Going Home: Virtual reality allows 88-year-old to ‘return home’ to his North Korean village for first time in 68 years

Hyundai Motor Group’s video ‘Going Home’ in which 88 year old Mr Kim takes a virtual trip to his North Korean village, which he last saw 68 years ago.

Hyundai Motor Group’s video ‘Going Home’ in which 88-year-old Mr Kim takes a virtual trip to his North Korean village, which he last saw 68 years ago.

29 November 2015

Hyundai Motors Group’s ‘Going Home’ project has enabled an 88-year-old man to experience the feeling of returning to the place of his birth in what is now North Korea – 68 years after he last saw his village. Following the Korean War and division of the country, Mr Kim has been unable to visit his home town or see the friends and relatives he left behind nearly 70 years ago. But now, using some of the virtual reality technologies that assist automobile development, the South Korean car manufacturing company has virtually recreated Mr Kim’s home town and released a short video of Mr Kim’s experience that has been viewed over 10 million times on youtube in just one week.

The video shows how artists and designers worked with Mr Kim to recreate as fully as possible his home village as he remembers it, down to the mists rolling across the river in spring. The team drove Mr Kim to a location near the Demilitarised Zone which divides North and South, and stopped in front of a huge, wrap-around 3D screen. From there the trip becomes a virtual one, driving through an imagined “Inter-Korean Transit Office” and on through the countryside, through down-town Pyongyang and out to Mr Kim’s village. Mr Kim is clearly bowled over by the seeming-reality of the experience and when they pull up in front of his old house he calls out for his mother. When she does not come we are confronted, in a rather heart-wrenching moment, with the limits of such technology and the personal realities of human conflict and division. At the site of his ancestor’s graves, Mr Kim pays homage and asks his father: “Forgive me for taking so long to come back home.”

As such technologies improve, the offerings of virtual travel become more exciting. The high levels of interest from major companies (for example Facebook’s US$2 billion purchase earlier this year of virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift) indicate that investors see huge potential in the future of virtual travel. For those journeys that cannot be made physically – like Mr Kim’s – it seems that virtual travel is fast becoming a meaningful substitute.

The desire to return home is a strong motivating factor in many journeys, as it was for Mr Kim and the Hyundai team. The powerful concept of home has been noted by scholars across the sciences, arts and humanities, and is one we often carry with us on any journey. It is a common theme across many cultures that people will go to great lengths to return home, whether that be Odysseus’s years of journeying or Mr Kim’s virtual trip across the Korean border. As Mr Kim says: “all animals eventually find their way home.”

The Independent Transport Commission believes that understanding why we travel is vital if we are to anticipate future travel behaviours and create travel experiences – virtual and physical – that are more satisfying. The ITC’s Why Travel? project explores the various and complex motivations that shape our travel behaviours from a variety of perspectives across the sciences and humanities. Our aim is to better understand human travel and – crucially – to inform better decision-making about travel in to the future. For more information on the project, including expert views and current research, see www.whytravel.org.

To see Mr Kim ‘Going Home’, watch the video below: