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Lisa's "cover" to enter North Korea had her posing as an aide to a Nepalese eye doctor. This doctor and his team were in North Korea with a charitable organization, performing more than 1,000 cataract surgeries in 12 days.

Lisa says she was surprised by the reactions of the patients. They'd remove their eye patches, able to see for the first time in years, and they would not thank the surgeons. Instead, they thanked the "Great Leader" and the "Dear Leader" and broke out into tears and applause. Though the surgeries were not funded by the North Korean government, the outside organization wasn't allowed to put up their signs. "The people are led to believe that the leaders provided for them," she says.

The simple fact that an outside group had to come in to perform this surgery tells volumes about life in North Korea. "In the U.S., if you get even a minor cataract you can have an operation immediately," Lisa says. "But these people—even young people in their early 20s—they'd have mature cataracts and been blind for 10 years. It gives you a sense of the malnourishment and the resources and the conditions there."
FROM: Exclusive: Lisa Ling Takes a Rare Trip Inside North Korea
Published on October 11, 2006