From past posts readers might be under the impression that North Korean kindergartens are overwhelmingly filled with political and military statues and art. But there is a sweeter, more innocent side to DPRK kindergartens, aspects of which I would like to highlight in this photo post:
Photos from Chongjin and Rason Kindergartens .
Crayon drawing of a tank displayed at a Kindergarten in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
Graffiti that I found under a bridge at Inner Mt. Chilbo, North Korea.
Framed print at the Rason Foreign Language School showing school children stabbing an American GI, Japanese imperialist, and a South Korean running dog.
Jet, apple, ship, star, tank, and pear on a poster at the Sonbong Kindergarten.
Military personnel, unified Korea, and a missile launch on a painted exterior wall at the Sonbong Kindergarten.
The Kim Jong-il statue on Pyongyang’s Mansudae Hill got a new jacket this year: a massive bronze winter parka.
The Mansudae Hill Kim Jong-il statue was originally unveiled to the North Korean people on the April 15th, 2012, the 100th birthday anniversary of eternal President Kim Il-sung. I was among the first group of tourists to visit the statue when the monument was officially reopened to foreigners the following day. The original 2012 Kim Jong-il statue attire included a bronze medium length formal style jacket. Apparently authorities didn’t find the formal jacket representative to late leader’s career, so master artists of the Mansudae Art Studio were tasked to cast a giant copy of the late leader’s iconic winter parka – see Kim Jong-il looking at things.
Time examined Kim Jong-il’s parka and reported the following comments from the North Korean Rodong Sinmun:
“People around the world are attracted to and following not only the jacket our Great Leader is wearing,” Rodong Sinmun wrote in 2010, “but also his attitude, facial expressions, hand gestures, and even his handwriting.” All over the world, the parka was “the most valuable and noble item to have.”
Original Kim Jong-il statue with the 2012 formal bronze jacket.
Framed print of children attacking US soldier snowmen at the Chongjin Kindergarten. I have been told the Korean script on the snowmen says “American bastards” – extreme propaganda for a kindergarten!
This painting of the North Korean missile was also found at this Chongjin Kindergarten.
Update – further details on the translation from my comments: The snowman on the left appears to have “쥐명박” (jui-myeong-bak) written on it. The name of South Korea’s former president is “이명박” (lee-myeong-bak). They have changed the family name of the former president from the original “이” (lee) to “쥐” (jui), which means “rat”. The DPRK often referred to him as a rat and Seoul as a rat’s nest. Nice find, Captain!
A great film about my favorite ladies, A Traffic Controller on Crossroads is newly out with English subtitles on Youtube. In The DPRK the film is described as a romantic comedy, and while through a western perspective I found it neither, the film still provides a unique look into North Korean culture via their domestic film industry.
Painting of the North Korea’s recent successful missile launch at a Chongjin Kindergarten.
Propaganda? Or a celerbrarion of a milestone in North Korea’s technological advancement?
Snow White in North Korea – did Disney authorize this embroidery piece from the Pyongyang Embroidery Institute? I think not.
I couldn’t resist and bought the piece for $40.
Somewhat shunned by other tour groups, my group loved the Pyongyang Embroidery Institute. You get to see girls hard at work on elaborate embroidery pieces and shop their showroom for great deals on amazing artwork ranging from revolutionary war subjects to scenes of traditional Korean maidens, and yes, even Walt Disney.
I calculate having traveled to 95 countries (I used higher standards on the count than the Century Club accepts its members by).
I expect to visit my 100th country at some point this year; I have no idea what country it will be, but whoever is the first to make the correct guess by leaving a comment on this post will win a North Korean stamp book and other prizes from the DPRK.
Make a guess and win a book of stamps like the one above!
Hanging out next to a South Korean brothel on ’60s street at the Pyongyang Film Studios.
From the Lonely Planet online guide – Some 20 films a year are still churned out by the county’s main film studios located in the suburbs of Pyongyang. Kim Il Sung visited the complex around 20 times during his lifetime to provide invaluable on-the-spot guidance, while Kim Jr has been more than 600 times, such is his passionate interest in films. Like all things North Korean, the two main focuses are the anti-Japanese struggle and the anti-American war.
The main complex is a huge, propaganda-filled suite of office buildings where apparently post-production goes on, even though it feels eerily empty. A short uphill drive takes you to the large sets, however, which are far more fun. Here you’ll find a generic ancient Korean town for historic films (you can even dress up as a king or queen and be photographed sitting on a ‘throne’ carpeted in leopard skin), a 1930s Chinese street, a Japanese street, a south Korean street (look for the massage signs that illustrate their compatriots’ moral laxity) and a fairly bizarre range of structures from a collection of ‘European’ buildings. Some groups have been lucky and seen films being made during their visit, although usually it’s hauntingly empty.
More pics from the Pyongyang Film Studio linked below.
Comrade Kim Goes Flying, the first ever feature film done in collaboration between North Korean and Western producers, will have its world premiere screening this September at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Synopsis– from the official site
Comrade Kim Yong Mi is a North Korean coal miner. Her dream of becoming a trapeze artist is crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil who believes miners belong underground and not in the air. A heartwarming story of trying to make the impossible possible.
Programmer’s Note – From the Toronto International Film Festival
A winning, life-affirming fable about a young coal miner’s pursuit of her dream to become an acrobat, Comrade Kim Goes Flying marks a milestone in film history: it is the first Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea. But this charming film wears its heavy historical mantle with grace, weaving a lovely, light-hearted tale whose themes — overcoming adversity, and realizing the dream of a lifetime—upend our assumptions of a largely cloistered culture.
Kim Yong-mi (Han Jong-sim) works as a coal miner in a small village. She dreams of one day joining the national circus and performing on the trapeze — despite the fact that she is deathly afraid of heights. When she is promoted and sent to the capital, Pyongyang, she seizes the opportunity to make her dream come true. Insinuating herself into the circus and struggling to overcome her acrophobia, Yong-mi meets Pak Jang-phil (Pak Chung-guk), the arrogant, good-looking star of the Pyongyang Trapeze Troupe. At first, Jang-phil makes fun of the congenitally klutzy Yong-mi. But eventually her beauty, endearing personality and unyielding determination win him over, and give him a valuable lesson in humility.
The team behind Comrade Kim Goes Flying — co-writer and co-director Nicholas Bonner, an Englishman based in Beijing who has long promoted cultural exchange with North Korea; his collaborator Kim Gwang-hun, a North Korean filmmaker; and Belgian filmmaker Anja Daelemans, who also served as co-producer — spent six years putting this unprecedented project together, overcoming numerous difficulties — not least the fact that their stars are actual circus acrobats who had never acted before. But the result is a gorgeously filmed romantic comedy that transports us to a fantastic world seemingly out of time, with astonishing, candy-coloured images of the seldom-seen North Korea.
The Toronto International Film Festival’s schedule of screenings for Comrade Kim Goes Flying:
September 8 at 3:45 PM Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 3 – World Premiere
September 11 at 9:30 PM Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 5
September 16 at 3:45 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
It’s great news that this film has made it to the Toronto International Film Festival; last spring producer Nick Bonner shared with me some of the problems Comrade Kim Goes Flying has had in finding its way to international audiences –paraphrasing from memory:
“Most international film festivals have a policy against screening films they consider to be state sponsored propaganda. At first glance by those unfamiliar with the colors, music, and emotions presented in North Korean art, this film might give the impression that it’s some form of propaganda, but no North Korean watching Comrade Kim Goes Flying would ever mistake it for such, for them this will be regarded as a fantasy/romantic comedy.”
Comrade Kim Goes Flying will be shown to audiences throughout the DPRK and will present to them provocative scenes the likes of which have never been seen in North Korean cinema. I was given the honor to preview some of these clips, and while international viewers might easily overlook their importance, scenes depicting corruption in the state system and child obesity have been designed to shock domestic North Korean audiences. Viewers will also be treated to what producer Nick Bonner describes as the “sexiest scene in North Korean cinema”, an upward shot of Comrade Kim in her leotard climbing a ladder to the trapeze – YAWZA YAWZA!
One last interesting aspect of the film I should mention is the delightful animation of the opening credits. The animation during this sequence takes its influence from modern North Korean wood block prints, the style of which can be seen in the promotional picture at the top of this post, and also here in its common form.
Soldier squirrels, missiles, and AK-47s raised defiantly into the air, just a few examples of the roadside attractions (propaganda) commonly seen in towns outside Pyongyang, North Korea.
One of the major changes from last summer that I saw in Pyongyang this spring was the newly hung portrait of Kim Jong-il in Kim II Sung Square, Pyongyang. Kim Jong-il is credited with the creation and fostering of his father’s personality cult, yet in his lifetime he had restrained the establishment of a personality cult of his own, but following his death portraits and statues have started to pop up throughout Pyongyang and beyond – check out the new Kim Joing-il mural in the Pyongyang Mansudae neighborhood.
Taking a picture that fails to fully capture the image of Kim II Sung is strictly forbidden – although I captured the one above.
Kim Jong-il and Kim II-sung portraits in Kim II-sung Square during the preparations for the 100th year birthday of Kim II-sung.
View of Kim II-sung Square from atop Juche Tower – at 300mm zoom.
- Pyongyang Mansudae Housing Complex (americaninnorthkorea.com)