Kim Jong Il's birthday!

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


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Flag of Korea Dem Peoples Rep  ,
Saturday, February 16, 2008

It was the day of Kim Jong Il's birthday but the festivities were not completly cear yet, not to us but apparently also not to our guides!

We started with a visit to the metro. The Pyongyang metro system has two lines and the stops all have names like : Glory, Red Star, Comrade, Revival etc. A long excalator takes you about 200m down to the tracks. The stations are exceptionaly beautiful; a lot of marble, revolutionary pianting and colourfull chandeleers. All decorations in line with the name of the station. We were only in the metro for a short distance, but we saw that even in the metro carts are the portraits of the leaders. The metro itself is old and looked bleak in comparison to the splendour of the stations. Of course these old wagons have a certain charm but as it is one of the few systems of public transport there is in Pyongyang it would probably be better if it had more modern, dependable material.

One After visiting the metro we went to a Primary school were there was a special ceremony introducing a group of children to political life. After marching, singing songs and shouting some things in Korean the children held up red bandanas that were placed around there shoulders. I believe it is quite an honour to receive it as it means you are a good student/example etc. In China they have similar bandanas. Some children also received a certificate for being the best students. It was a very impressive ceremony because the children were so disciplined but maybe also a little bit scary to see them so convinced and quite militant. Although we couldn't understand what they were saying, at times it sounded like they were ready for a fight and they were only small children.

We also visited the Mansudae Grand Monument, with the huge statue of Kim Il Sung. Apparantly the people had been wanting to build this moniment when he was still alive but he had declined. However, after his death his son decided that it was a good idea so that the people could come together to honour and mourn his father. There were many Koreans placing flowers and bowing for the Grand Statue. We did the same, although our bowing still needs some work!

On each side of the statue there is a enormous revolutionary work of art. These are similar to the ones in front of Mao's Mausoleum on Tiananmen Square, but much bigger.
It is a very solemn place and when taking photos of the stue it is important to get the whole statue on it, it is not allowed to take a photo of only the feet or the lower half. This is seen as disrespectful. This is not just something to keep in mind when taking photos but there are also rules for folding papers etc. The newspapers are folded in a way to make sure that the leaders' photos are not creased!

We tried our luck at the Children's Palace again and this time we were lucky. I don't know what I had expected but I do know it was nothing like it. The theater was enormous and filled with people. The show was filled with song, dance and theatre. The choreography was amazing and the children gave away a perfect show. The show had various themes but it mainly told the history of the country. We were al incredibly impressed and wished we could have bought a DVD of the performance, I don't think I will ever see anything like it again.

The visit to the Children's Palace was not only great because of the show but also because we spotted a foreigner that we knew has some connections to the Korean government. We had our hearts set on seeing a Mass Dance on Kim Il Sung Square but our guides had been telling us that there was no way of knowing for sure if that would happen. But this guy said there definately would be one at 3 o'clock. It took some persuading from us and our guides had to make many phone calls but in the end we drove to the square to see if we could see anything. Some security guards had to be convinced but then we were allowed to watch. Music was blearing and there were about 10.000 people on the square dancing, the men mostly in suits and the women in colourful traditional Korean dresses. After watching for a while I was invited to join the dance! I'm an awful dancer but of course this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I took it. The dances look quite simple but I still thought it was hard to remember the steps.

One of the strangest things we got to see in North Korea was the Kimjongilja Flower Show. This is a flower show completely dedicated to the fower named after Kim Jong Il. It is beuatiful flower but to fill a whole building with ti becomes a bit boring after 5 minutes. Some flower arrangements were impressive but most were very similar with a maquete of Paekdu mountain and the log cabin..... This is the place where Kim Jong Il was born and the mountain has been holy for forever, so it is an important place to Koreans. But it made us incredibly bored to see tiny log cabin after tiny log cabin.

The nice thing about the show was that the place was packed with Koreans so we could make some contact with Koreans, which was very nice. When we left the building there were vendors selling ice cream...in minus 10 degrees weather!! BRRRR

We also visited the Juche Tower and the Worker's Monument and had a short walk in the city. During this walk we witnessed some of the small changes that have taken place in Pyongyang; small kiosks selling snacks such as hot dogs and things like that. Prices were in Korean won, when I asked about the rate of the won, I was told after some hesitation that it's a secret!

Because of the birthday of Kim Jong Il there were also a lot of temporary stalls throughout the city selling lemonade, cotton candy etc. Lines for these stalls were often very long because it is a national holiday and all Koreans were free from work and school.

It was an impressive day; we got to do and see some special things and we had some more freedom, even though it was still minimal. When we went for the walk we took one of the underground passageways to cross the road and only afterwards I thought how strange this was because there is hardly any traffic! At some places in the city we also saw elevated walkways and the strangest thing is that the people actually use them even though they could easily cross it normally. I think the Koreans would never be able to cross any road in Shanghai!
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