Archive for December, 2011

Eric Lafforgue’s North Korea

With multiple visits under his belt, and with an Arirang Mass Games photo gracing the cover of National Geographic Magazine, Eric Lafforgue is the world’s photography authority on North Korea. It was the discovery of his work just over a year ago that inspired me to learn digital photography and to pursue travel and street photography. Eric not only works his craft in North Korea, his award winning photos cover the most inaccessible parts of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Be sure to check them out at his Flickr page!

Kim - North Korea DPRK 북한

She’s called Kim i Sim – photo by Eric Lafforgue.  The photo that cemented my obsession with North Korea and fueled my ambition to become a better photographer.

Several photo story series by Eric Lafforgue:

USA? No, North Korea!

The Dear Leaders are watching you – North Korea  

Unknown North Korea  

Through the lens of a master – a set of Arirang Mass Games photos by Eric Lafforgue.

Arirang Mass Games in May Day stadium Pyongyang- North Korea

Sexy army in Arirang Mass Games in May Day stadium Pyongyang- North Korea

Arirang mass games in Pyongyang - North Korea

Arirang mass games in Pyongyang - North Korea

Kids in Arirang Mass Games in May Day stadium Pyongyang- North Korea

Kids at Arirang Mass Games in May Day stadium Pyongyang- North Korea

I want to thank Eric for personally giving me his permission to post his photos on this blog!


Breaking DPRK News!

Breaking DPRK news from an inside source – North Korea will reopen to tourists starting Jan. 10th, 2012!

Reunification Statue

Reunification Statue – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Children’s Palace, North Korea

The Pyongyang Children’s Palace, a place for the children of the privileged elite to spend time after school practicing sports, art, folk dance and music – and of course, show it all off with military like precision and forced smiles to groups of visiting foreign friends and tourists.

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

A young girl performs a North Korean folk dance at the Pyongyang Children’s Palace.


Nightmarishly Strange Mass Games

Dancing chickens, cows, sheep, and even a giant pig – a nightmarishly weird boasting of agriculture and animal husbandry power and success during the North Korean Arirang Mass Games.

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea


Funny Old White Men in North Korea

Paintings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin in Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea.

Karl Marx in North Korea

Vladimir Lennon in North Korea


North Korean Photos by Andrew Lombardi

A collection of my favorite photos by Andrew Lombardi – the other photographer in my group on my trip to North Korea.

Mister Lee outside some restaurant

North Korean guide Mr. Lee.

Miss Yu "Gina'o" outside the International Friendship Museum

North Korean Guide Ms. Yu.

Our faithful bus driver Mister Che

Our fearless driver in North Korea.

Local Guide for International Friendship Museum

Local guide at Mt. Myohyang, DPRK, North Korea.

Kids waiting to enter the caves

School group at Mt. Myohyang caves, DPRK, North Korea.

Korean girls walking outside of Kim Il Sung birthplace

North Korean children at the family home of Kim Il sung.

Pointing on the map, the red circle is where the Axe Incident occurred

Trip guide Mrs Kim at the DMZ.

Locals decide to play frisbee with us

Frisbee diplomacy in Pyongyang.


Our guide “love(s) American civilians!” at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

A required stop on any tour to North Korea is the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. Here you will be ushered through room after room of displays showing off and explaining the great North Korean victory over American invaders during what we know as the Korean War (Forgotten War). What you see depends on your nationality, I have been told of three routes – perhaps there are more. North Korean visitors will see exhibits proclaiming the heroics of Kim Il-sung and the North Korean people and soldiers – little mention will be made of Chinese and Russian contributions. Separate exhibits for Chinese visitors celebrate their role in the war, while other exhibits for western foreigners focus on placing the blame for the conflict on the Americans and of telling of all the American war crimes and genocidal acts. 

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

We were shown war scene dioramas and 360 degree panoramas of Americans in defeat, DVD propaganda presentations, and led to a great basement warehouse housing captured tanks, wreaked airplanes, and all manner of  war trophies and captured memorabilia – but the most interesting thing about the War Museum was our guide.  We asked her who she thought had won the war, “we did of course because we defended our homeland against the great American invaders and forced a draw.”  Pretty good answer we thought, but then one of us asked what she thought would happen if there was another conflict, her eyes lit up and a diabolical smile spread across her face, “if we need to defend our homeland again we will take the opportunity to annihilate the Americans!”  WOW! – this was the first time on the trip we were exposed to such militaristic fanaticism – but I guess its pretty hard to get a job at the War Museum in North Korea if you are soft on Americans.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang

After being told of our impending annihilation we split our group between our trip guides and the local museum guide to fit into a small elevator to return to the museum entrance. Stuffed in the elevator between 5 big western men our guide asked us where we were from – Michigan, Maine, California, and so on.  The look on our guide’s face was priceless, she was stuck in an elevator with 5 arch enemy Americans just moments after she predicted our impending annihilation by North Korean troops. The look of shock on her face changed into a big smile as our guide declared “I love American civilians!” and together we all all broke out into laughter – one of the best moments of the trip!

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Defeated American Army in North Korea

A portion of the giant 360 degree American defeat panorama painting.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Americans in defeat, painting at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Wreak of an American plane form the Korean War.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Captured American tank from the Korean War.

War Trophies from the US Spy Ship Pueblo

War trophies from the sailors of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.

Pueblo US Spy Ship Incident

Exhibit on the capture of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.


Kim Jong-Il is Dead… What Now?

I try to avoid politics on this blog, I want to be invited back for a return trip to the DPRK, so I mostly stick with the cultural side of things highlighted by my original photos, and with an occasional link to the more controversial posts over at my associate’s site, The North Korea Blog.

This morning I found some interesting analysis about what the future might hold for the DPRK, all dependent on how well the young Kim Jung-un is able to quickly consolidate power. Check it out at the link below.

Kim Jong-Il is Dead… What Now?

Tower of the Juche Idea

Will Juche Idea survive?

Tower of the Juche Idea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


North Korean Visa Application Sent

Just sent in my application for a North Korean visa! Who knows if this 2nd trip to the DPRK will actually happen – fingers crossed.

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Metro Propaganda

Beautiful propaganda murals, mosaics, and statues from the Pyongyang Metro. Related post and pictures about the Pyongyang Metro here.

Pyongyang Metro Propaganda Art

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang Metro Propaganda Art

Pyongyang Metro Propaganda Art

Pyongyang Metro Propaganda Art

Jordan Harbinger on the Pyongyang Metro


Pyongyang Golf Course (9 holes) is gone!

The 2012 PGA tour through North Korea has been canceled – just joking, but as per the article below it looks like the 9 hole Pyongyang course at the Yanggakdo Hotel has been removed.


Yanggakdo Golf Course is no more…

North Korean Golf Course

Yanggakdo Golf Course Aug. 2011 – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Citizen Actors North Korea – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about North Korean citizen actors and how I didn’t really believe they were employed on the Pyongyang metro for the benefit of tourists, but there were some instances on our trip that we felt we had encountered citizen actors. Below two women play a board game on the Koryo Museum grounds in Kaesong. So engrossed in their game that they ignored our presence as we passed by, but just a short time later I backtracked to get a few more pics and they were gone.

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea is officially an atheist state with all of the people’s attention and energy directed to the personalty cult of Kim II-sung and Kim Jong-il – that’s why I suspect the monk below is actually an actor working at the Pohyon Buddhist Temple, but I could be wrong.

Buddhist Monk in North Korea


Citizen Actors North Korea – Part 1

Urban legends and rumors abound that when on tour in North Korea the people you encounter will be government paid actors – this rumor mostly centers around the Pyongyang metro experience.

A map on the wall of the next station depicts a rather extensive subway network, with several stations scattered across Pyongyang. Several South Koreans I know are adamant that the entire thing is a sham, a Potemkin Village that consists of just two stations, and even those just for show. The “riders,” according to them, are all actors posing for tourists. They swear they have actually seen people get off one train and get right back on heading the opposite direction, in an infinite loop. From what I saw, I can’t say whether this is true or not, but it sounds a bit outlandish to me. It might well be true that there aren’t actually that many stops, and that the others stations aren’t anywhere near as fancy. But to run the whole thing just to impress foreigners … well, that would be pathetic, because it’s just not that impressive.

I agree with the above writer and feel that the metro was an authentic experience, but I also believe that just a few years back, when North Korea was first allowing in tourists and before the current construction boom, that it was possible that the metro might have had some citizen actors riding the trains for whatever reason the government felt that they needed them there.

The following is a collection of photos I took at various stations on the Pyongyang metro.  Could all this be an elaborate set and show for foreign visitors? I think not. Tomorrow I will post Part 2, a small photo collection of the people we encountered and suspected of actually being citizen actors.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal lady at the Pyongyang metro.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal ladies at the Pyongyang metro.

Pyongyang Metro

The long escalator down to a Pyongyang metro station.

Pyongyang Metro

Female soldier catching her train.

Pyongyang Metro

Metro train interior.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal lady and train.

Pyongyang Metro

Man waiting for his train.

Pyongyang Metro

Crowd offloading a metro train.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang metro signal lady at attention.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang metro signal lady at attention.

DSC07441

North Korean school group at the metro.

DSC07438

North Korean school group at the metro.

DSC07437

North Korean school group at the metro.

DSC07436

Waiting for the train at the Pyongyang metro.


North Korea in Black and White

A photo collection of the children of North Korea in black in white from my Aug. 2011 trip.

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea in Black and White

North Korea in Black and White

North Korea in Black and White

North Korea in Black and White

North Korea in Black and White

Children of North Korea

Children of North Korea

Children of North Korea

Children of North Korea


North Korea – My Hopes and Fears

I have it from a contact that North Korea has instituted a total communications lock down – nothing in or out unless authorized by the highest levels of government leadership. Of course it was the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il that ushered in this latest crackdown. I really hope this current state of uneasiness, and the probable period of instability to come, will quickly pass. I have a trip planned for this April and I hope travel restrictions are lifted by then – but that’s a selfish reason. On my first trip I truly fell in love the North Korean people and I hope them the best – the average person there deserves better.

We shared amazing moments with the North Koreans we were lucky enough to meet – interactions I would never have believed possible. We were the great American enemy, but we laughed, danced, sang, joked, played games, held hands, and even shed a few tears.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Frisbee Diplomacy – doing our own little part to help American and North Korean relations and understanding at a grassroots level.  More on this to come!