A reporter searches for authenticity in North Korea

Reporting from North Korea is equal parts fascinating and frustrating.

There's no doubt they're masters at putting on a show, but it's hard to know what is performance and what is real.

North Korea's government granted permission for us to visit this fall. We were bused around like tourists. We couldn't choose where to go, but were brought to different places, such as the birthplace of Kim Il Sung - the founder of modern North Korea and the grandfather of current "supreme" leader, Kim Jong Un.

At this tourist stop, there was little chance of hearing tales of human rights abuse or hunger in this secretive state, which is infamous for both.

They took us deep into a metro station and, even here, it was hard to know what was staged. Asking folks didn't add much clarity, especially with a government-assigned "minder" controlling with whom we could speak.

"I think she doesn't like it too," our minder told me when I asked to speak with a lady, before I even had the chance to ask her.

Still, it was clear just how deeply the government touches its people.

"Why do you want to wear Kim Il Sung?" I asked a man who said he wears a pin of the leader every day.

"This is my heart," he said. "This doesn't get off, even one hour."

We had been granted access to this secretive country, but it felt more like we were being ushered around the city and shown to our seats at a show.

There were actual performers, which demonstrated the precision and prowess of the softer side of this nuclear-armed state.

Unbelievably, the government even took us to a dolphin performance. Here, the aim couldn't possibly have been to "wow" us with the tricks these marine mammals could do. No, the real show was next to us in the stands - seemingly happy and apparently middle-class North Koreans. We tried again to speak to some of these spectators.

"We don't have time," our minder told me. We tried again outside, until our minder lost his patience.

"We have to go. If you want this to be your last trip, you do it," he snapped.

"Last trip? So you're saying if we interview people, we can't come to North Korea?" I asked him.

"You can't come, you can't come," he said.

The military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ruling Worker's Party was the focal point of our visit. It's what the government wanted us foreign journalists to broadcast home - a "strong" North Korea.

But what struck us even more than the military might were the faces of those everyday people, looking up at their leader Kim Jong Un in awe. Could that possibly be an act? Afterwards, we asked parade-goer Kim Su Ha about the anti-American rhetoric we'd heard and seen here.

"I didn't know that you are an American, but it's quite surprising," she told me, giggling. "You're not as evil as what I've read about in books."

There it was, a glimpse of something authentic -- a sense that so much could be accomplished if we could only communicate for real.