That Which is Forbidden

S M Chen
4 min readJan 31, 2021

I recently viewed a comprehensive film on what happened to Otto Warmbier.

Here is a link:

To refresh your memory, in 2016, 21-year-old college (U. of VA) student Otto Warmbier, of Cincinnati, OH, took a trip to North Korea.

He booked the trip via Young Pioneers Tours, a travel agency based in Xian, China, whose slogan was: “We take you to destinations your mother would rather you stay away from.”

Little did anyone know how true that would turn out to be.

In Pyongyang, along with others, he stayed in the only hotel allocated for foreigners. Up until the time of his arrest, on January 2, videos confirm he seemed to be having a good time — laughing, vibrant, healthy.

The hotel he stayed in had a forbidden 5th floor. There was no number 5 on the elevator placard, although it did stop on floor 5.

That floor is for the hotel staff. It is also the headquarters of the hotel’s closed-circuit TV.

Out of a nod to superstition, some U. S. hotels don’t have a 13th floor, but instead skip from 12 to 14.

Tetraphobia is a real phenomenon in some Asian cultures.

The words for ‘4’ and ‘death’ sound alike in Mandarin.

I once commented how nice the exterior of house 444 seemed, on a street of a Chinese friend.

“I wouldn’t take it if you gave it to me,” the friend rejoined.

Otto managed to access the 5th floor on 1/1/16. At 1:57 am, he pilfered a propaganda poster and was identified on closed-circuit TV recording. Big Brother was watching.

Everything went downhill from there.

Otto did not accompany his fellow Americans on the return flight home on January 2.

Instead, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Our first parents lived an idyllic life in the garden of Eden. They had access to practically everything. Everything…