The Non Propaganda Kindergarten Environment

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:

Chongjin Kindergarten North Korea






DSC01396 (1)


Photos from Chongjin and Rason Kindergartens .

Kindergarten Tank Art


Crayon drawing of a tank displayed at a Kindergarten in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

North Korean Graffiti

Graffiti that I found under a bridge at Inner Mt. Chilbo, North Korea.





More North Korean Children’s School Propaganda Art

Rason Foreign Language School 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.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Kim Jong-il’s New Jacket

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.”

The New Pyongyang Kim Jong-il Statue

Original Kim Jong-il statue with the 2012 formal bronze jacket.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

North Korean Kindergarden Propaganda


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.

Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

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 Traffic Controller on Crossroads

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.

Kindergarten Missile

Kindergarten Missile Chongjin, North Korea

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?

photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Snow White in North Korea

Snow White in North Korea

Snow White in North Korea – did Disney authorize this embroidery piece from the Pyongyang Embroidery Institute?  I think not.

Snow White in North Korea

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.

Faces of North Korea

A high quality YouTube North Korea slideshow by ingoophotography.

North Korean Gift Giveaway Contest!

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.

Good luck!

DPRK Kim Jong-il Stamp

Make a guess and win a book of stamps like the one above!

Pyongyang Film Studios

Film Studio Pyongyang, North Korea

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 – Feature Film World Premiere

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.

Photos credit to the official Comrade Kim Goes Flying website.

North Korean Roadside Attactions

Hamhung, North Korea

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.


New Portrait in Kim II-sung Square

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.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Taking a picture that fails to fully capture the image of Kim II Sung is strictly forbidden – although I captured the one above.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

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.

Kim Il-sung Square Pyongyang

View of Kim II-sung Square from atop Juche Tower – at 300mm zoom.

Countryside Propaganda Billboards and Murals Post #2

More from my collection of images showing North Korean propaganda billboards and murals from the Wonson and Hamhung countryside areas – check out post #1 here.

Wonson - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonson-Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonson-Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Hamhung-Wonson Road



More Photos from the Pyongyang Children’s Palace, North Korea

Photo series of performances from the Pyongyang Children’s Palace, DPRK, North Korea.

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

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!

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

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

Kim Jong II 12-17-11

A photo collection of Kim Jong-il in art from my Aug. 2011 North Korea trip.

Kim Jong-il

Pyongyang scene with Kim Jong-il.

North Korean Diorama

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung give on the spot bridge building guidance. Diorama from the Pyongyang Railway Museum.

North Korean Diorama

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung give on the spot bridge building guidance. Diorama from the Pyongyang Railway Museum.

Kim Jong Il Looking at Things

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung looking at Things.

Kim Jong Il and Kim II Sung

Baby Kim Jong-il and the cabin where he was born at the sacred Mt. Baekdu San – although he was really born in Russia.

Little Kim Jong-il in Battle

Baby Kim Jong-il gives “on the spot” battle guidance.

Kim Jong-il Painting

Kim Jong-il – I’m not sure what this painting is about.

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung

Kim Jong-il in a Pyongyang street painting.

Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung in a Pyongyang Railway Museum mural.

Kim Jong-il

The ‘Dear Leader’

Kim Jong-il

Neil Strauss, Jordan Harbinger, and Ingrid De La O with Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung

Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung at the Mt. Myohyang hotel.

Traffic Girls of Pyongyang, North Korea

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK

Just a tiny hint of a smile…………before being told “no more pictures!”

It’s sad to say but I can confirm the rumors – electric traffic lights have been recently installed in Pyongyang, and with this bold step into advanced technology, regrettably the era of the famous Pyongyang traffic girls is coming to an end. Legions of cute traffic girls have been retired; who will man the intersections of desolate streets? Who will perform a robotic dance of traffic instruction while ignoring the fact there is no traffic to actually instruct? Is this march of progress a worthy substitute for cute girls with pouty expressions and sexy uniforms?

But all is not lost! Some of the traffic girls have been retained to render emergency services during frequent power outages. Others can still be seen directing traffic at construction sites, manning cross walks at busy areas, and some manually control traffic lights near the tourist hotels.

A Jealous Girlfriend in Taiwan

My girlfriend has had enough with North Korea.  She is sick of all the photos and blog posts, and I haven’t even told her about the spring 2012 North Korea trip I’m planning.  To get her off my back and to buy a little time I’m going to dedicate this blog post to Taiwan, her native country, and a pretty fantastic place.

Time to give Taiwan a little love!

The ship I have been working on as Chief Mate has been based out of Taiwan for the last two years.  We do visit other countries, but the currents and internal wave fronts of the Luzon Strait are some of the most interesting in the world from a scientific/oceanographic viewpoint, so we keep on returning to this funding rich region to conduct our scientific expeditions and research projects.  The ship normally ports in and out of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s 2nd largest city.

“Kaohsiung is changing!” proclaims the billboard outside the highrise apartment that I had leased for six months this year.  I would often tease my girlfriend by using that phrase, but honestly Kaohsiung has changed – and changed for the better.  Years ago it used to be a forgettable port city, but a lot of effort and investment has gone into revitalizing the waterfront districts in the run up and for the hosting of the 2009 World Games.

You can easily rent a bike from an automatic vending machine and enjoy the large network of paths throughout the harbor district. Excellent public art is to be found at the Pier #2 Art Center.  Further down the harbor front you can relax with a drink or enjoy dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf while watching cargo ships pass by.

A short ferry ride across the harbor will take you Cijin Island, there you can enjoy fresh seafood and relax at the beach.  In the city you can visit the popular Liuhe Tourist Night Market, but for a better deal and a more local experience get an oyster pancake at the night market tucked several blocks behind Grand Hi-Lai Hotel.  Other city attractions include Monkey Mountain, and the “Little Japan” shopping district located in the alleys by the Central Park MRT station.  If you do happen to pass through Kaohsiung, make sure to stop by and say hi to the girls at the Night Owl Bar – tell them Joseph sent you!

I have mostly focused on Kaohsiung as it’s the place I know the best, but it’s highly worth while to head south and check out the tropical beaches and nightlife located in Kending.  Taiwan is also blessed with an abundance of hot springs (one of my favorite activities), high mountain peaks, and steep gorges for the outdoor enthusiast.

Taiwanese people are generous, friendly, and outgoing –  no matter where you explore you will be welcomed as family!

Chinese Buddhist Festival

Captain Wes Hill dances with the gods in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Checkout my Taiwan photo set on Flickr


Colors in North Korea

Who says communism has to be drab?  In North Korea your eyes will be assaulted by the dark green fields of the countryside, the intense reds of the ever present propaganda posters and billboards, and by women wearing the Korean traditional dress, the hanbok – also called chosŏn-ot, in every color imaginable.  Of course I visited during the summer, I’m guessing in the winter you will just see a lot of white.

North Korean Pohyon Temple Guide

Local guide in a yellow chosŏn-ot at the Pohyon Temple, Mount Myohyang, North Korea.