A few days in Pyongyang

Trip Start Oct 18, 2007
Trip End Sep 09, 2010

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Flag of Korea Dem Peoples Rep  ,
Friday, February 15, 2008

Our first real day in Pyongyang we had to get up early because there was a lot on the program. We started with the Grand People's Study House. This is a huge library of sorts where anyone can come to study. It was apparently build in an amazingly short time and it is huge. When you come in you see a very large statue of Kim Il Sung sitting in a chair against a mosaic background of Paekdu Mountain, a mountain holy to all Koreans and more so for the North Koreans because Kim Jong Il was born here in a log cabin.

The interior reminded me a lot of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (the Chinese Parliament building). It is not just a library, you can also take classes, follow lectures, listen to music (there was also some modern music: the Beatles and the Beautiful South!) and many grand rooms to read about numerous subjects. There are also smaller rooms where very knowledgable people can answer any questions you might have.

It was here we noticed that every room, and I mean every room has the portraits of both leaders hanging on the wall. Looking into apartments from our bus we also noticed the portraits in the houses and even the ice skating hall had the two huge portraits placed between the tribunes.

After the Study House we went to the Film Studios, this was not very interesting because they were not filming any movies at the time. But it was funny to drive through ancient China, ancient Korea, Europe, Japan in only a few minutes time. It was here we noticed for the first time that we were not allowed to take photos of things that show that they are a developing country. We saw a man with two oxes but our photo request was turned down.

The plan was to watch a performance at the Childrens' Palace but when we arrived we weren't allowed in. Later we would here that they had no electricity and so they couldn't do the show. We hurried to the ice skating rink, on the way there we all tried to get some good photos of the pyramid hotel that is still under construction and has been for a long time. Apparently they started building it in the eighties and at some point construction was halted and it has not been resumed again. It is now a huge pyramid shaped concrete skeleton that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

We arrived at the Ice skating festival just in time for the opening ceremony. This was very impressive, many skaters all choreographed in beautiful patterns. Even though it was great to see the big Ice skating champions later on, we agreed that the opening ceremony was most special. During the skating we were filmed and photographed by many Koreans and we got the feeling we might be famous the next day!

The next stop was the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. The museum was very interesting and very big, so big that it is probably imposible to heat it properly. It was cold inside, maybe even colder than outside (-10degrees celsius).

We only saw a small part of the museum that focussed on how Korea was split up by the USA and how the USA planned the Korean War. This was all backed up by documents that the North Koreans had found at the US headquarters in Seoul when they recaptured Seoul during the war. In the basement we first saw the planes that the Koreans had used in the war and later we saw many weapons, cars, planes and even a helicopter that the US had used. When we asked what had happened to the US soldier that was captured when his helicopter was shot down our guide couldn't tell us, she had never thought about it, she said, but thought he had been send home.

There was also a replica of the US spyship the USS Pueblo in the museum and they had the confessions of the crew of the boat on display, we would later visit the real Pueblo but first we saw a 15m high, 132m circumference 360degree diorama portraying the liberation of Taejon. You stand in the middle and the ground revolves so you are let through the battle from begin to end. It was amazingly well made and very impressive.

From here we went to the USS Pueblo, this American spy ship was captured by North Korea in 1968. 82 crewman were captured and 1 was killed and the captured eventually wrote elaborate confessions saying they were spying and were indeed in North Korean waters, something the US has always denied. We could read these confessions and it showed quite well that they wrote what they had to write to get home. However, the documents and materials found on board the ship definately proof that the ship was a spyship.

After seeing a performance by highschool students we went to a bookshop where there wer many books for sale. There was no electricity so the salespeople followed us with flashlights so we could browse the books. Some of the books available: Kim Jong Il on the Juche Philosophy, Distortion of US Provocation of Korean War, The Anti-Japanese Heroine, Korea's Reunification-A Burning Question, The US Imperialists started the Korean War, The Immortal Woman Revolutionary, The Truth behind the revision of History Textbook by Japanese Authorities etc etc. I bought a whole stack of them but haven't read any yet.

And finally we were allowed to just take a walk, the whole day we had been goin in and out of the bus, in and out of buildings without just being outside on the street. The strangest thing is that you are not stared at even though you are one of the few tourists every year. In China, where people should be used to white people by now people stil stare and talk about you, but in Korea you are not given a second glance most of the time.

Because we were there in the week of Kim Jong Il's birthday there were decorations everywhere. Most decoration were vry colourful and featured some Korean text and 16.2 (his birthday). Also the portraits of the leaders, propaganda posters and mosaics are everywhere. Subjects vary from Reunification of Korea, to defeating the USA, to telling people to study, to honouring the leaders.
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starlagurl on

Hey Nina,
I'm featuring your blog entry on the TravelPod blog in the next couple weeks. Keep your eye on http://blog.travelpod.com

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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