago via web

%Gallery-109277%While FourSquare has yet to accumulate the user base of Twitter (175 million) or Facebook (550 million), it has grown quickly in the past year, going from a mere 725,000 in March to 5 million only 10 days ago … and it’s adding 25,000 every day.

In addition to letting your friends and followers know where you are, FourSquare has some tools that are useful for both occasional and frequent travels, including the ability to record and share tips at each of the locations you visit. While it’s fun to get check-ins at places that are prestigious, fun or remote, nothing says “for the win” – #FTW in Twitter parlance – quite like a North Korea check-in.

So, are you on FourSquare? What’s your craziest check-in? Leave a comment below to get the ball rolling! I have to admit: mine aren’t all that adventurous, but I am the mayor of an Upper West Side bodega. Okay, that doesn’t compare to a DPRK check-in!

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

Five travel suggestions for Julian Assange of Wikileaks

If you were just let out of solitary confinement after having wandered the globe, where would you go? Now, let’s make it complicated: what if you were one of the most controversial figures on the planet?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is now out on bail, and for now, he’s staying in the United Kingdom. But, there’s some doubt on how long he’ll be there, since the charges on which he’s being held may not be crimes there (though they are in Sweden, which is the country that wants him).

Well, he’s been granted bail, which means he’s out of solitary confinement but that his ability to travel is still constrained. If he winds up free of the charges against him in Sweden, Assange will probably want to hit the road for a bit and enjoy his newfound mobility … and Gadling is ready with some options.

Here are five travel alternatives for Julian Assange if he beats the rap (please forward this to Assange if you know him):

1. Washington, D.C.: given that he gets a lot of material from our nation’s capital, he could double it up as a work/pleasure trip. Nothing beats multitasking!

2. Reykjavik: Iceland has its own problems; I strongly suspect they don’t give a damn about any emotional or historical baggage that Assange will stuff into an IcelandAir overhead compartment.

3. Pyongyang: The U.S. State Department isn’t particularly active there, which means Assange will be able to vacation in relative peace. Even better, he could go to the Majong Bathing Resort and relax on the beach for a bit.

4. Back in time: since Assange’s lawyer claimed he was being “held in Orwellian conditions,” maybe he should revisit 1984 to see just how accurate the claim is.

5. Stockholm: nothing is as satisfying as delivering a big ol’ F*** YOU in person to the people who wanted to detain you.

Assange can’t really go anywhere until his next court appearance, which is on January 11, 2011. So, he’ll be in the London area for a while especially with curfews and a daily 6 PM check-in at the police station (I wonder if there’s a badge for that on FourSquare …).

If you know Assange, please send him this link with a few ideas on how he can spend his time.

[Via Business Insider, photo by Mataparda via Flickr]

North Korea says South Korea “Hell-Bent” on war

There’s always a lot of tension on the Korean peninsula, but the action just got a little hotter. According to Bloomberg News, the Korea Central News Agency, which is the official mouthpiece of the North Korean regime, “reported” that South Korea “is so hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war that it is recklessly behaving bereft of reason.” Meanwhile, the KCNA positions North Korea as above reproach, adding that the country is “now maintaining a maximum self-possession and self- control.”

The “news” from the North comes as South Korea amps up the military action with a live fire exercise in conjunction with the United States. North Korea believes that “the exercise will result in shells landing in its territorial waters,” Bloomberg reports.

%Gallery-109277%The latest level of posturing – and actual firing – has led to warnings by the South Korean government:

The South Korean government warned ships to avoid 29 areas around its coast before today’s drill. One zone lies about 7 miles (11 kilometers) off Daecheong, in waters claimed by North Korea that are about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the South Korean mainland.

Never a regime to shy away from a bit of propaganda, the North says:

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is getting tenser as the days go by and the danger of a war is increasing hour by hour,” the KCNA reported, citing a commentary in the Rodong newspaper. ‘The U.S. is giving spurs to an arms buildup and preparations for a war.”

[photo by jensowagner via Flickr]

Five North Korea trips for 2011, and a “no taxation” celebration

It isn’t easy to visit North Korea. The country makes it intentionally difficult for outsiders to get in. For those of us in the United States, the distances to be traveled increase the barrier even more. Well, I just got the list of tour options from Koryo Tours, and it looks like North Korea is more open than ever!

There are several ways you can get to Pyongyang and other cities in 2011 – and not just for the Arirang event. Chartered planes, bikes and new destinations are on the itinerary, making this an exciting company to reach the most isolated nation on the face of the planet. Take a look below at five ways you can visit North Korea next year.


1. Arirang 2011 confirmed: if you’ve always wanted to see Arirang in Pyongyang, next year’s dates have already been confirmed. Westerners will be able to witness the spectacle from August 1, 2011 through September 9, 2011. For those short on time or cash, consider taking a Mass Games Mini Break jaunt for three days.


2. Second city access: don’t stop at Pyongyang! In 2011, you have the option to visit Hamhung, on the east coast of North Korea, and Rason, the country’s free trade zone. From Rason, you’ll leave the country by train to Vladivostok.

3. Take your time: visitors to North Korea who don’t want to miss anything can take advantage of a 16-day excursion into the world’s most isolated country. In addition to a deep look at Pyongyang and the surrounding areas, you’ll fly by chartered plane out to Mount Paekdu, one of the most important sites in relation to the Kim family. Chongjin, Hamhung and Mount Kumgang are also on the itinerary.


4. Ride a bike: for the first time, you can bike across parts of North Korea (five-day and nine-day options are available). Pyongyang, Nampo and Sariwon are on the list, as well as Kaesong, the ancient capital. For the long option, you’ll also fly to Mount Paekdu by chartered plane for even more scenic cycling. This has never been done before!

5. No taxation: visit Pyongyang in late march to celebrate Tax Abolition Day (March 21, 2010). This is the anniversary of North Korea’s abolishing what the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted. Maybe we’ll see some of the “Tea Party” folks on this one?

[photo by David Stanley via Flickr]

Five American-style North Korean restaurants for foodies

This may not have been the case a few years ago, but Pyongyang is definitely on its way to becoming a culinary destination … well, maybe not. Nonetheless, it is pretty wild that the self-isolating regime has let slip some pretty wild information about the dining options available in the capital. If you can finagle a way into North Korea and somehow get yourself a bit of freedom to move, there are now some interesting restaurants for you to visit.

Swing an eating trip to Pyongyang, and you may find yourself munching on the familiar. There are several western-style restaurants popping up in this strange city, so eating like a local may mean eating like you’re home.

Let’s take a look at five restaurants in Pyongyang and how you could scarf that grub in style:1. Okryu Restaurant: just opened last week, this soon-to-be hot spot garnered a mention by the Korea Central News Agency, which means its launch was intended to be made public. The claim is that this place can accommodate thousands of customers, so live on the edge and skip making a reservation.

2. Samtaesung:
a relatively new addition to the Pyongyang culinary scene, this burger joint is open 24 hours a day and still recommends making reservations to pick up your food. This is a place to see and be seen, especially if you’re tight with the regime: Kim Jong-il‘s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is said to benefit personally from all the cash spent there.

3. Pizza (no name given): dine on pies with ingredients shipped in from Naples and Rome. The first North Korean pizza parlor is said to have been created at the request of Kim Jong-il himself, so you know the quality is going to be top notch! So, without a name, how can you expect to find the place? Ask where the pizza joint is; it’s not like there are dozens.

4. Beach (outside the city): get outside of Pyongyang, and you still have some options. In Wonsan, at the beach, you can find even more pizza. Just remember to wait at least 20 minutes before jumping back into the waves!

5. Cubby’s: this is the restaurant that never happened in Pyongyang. Originally the dream of a New Jersey BBQ joint owner, plans to expand Cubby’s to Pyongyang were explored. The owner, Bobby Egan, befriended some North Korean diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York City and even took a few trips over to his buddies’ homeland. Alas, according to his recent book, the plans for a DPRK franchise never came to fruition.

[photo by John Pavelka via Flickr]