Kim Jong-il

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.

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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


Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun

Having been closed since the December 2011 death of Kim Jong-il, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun has recently reopened, and along with refurbishment and new displays, the bodies of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are now available for viewing.

Outside Kumsusan Palace

North Koreans outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

My 2011 visit to the mausoleum was the most surreal thing I have ever done. There is a deliberate awe inspiring buildup factored into the paying of respects at the body of Kim Il-sung. On entering the complex one is subjected to multiple security checks, cameras are confiscated, cloth booties are issued to be worn over the shoes, and you are forced to ride kilometers of moving walkways into the marble encased heart of the complex. From there you are marched around in groups, disorientatingly led from room to room, and forced to bow to various Kim Il-sung statues, all the while listing to an audio account of how the laws of nature were broken on the day of Kim Il-sung’s passing – upon his death the people cried with such emotion that their tears crystallized into diamonds in the pavement.

Before entering the holy of holies for the finale of bowing to the body of Kim Il-sung (all visitors will be expected to bow as a sign of respect – to go this far and not do so would cause a MARJOR incident), everyone must pass a through a bank ultra industrial sized air blowers, removing all traces of lint or dust to ensure no possibility of contamination. You will be expected to bow three times, once at Kim Il-sung’s feet, and on his right and left side. Authorities take your picture as you bow – the perfect little memento for your permanent secret record and always available for review by authorities if questions concerning your respect for the Eternal President become an issue.

If you can imagine how surreal all of this is for visiting foreign tourists, think about how overpowering the experience must be for a North Korean visiting for his first time from the provinces. A visit to Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun is the ultimate in propaganda showmanship; there is no other place or experience like it in the world.

I assume most of the procedures described above will continue with only slight changes to accommodate the paying of respects at the body of Kim Jong il (it is reported that he is placed at rest in a glass display next to his father). Viewing of newly created displays showing Kim Jong-il’s yacht, his medals and awards, and even the train car he died in will also be include in the visit.

Kumsusan Mausoleum

North Koreans outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

Girl with Flowers in Pyongyang

A flower girl at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

Tourist trips don’t start up again until mid January, until then I will be eagerly awaiting the firsthand accounts of those who make the first visit to the newly opened mausoleum. Sunday morning visits to the mausoleum have already been included in the schedules for my two custom spring trips.

For insights and observations recorded from inside the DPRK, including the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, check out our 2011 podcast. The North Korean Economy Watch also has an interesting look at the odd history of communist leader preservation.


Breaking News: The Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun has Reopened!

I have it confirmed from two sources that the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun/Kim Il-sung Mausoleum has reopened to tourists and will be available for all 2013 itineraries!

Group Photo with Colorful Korean women outside of the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum

Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun – photo by kinabalu


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.


100th Year Birthday of Kim Il-sung

An update on my upcoming trip: after some uncertainty about being allowed into the country due to all Pyongyang hotel space being reserved for North Korean delegations, it has been confirmed that the April trip to North Korea for Kim Il-sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations has been approved – they have a room for us!

Also, after a bit of diplomatic letter writing, I have been approved to present a gift to representatives for Kim Il-sung at the International Friendship Exhibition. I haven’t yet written about the International Friendship Exhibition on this blog, and as it is a North Korean holy space, I have to be extremely careful on the subject – after having been approved to present a gift there, any joking around on my part on this topic could single highhandedly shut down foreign tourism in the DPRK.

The International Friendship Exhibition is an elaborate mountainside bunker/ostentatious palace museum at Myohyang-san mountain.  Here, all gifts given by foreigners to Kim Il-sung (along with a separate but similar complex for all gifts given to and Kim Jong-il ) are kept on display. As a holy space it is 2nd only in importance to the mausoleum that houses and displays the body of Kim Il-sung.

You must surrender your cameras and cover your shoes with fabric booties when entering the International Friendship Exhibition, and after bowing to a wax statue of Kim il-sung, you will be shown the car gifted by Stalin, and then allowed to choose what continent’s gifts you want to view – there is just too much to see so you can only view gifts from the countries of two continents.  Western news sources report that there are a total of approximately 220,000 gifts shared between the two complexes.  In the main halls of each complex are digital displays showing the grand total of gifts. I remember seeing that Kim jong-il had about 60,000, while Kim il-sung had well over 100,000 gifts.

The International Friendship Exhibition is a cornerstone of North Korean propaganda.  Locals are taken on pilgrimages to the site where they are expected to be overwhelmed, not only with the opulence of the surroundings, but by the sheer number of gifts, which to them is explained as a tangible example of the respect, veneration, and love held for Kim il-sung by the rest of the world.

Among the most notable/notorious gifts on display (via Wikipedia) are:

  • A bear’s head from former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu
  • A metal horseman and ornate chess boards from former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi
  • A crocodile skin suitcase from former Cuban leader Fidel Castro
  • A gem-encrusted silver sword and a miniature mosque in mother of pearl, given by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
  • An antique gramophone from China’s first premier Zhou Enlai and an Armored Train car from chairman Mao Zedong (entire wings are dedicated to gifts from the country)
  • An ivory lion from Tanzania, gold cigarette case from Yugoslavia, bronze USSR tank from East Germany, silver chopsticks from Mongolia
  • A basketball signed by Michael Jordan given by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
  • A bullet-proof limousine from former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin

The following is an excerpt of the letter I will present, along with my gift, to representatives to Kim Il-sung at the International Friendship Exhibition during his 100th year birthday celebrations:

On this, my 2nd trip to the DPRK, and in appreciation of the wonderful cultural exchange I experienced on my first visit, and in the spirit of celebration for the 100th year birthday celebrations of the Eternal President Kim Il-sung, I am pleased to present the following gift to representatives for Kim Il Sung at the International Friendship Exhibition.

I am presenting The Stoneware Baby Seal Sculpture by Andersen Studio of Maine. This is a classic and very special piece of handmade art from my home state. With no two pieces being exactly alike, this baby seal statue represents my joy for learning about Korean culture through my visit to the DPRK, the wonderful experience of meeting friendly and truly wonderful North Korean people, and my happiness to share the important truths and help correct misconceptions about the DPRK on my return home.

The above letter is slightly modified from the letter of proposal and intent I had earlier sent, a letter that was highly praised by DPRK officials, with them going as far as suggesting that their western tour company partners could learn a few diplomatic lessons form me – ha ha!

Related Photos:

Girl with Flowers

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

North Korea

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

Girl with Flowers in Pyongyang

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

Kumsusan Mausoleum

Locals pose for pictures after viewing the body of Kim il-sung at the Kumsusan Mausoleum.

Group Photo with Colorful Korean Natives outside the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum

Locals invited us to pose for a picture with them at the Kumsusan Mausoleum – Photo by kinabalu


Pyongyang Pizza

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – the story is old but the pictures are new and original.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

For millions of undernourished North Koreans, the notion of eating at a restaurant belongs strictly to the world of fantasy. And so there is only the grimmest humour in the news that, for the country’s ruling elite, Pyongyang’s dining options just got a little more impressive: the country now has its first-ever pizzeria.

An obsession with pizza stretching back at least 10 years prompted the isolated nation’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, to authorize North Korea’s first Italian restaurant, which opened in December, according to a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan. “General Kim Jong-il said that the people should also be allowed access to the world’s famous dishes,” the restaurant’s manager, Kim Sang-Soon, was quoted as saying in Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for the regime.

Those dining at the restaurant are reportedly treated to pizza and pasta made with wheat flour, butter and cheese flown in from Italy. They are also presumably reaping the benefits of a years-long effort by Kim Jong-il to bring the perfect pizza to his famine-plagued totalitarian state.

In the late 1990s, he summoned a team of Italian pizza chefs to Pyongyang to instruct army officers. One of the chefs, Ermanno Furlanis, later recounted how the Italians underwent x-rays, brain scans and urine and blood sampling on arrival, before being sequestered in a marble palace. One of the officers Furlanis was training asked him to specify the precise distance at which olives should be spaced on a pizza, he recalled.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea Pizza Restaurant

Neil Strauss with a North Korean Pizza

Neil Strauss with his authentic Italian pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea.


Kim Jong-Il was a modest man

Just a simple little Kim Jong-il North Korean stamp.

Kim Jong-il Stamp


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.


Announcing the passing of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il may have passed away today, but An American in North Korea marches on!

A North Korean State TV newscaster breaks down as she announces the passing of the “Dear Leader’.


N Korean leader Kim Jong-il dies

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s mercurial and enigmatic longtime leader, has died of heart failure. He was 69.

In a “special broadcast” Monday from the North Korean capital, state media said Kim died of a heart ailment on a train due to a “great mental and physical strain” on Dec. 17 during a “high intensity field inspection.” It said an autopsy was done on Dec. 18 and “fully confirmed” the diagnosis.

Kim Jong-il Painting


Kim Jong Il – The People’s Leader

Books of Wisdom by Kim Jong-il


How Propaganda Works

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

Kim II Sung Statue

The Great Leader Kim Il Sung – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

There was a point in my trip to North Korea when the gravitas and decorum of the country devolved into madness and hilarity. That point was the Train Museum.

Walk with me through a massive warehouse of Kim-family paraphernalia (the trains were just the opening attraction). Gaze at the cornucopia of paintings of the Great Leader providing crucial “on-the-spot guidance”—lots of smiling and pointing at things—for the construction of railways and bridges. Marvel at the orgy of industrial manufacturing that the Dear Leader thoroughly understands, and possibly invented, for the benefit of his people. Take note of the staples of everyday life that the father-son dream team bestowed upon its country, down to the Adidas running shoes graciously gifted—but then why are they here, in mint condition?—to the country’s grateful athletes.

In a corner room of the Train Museum, we happened upon a painting of the Dear Leader’s mother in a snowy battlefield clutching a baby Kim Jong Il and wielding a gun, which she is presumably pointing at a Japanese imperialist. That is the patriotic multi-tasking of a founding mother in North Korea. No battlefield is too dangerous to bring one’s infant along………….Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.


Jordan Harbinger Looking at Kim Jong-il Look at Things

Kim Jong-il loves to look at things!  Here is a website with an incredible archive of pictures of Kim Jong-il checking stuff out.

Jordan Harbinger Looking at Kim Jong Il Look at Things

Of course we couldn’t let Kim Jong-il have all the fun, above is Jordan Harbinger looking at kim Jong-il, along with his father the Eternal President, Kim ll-sung, look at a vase.


Pyongyang, North Korea

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

“Good-a evening lay-deez and a-gentlemen,” said our government guide in a vague pastiche of American talk shows. Through the cold eyes of a James Bond villain, he stared at me. “Welcome to Pyongyang.”

My journey to the least-visited country on earth began with a 1980s Soviet jet that carried us—a group of travel junkies hungry for the most epic cultural fix of our lives—from the bustling streets of Beijing to the empty squares of North Korea……Continue reading Pyongyang at The North Korea Blog

Pyongyang Skyline

Pyongyang Skyline – Photo by Joseph Ferris


Little Kim Jong-II giving “on the spot battlefield guidance!”

Jordan Harbinger, fellow traveler on our trip to North Korea, poses the following question to our government guides and minders: “why did she bring the baby into the battle?”

Answer: Little Kim Jong-iI gives “on the spot battlefield guidance!”

Little Kim Jong-il in Battle

Painting of Kim Il-sung , Little Kim Jong-iI, and Kim Jong-Suk (Wife/Mother). If I remember correctly I took this picture (we visited a lot of strange museums – hard to keep them strait) at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang, DPRK, North Korea.

Check out all my North Korea pics at my Flickr Photostream