Posts tagged “History

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea – Book Review

Cover_of_Pyongyang_by_Guy_Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

I have never been a fan of graphic novels, but recently I read and enjoyed Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.

Guy Delisle worked in Pyongyang as a project manager for a French animation company in the early 2000’s. The outsourced animation projects he oversaw seemed to run themselves, and finding himself without much to do, Guy busied himself by sketching scenes of Pyongyang and documenting instances of culture shock he encountered.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is witty, and fair (I believe) to what the experience must have been like as an expat there in the early 2000’s. His portrayal of Pyongyang’s unique buildings and architecture is spot on, and I found myself reminiscing over the many little details of Pyongyang he sketched: 50’s era Hungarian buses with star embalms, each star indicating 5,000 accident free driving miles, ladies of Pyongyang wearing socks hiked up over their nylons, and fly swatting waitresses. Even the lonely (and endangered – so I’m told) turtle in the giant fish tank at the Yanggakdo Hotel bar is a recurring character.

For North Korea watchers not fortunate to have visited the country, perhaps the most useful sketches from Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea are of Guy’s visit to the International Friendship Exhibition, a site where interior photography is prohibited.

It’s a shame Guy never visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and Mausoleum; his sketches would have been quite valuable as interior photography is also prohibited there.

For fans of graphic novels, and for those waiting to properly fill out their North Korean book collection, I certainly suggest picking up Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.


International Friendship Exhibition Crocodile Bar Set

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Guard with silver plated AK-47 protects the entrance to the International Friendship Exhibition.

Holding all the gifts ever received by leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the two massive mountain bunker palaces comprising the Myohyang-san International Friendship Exhibition are deservedly one of North Korea’s top sites.

Some of the gifts are notorious: bullet-proof cars from Stalin, a Kim Il Sung life size wax statue (that you are expected to bow to) from the Chinese, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Other gifts are more mundane: medals and plaques from communist friendship societies, nicknacks from diplomats, and TVs, golf bags, and living room sets from various Asian businessmen.

Humble or grand, the gifts on display serve as physical examples of world’s love and admiration for the deceased North Korean leaders – gifts to Mother Kim Jong Suk and Marshall Kim Jong Un are also housed there.

The International Friendship Exhibition holds an astonishing estimated 275,000 gifts – an exact count is digitally displayed in the first hall.  Visitors are required to wear cloth booties to prevent dirt from being tracked into the sacred halls as they view the gifts. There is so much to see that groups get to choose continents – I recommend seeing the gifts from Africa and Asia.

Touring the numerous halls of the International Friendship Exhibition is tiring, fortunately there is a a resting pavilion and cafe overlooking a scenic valley for visitors to enjoy at the end of their tour.

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KITC guide Miss Han and a local guide having a rest at the viewing pavilion.

Most North Koreans will make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetimes to view the treasures on display at the International Friendship Exhibition. Sacred Mount Paektu, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il ),and the capital city of Pyongyang are the other great domestic North Korean pilgrimage sites.

Nicaragua's Sandinista Stuffed Crocodile Gift to Kim Il Sung

Photography inside the International Friendship Exhibition is strictly forbidden (readers will have to use their imagination), but I was lucky enough to find a rare stamp of my favorite gift, the stuffed crocodile bar set given by the Nicaraguan Sandinista communists, which should give you an insight into the treasures the International Friendship Exhibition safeguards.


North Korean Middle School Badges

North Koreans are initiated into the wearing of badges and insignia at a young age. In the Rason SEZ I found kindergarten children wearing red star badges as a reward for exemplary performance.  Throughout the country regimented middle school children compete for rank; those who win responsibilities, receive and wear arm badges.

Young Pioneers at the Mangyongdae Native House North Korea

The highest ranking student in a class receives an arm badge displaying three bars and three stars, as the boy above is wearing.

These types of badges are not available for tourists at souvenir shops, but I did find them.  I purchased several using local North Korean currency at the public market in the Rason Special Economic Zone.

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Of the two middle school badges I purchased, the one on the right, two bars and one star, ranks higher than the the one on the left, three stars and one bar.  I wore the higher ranking badge on my arm in the DPRK and the locals were absolutely delighted.  Women giggled, men posed for pictures with me, and I was repeatedly asked why I only held a mid level rank.

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Notice the lower ranking badge in the above picture; after leaving my camera battery charger at the Nampo Hot Spring Hotel and having to return for it, Miss Yu, the North Korean guide, demoted me!


Unified Korea Costume Propaganda

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

A band leader wears a uniform with a graphic showing a unified Korea; subtle propaganda intended for the eyes of those foreigners who had come to see the Kim Il-sung 100th birthday celebrations.

I took this picture on the morning of April 15th, 2012 the 100th year anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth.  On that morning all foreign tourists were bused to a park in the Pyongyang suburbs, far away from the military parades and Kim Jong-un’s public address to the North Korean people.

Marching band performances, folk game competitions, and interactions with school children were the activities the North Koreans used to keep us occupied during our sequestration away from that morning’s downtown main events.  The entertainment at park may have been a disappointment for some, but the holiday week of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday was still an epic time to have experienced North Korea.


Women on Bicycles Banned Again

On the Streets of Kaesong, North Korea

Woman pushing a bike in Kaesong, a picture I took in 2011 during the brief time when it was legal for women to ride bikes.

Women on Bicycles Banned Again

By Kim Kwang Jin of Daily NK

It is said that the riding of bicycles by women has been prohibited once again, only months after a previous ban on the activity was rescinded.

A source from Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK today, “The use of bicycles by women was officially allowed last year, but was prohibited again on the 10th. There have been local People’s Safety officers patrolling since the day after that.”

The source added, “They’ve not only stopped women using bicycles, but also banned them from riding on the backs of bicycles and placed a weight limit on the luggage that can be placed on them.”

The source continued, “Before the ban was lifted last year, if a woman was caught riding a bicycle she was fined just a bit of money, no more than 5,000 won. But now they are confiscating the bicycle instead, and this has been causing a bit of upset.”

As the source also noted, if the ban is widespread and lasts any length of time, it will have a deleterious effect on the functioning of North Korea’s markets. Bicycles have been a critical factor in helping to spread commerce as a means of survival over the last ten to fifteen years, with women at the forefront of the trend.

“Bicycles are essential in North Korea,” the source explained. “They have no cars, motorcycles or other means of transportation. Bicycles are very useful; women can not only go to and from the markets on them, they can also give their children lifts and carry as much as 50 or 60kg.”

“Women used to ride early in the morning to avoid getting caught,” the source recalled. “During the squid fishing season, women from fishing towns even use bicycles to carry the catch to inland regions.”

It is said that Kim Jong Il initially banned the use of bicycles in the 1990s after the daughter of a high-ranking official was killed in a traffic incident in Pyongyang. The North Korean state media subsequently justified it by saying that the image of a woman riding a bicycle runs contrary to socialist morals.


Pueblo Being Moved to War Museum

The North Korean Economy Watch recently did some detective work to track down the missing USS Pueblo.

US Spy Ship Pueblo

USS Pueblo on the Taedong River April 2012 – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

As a Master Mariner Unlimited who has been on the Pueblo twice, my opinion is that this ship will never sail again under its own power. They may have knocked a little rust off the hull and given her a new paint job, but I’m with all my contacts in the North Korean tourism industry and believe she has been moved to the Homeland Liberation Museum.

The Homeland Liberation Museum is currently closed to tourists too. I’m bringing a big policy expert and war historian buff in on my May tour, his dream is to see the USS Pueblo – hopefully some “gifts” will get us in for a photo op even if the Pueblo and Homeland Liberation Museum are still closed.

The Pueblo and the Homeland Liberation Museum are due to be open for tours again in July.


War Museum and the USS Pueblo Currently Closed

For those making a trip to the DPRK in the near future please be aware that the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and the USS Pueblo are currently closed. I only know that the Pueblo is being moved to a new location – it is advertised that both sites will be reopened this July.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Join up with my 2013 tours!

May 14th – May 23rd Mega Trip: Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Haeju, Kaesong, Wonsan, Kumgang, with possibility of a documentary film crew- spots available.

Late September/Early October: Mass Games tour with possibility of a documentary film crew – spots available.

I also expect to be helping out Young Pioneer Tours with their big November 2013 Eurasian Tour: Trans Siberian Express Beijing to Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Chernobyl, Odessa, Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania.

For more info email me:
joseph@youngpioneertours.com
josephferris76@yahoo.com


Small Town Juche

No tool is too humble in the struggle for self reliance – from my own interpretation of Juche Idea.

Hamhung, DPRK, North Korea

Locals get by with what they have; transportation by hand cart in the small North Korean city of Hamhung – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Smiles

During preparations for my first trip to the DPRK I watched all of the online documentaries I could find, from dreary hit pieces on the DPRK Government to over sensationalized video travel guides, and common to them all was the depiction of a sad, colorless, and lifeless North Korea.  But by coming to the DPRK myself I experienced something different; I found Pyongyang to be a clean, bright, colorful, and orderly city, with a people that smile, laugh, and despite the language barrier, interact with foreigners with a shy curiosity.

Sharing my pictures of the DPRK and its people is what this blog is all about. I’m trying to present a different perspective compared to the impressions put out there by the main stream media.  I don’t deny that there are human rights violations, but there’s already plenty of material out there to explore on those issues. Instead I wish to pass on what I observed during my travels in the DPRK: that despite the hardships and pressures the North Korean people endure (whatever they may be), they remain a very human people, and just like us they love life and share the simple hopes and dreams common to all humanity.

The people of Pyongyang smile – below are pictures taken during the festivities and celebrations for 100th birthday of ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung - all photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

During the week of celebrations for the 100th birthday of ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung, mass parades and celebratory gatherings were quite common.  These events were not normally open to foreigners, but often we got caught stuck in traffic jams as tens of thousands of people clogged the roads on their way home.  During these times our guides were gracious enough to let us interact with the people, here young boys wave and smile on their walk home.

Pyongyang Street Scene

Young girls laugh and smile while walking home from school.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Boys from a brigade of Young Pioneers enjoy an ice cream snack at a local park.

Pyongyang Roller Blading

Young girls smile while taking a break from an afternoon of rollerblading.

USS Pueblo Guide

Sharing a laugh with our guide on the USS Pueblo.

Pyongyang Subway

A cheerful Pyongyang Metro ticket attendant.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

A festive spirit pervades the crowds at a mass gathering in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

A festive spirit pervades the crowds at a mass gathering in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square.


North Korean Panda Bears Dance on Kim Il Sung’s Birthday

Young girls dressed in panda bear costumes relax between performances for foreigners at a folk fair held on the Day of the Sun, the April 15th, 2012 celebrations to honor the 100th year birthday of ‘Eternal President‘ Kim Il Sung.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

On this day there were many military parades and Kim Jong-un appearances throughout Pyongyang.  Unfortunately visiting foreign friends were not invited to these events, and to keep us out of the way, western tourists, dignitaries, and cultural delegations were bused to the city outskirts and conveniently sequestered at a park in the Mangyongdae district.  To keep everyone entertained, folk games and competitions (tug of war, three legged race, ect) had been arranged for the visiting cultural delegations.  Having traveled so far, and with expectations of seeing military parades, many of the tourists did not appreciate the situation – watching Eastern European and Russian delegations bob for apples was a big disappointment for most, but I really enjoyed the experience – not the international folk competitions, but all the interactions I had with the North Korean children who were at the event and enjoying themselves in such a relaxed atmosphere.  On arrival, little girls in traditional chosŏn-ot dresses grabbed us by the hand and led us into the park (they were fascinated with our bellies – notice the pokes!).  Hanging out, dancing, playing, and taking photographs with the North Korean children who were participating in the cultural dance performances made this event a cherished experience from the trip.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


On the Road in North Korea – Journey to Nampo at Night

Youth Hero Highway North Korea

Southbound to Nampo on the 10 lane Youth Hero Highway.

Nampo at Night, North Korea

Navigating small country roads on the way to the Nampo hot spring hotel.


Pyongyang Apartments

Pyongyang Apartment North Korea

A view of typical housing arrangements in Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


North Korean Space Program

Mangyongdae Children's Palace North Korea

The North Korean space program?  No, just a mockup of a Soviet Russian Buran spacecraft at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


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.


Reunification and North Korean Self Awareness

The following question was posed to me in a recent post response thread:  Is there a sentiment of North-South reunification among North Koreans or have they come long enough a way to forget and develop their own sense of national pride?…….How could North Koreans be fooled for so long that their country is on a higher moral ground than all other countries, when the leadership is showing the exact opposite? Do they really think foreigners have it worse or what? Some North Koreans know what real prosperity looks like across the border to Seoul, yet most of the country still seems to turn a blind eye to the fact that everyone in the country is basically working for the ruling family’s sole benefit and indulgence.

It may not be as clear cut as assumed here, but isn’t it the basic idea? Seriously, what is up?

Peaceful Unification Kaesong Propaganda

Unification propaganda at the DMZ – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

My answer to the above question:  Trying to figure out what North Koreans really think is a puzzle that has me infinitely fascinated.  As a foreigner, and especially as a tourist, I believe you will never truly know, but visiting and discovering small insights and clues, or at least seeing a different side of the people – a human side (and capturing it in photos), is what keeps bringing me back.  Testimony from defectors helps give a clue, but how much of that can you really trust?  It all makes my head spin.  Of course as a tourist you really only get to see Pyongyang and a handful of other cities and showcase sites, places of privilege where everyone toes the party line – their well-off lives depend on it!

So knowing what North Koreans really believe about reunification is a difficult thing.  I know that the government supports unification in its propaganda and that guides tell us that reunification is a goal that all North Koreans hope for and support in their heart.  There is a strong pan Korean cultural identity held in esteem in the North, and I believe the “idea” of reunification for the good of all Koreans and Korean culture is truly supported there.  But I think the actual act of reunification is a vague idea and one that the government feels is better put off for the distant future, and looking at the cost of unification I believe the South feels the same way.

The North Korean leadership has specific strategies and sustainable competitive advantages that compel them to maintain the status quo (for more on this read Joshua Spodek’s book).  I see this, more than a newly developedsense of national pride”, as the reason, despite internal and external propaganda proclaiming the opposite, as the reason why reunification has been indefinitely sidelined.

Wonson Kim Il-sung/Kim Jong-il Mural

Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il mural in the city of Wonsan – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I believe the 2nd part of the question – how could North Koreans be fooled for so long that their country is on a higher moral ground than all other countries……is brilliantly addressed in Brian R. Myer’s book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.  Here you can find an in depth examination of North Korean propaganda, how the government has had to accept its poverty, and instead focused on racial supremacism as a cornerstone of their propaganda.

Tourists to North Korea are no longer exposed to the old fashioned anti-American propaganda, neither are they exposed to this new North Korean supremacism propaganda, but to understand North Korea one needs to understand it exists.  The South Korean economy surpassed the North in the early 70’s but for many years lack of information about the outside world allowed the government to proclaim its economy and Juche system as the envy of the world.  Currently this would fool no one.  Through smuggled South Korean DVDs, trading and border connections with China, and exposure to the outside world through Russian logging camps, North Koreans have a pretty good idea of their lowly economic position in the world.  To help maintain their grip on power the North Korean regime shifted its propaganda to focus on the supremacism of the wholesome North Korean citizen living and holding the true Korean culture in trust until a time when the South Koreans vacate US soldiers off their soil along with all the associated vice and corruption US influence brings.  They believe (or at least propagandize) this as  a holy responsibility, something worth the sacrifice in the face of the wealth and the subsequent corruption, so readily apparent across their borders, that the wealth brings.

How effective is this propaganda?  As a tourist I cant really say.  North Koreans are not going to tell a tourist anything but the party line.  Divergent opinions must exist but to talk openly about them brings down certain punishments……and any further discussion on that delves into taboo areas best not to be explored by those of us who want to continue with travels to the DPRK


Return of the Pyongyang Traffic Girls – Picture Post

Brought back from their Sept. 2010 retirement, these April 2012 photos posted below show Pyongyang traffic girls performing their classic signal direction routine - photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

From a previous post:  To our delight, the traffic girls of Pyongyang were brought out of retirement to help deal with the massive traffic congestion, and perhaps to add a little more color to the city for ’Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations.

On my first visit (summer 2011) we had been saddened to learn that the girls had been replaced by a modern traffic light system. They could still be seen on occasion, running roadside signal lamp switches, working road construction sights, or directing traffic during the frequent power outages, but we missed their famous directing routines performed at the main city intersections. I’m happy to report that this April they were back directing traffic throughout Pyongyang, and although I have no idea how long this will last, I got some great pics during this special opportunity and will be sure to have a follow-up post sharing the best of them! 

This is the follow-up picture post with those promised photos posted below!

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Remaining photos show the Pyongyang traffic girls performing their normal post retirement duties: cross walk safety overloading and manual light phasing – all from April 2012.

Pyongyang, North Korea Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girls

Pyongyang Traffic Girls

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl


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

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Pyongyang Traffic Girls Return!

Pyongyang, North Korea Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

To our delight, the traffic girls of Pyongyang were brought out of retirement to help deal with the massive traffic congestion, and perhaps to add a little more color to the city for ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations.

On my first visit (summer 2011) we had been saddened to learn that the girls had been replaced by a modern traffic light system. They could still be seen on occasion, running roadside signal lamp switches, working road construction sights, or directing traffic during the frequent power outages, but we missed their famous directing routines performed at the main city intersections. I’m happy to report that this April they were back directing traffic throughout Pyongyang, and although I have no idea how long this will last, I got some great pics during this special opportunity and will be sure to have a follow-up post sharing the best of them!


Back from the DPRK, North Korea!

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

Mangyongdae Children’s Palace Performance – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I just arrived back home after a 10 day trip to North Korea for the 100th year birthday celebrations for Kim Il Sung.  I’m happy to report that we had an amazing trip filled with wonderful interactions with charming locals, visits with old friends, and unparalleled access to the various major cities, countryside, and even industrial and heavy industry sites –  all made possible by the support of our fantastic North Korean guides!

I was genuinely surprised to have had over 10 people introduce themselves to me during the trip as fans of this blog.  I was truly delighted by the support, and as I sit here overwhelmed by the 8,000 plus photos I took during this last trip, I am motivated to get to work knowing that all my efforts are appreciated!

And I am certainly aware of the latest round of saber rattling currently coming out of the DPRK.  I have some on the ground observations, and while not an expert, I will work to get a post out ASAP sharing my thoughts on the present situation  in North Korea.

Much, much more to come!

 


Flight to Beijing and Pyongyang, North Korea

Mass Games

Chinese flag at the Arirang Mass Games – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I’m off to the airport for my flight to Beijing, China and will be flying to Pyongyang, North Korea on the 12th. See everyone on the the 25th of April – wish me luck!


Back to the DPRK!

My brothers over at The North Korea Blog and myself are are heading back to the DPRK next week for round two of some world-class totalitarian theatre. Empty highways, wet shooting ranges and disturbingly intimate conversations with locals are calling us back to the hermit kingdom.

Besides, this is the year that North Korea becomes a “strong and prosperous nation.” We couldn’t miss that, could we?

And how different it is this time around, just six months after our first trip.

Kim Jong Il is dead.

Kim Jong Un has assumed power……..continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

Taedong River View Pyongyang

Taedong River View, Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

The highlight of the trip will be the 100th year birthday celebrations of the ‘Eternal’ President Kim Il-sung.  This was no easy trip to make happen, over the winter we waited out the nationwide lockdown after the death of Kim Jong-il only to learn that it looked like there wouldn’t be rooms available to foreigners in Pyongyang during the Kim Il-sung birthday celebrations.  Dignitaries from the provinces would be flooding the capital during this time, but the good people over at Koryo Tours were finally able to scrape together some hotel rooms for us – not sure about the quality of the rooms but at least we have something guaranteed and the trip is confirmed!

Since I’m going to a birthday party I decided to bring a gift, and 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.  This is truly going to be a once in a lifetime trip!

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Soldiers at a Pyongyang park.

We want this to be a truly epic trip, birthday parties, rocket launches, and diplomatic gifts were not going to be enough, so I wrote up and submitted a custom itinerary that included North Korean sites never previously visited by western tourists.  Our tour will include the first ever visit to the Nampo  Chollima Steel Works, Tae’an Heavy Machine Tool Complex, Tae’an Glass Factory sites, and the Nampo Taekwondo School.  Another first ever visit will take us to Pujon, a town deep in the wild interior of the country where we will take mountain hikes and visit the infamous “slogan trees“.

Other exciting destinations we will visit (not on standard first time visitor tour program) include the Nampo West Sea Barrage, the Songdowon Schoolchildren’s Camp, Wonsan’s central square and piers, the Wonsan Agricultural University, the Tongbong Cooperative Farm, and the town of Hamhung and its beach scene.

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Man at a Pyonagyang park.

I have also planned a trip up to the Chinese/North Korean border town of Dandong for a little exploration and investigation.  Most foreigners visit Dandong as a trip extension on their stopover on departure from the DPRK by train, but Americans are required to fly both in and out, so my visit will be by train from Beijing after the North Korea trip is complete.  In Dandong my friend Jordan (from The North Korea Blog) and I will attempt to rub shoulders with North Korean spies, and learn the lowdown from the smuggles, refugees, and Christian missionaries that haunt the border region.  There is also some pretty wacky nightlife to check out, and there is no way I’m going to miss out on the opportunity to have rocks thrown at me as I attempt to take pictures of North Korean sailors and their boats on the river cruise.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Bubble gum in Pyongyang.

I hope all my dear readers will be excited for all the new and original material to come.  I have recently bought new lenses and  upgraded my camera kit from the Sony A55 to the new pro level Sony A77.  I just hope I can get this new camera into the county, I will be devastated if it is held at customs, so please send me some positive vibes and wish me good luck!


Kaesŏng Old Town

Photos from the Kaesŏng old town, DPRK, North Korea. We were not allowed to walk there, only take pictures from a viewpoint from high above.

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Roof Tiles


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


Koryo Dynasty Tombs

A visit to the Koryo Dynasty Tombs outside Kaesong, DPRK, North Korea.

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesŏng Tombs, North Korea