Posts tagged “Kim Il-sung

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


Young Pioneer Tours Exclusive

Exclusive news and ground breaking experiences brought to you by the company I now guide for, Young Pioneer Tours:

YPT’s Richie Fenner just returned from our first trip of the year to the DPRK, with our group being the first foreign tourists to visit the Mausoleum since it’s reopening featuring General Kim Jong Il! We can also now announce that even more interestingly, foreigners can now bring cellphones, including smart phones into the country!

Young Pioneer Tours teamed up with NK News to break these stories, read about the change in cell phone policy here, and Richie’s visit to see Kim Jong-il here.

You can also read more on these developments over at Young Pioneer Tour’s blog.

Cell Call Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Cell phones in North Korea, not just for traffic girls anymore!

 


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.


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


Pyongyang Arch of Triumph

Bigger is better in North Korea, and standing at 60 meters the Pyongyang Arch is the World’s largest triumphal arch – sorry Paris.

Pyongyang Arch of Triumph

As a gift from Kim Jong-il to Kim Il-sung for his 70th birthday, the arch has 25,500 blocks of white granite, each representing a day in his life up to that point – another equally impressive 70th birthday gift with the same sort of construction numerology is the Tower of the Juche Idea.

The arch was commemorated to highlight the 1925-1945 revolutionary struggles and victory over the occupying Japanese forces. Supposedly there are rooms and viewing pavilions but I have never been let inside or had a closeup look.


2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition

Pyongyang Flower Expo

2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition

Taking pictures of the military in the DPRK is officially forbidden, but never fear, during visits to special cultural/social events, and if lucky to be touring with one of the more relaxed North Korean guides, photography freedom with the men and woman of the North Korean military is likely to be allowed – one such place where we had freedom to mingle with the troops was the at the 2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition.

The Kimilsungia is a hybrid cultivar of orchid originally created in Indonesia. Official North Korean accounts tell of how Kim Il-sung admired the orchid during a botanical garden tour while on a state visit to Indonesia. Upon his inquiries about the flower President Sukarno promptly informed Kim Il-sung that it was as of yet unnamed, but due to his already performed great exploits for the benefit of mankind, it was apparent the flower must be named the Kimilsungia.

The flower exhibition is highlighted by the many elaborate arrangements created by and gifted from the foreign embassies based in Pyongyang, as well as the numerous North Korean military units and domestic social institutions. The huge arrangements gifted from the armed forces are adorned with statues of guns, swords, tanks, and missiles. Other arrangements often highlight the history of Kim Il-sung with models of his birthplace or other important historical sites associated with his life.

I had relatively low expectations for the flower exhibition but ended up delighted by the many military arrangements on display, especially the ones with models of the controversial test missile, and most of my group agreed that having shared our visit with large numbers of military personnel made the Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition a highlight of the trip – It’s the randomness in which you get to mingle with the armed forces that makes a visit to North Korea so much fun, perhaps if we had made the visit the following day the exhibition would have been empty and the experience much less special.

Pyongyang Flower Expo

Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-sung Mural

Pyongyang Flower Expo

North Korean Soldiers at Flower Expo Pyongyang

Pyongyang Flower Expo

Soldiers Enjoy the Pyongyang Flower Expo

Pyongyang Flower Expo

Pyongyang Flower Expo

Pyongyang Flower Expo

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Soldiers Enjoy the Pyongyang Flower Expo

Soldiers Enjoy the Pyongyang Flower Expo

Soldiers Enjoy the Pyongyang Flower Expo

Pyongyang Flower Expo

Pyongyang Flower Expo

There is a separate Kimjongilia flower festival held each February during the birthday celebrations for Kim Jong-il. Neither the Kimjongilia or the Kimilsungia is the national flower of North Korea, that honor goes to the magnolia.

Someone in my group asked why the Kimilsungia was a smaller flower than the Kimjongilia, our North Korean guide simply said that that was not a wise question to ask……

All photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Visit to the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery on the 100th Birthday of Kim Il-sung

For the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung we were allowed to join members of the North Korean military and make a pilgrimage to the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery to pay our respects to the fallen fighters and leaders of the Homeland Liberation War (the Korean War as we know it) and the anti-Japanese revolutionary periods. Along a terraced hillside, each grave is adorned with a bronze bust of the fallen including Kim Jong-suk, first wife of Kim Il-sung, and Kang Pan-sŏk, mother of Kim Il-sung.

Photos of the military are generally prohibited in North Korea, but due to the importance of the event and sheer number of military personnel at the cemetery, our guides allowed us full photography freedom, although I was still chewed out by several over zealous guides working other groups. Photos from the visit posted below:

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Sailors at the Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Sailors at the Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations - Martyrs' Cemetery

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace; a place for 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.

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

Young Pioneers sing a martial song during a special Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday celebratory performance at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace. More pictures from this set linked below.

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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


Nampo Chollima Steelworks

The Chollima Steelworks, a North Korean showcase heavy industry site located outside the west coast city of Nampo, was recently opened for tourism and we were among the lucky few to make a first visit.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Painting of the Chollima Steelworks – all photos on the post by Joseph A Ferris III

A historically important site, Kim II Sung and Kim Jong-il made many visits, the Chollima Steelworks is an impressive complex with wide boulevards, rail infrastructure, grand propaganda murals, and imposing buildings.  Being amongst the first western visitors, instead of the ubiquitous local guide, we were greeted by a large group of officials and representatives of the steelworks who shuttled around the complex in large black luxury sedans.  Of course they showed us the local museum dedicated to the visits and on the spot guidance of Kim Il sung and Kim Jong-il, but the highlight of our tour was our access into the steelworks itself with a close up inspection of a functioning electric arc furnace on the production floor.

This visit to the Chollima Steelworks was part of the new Heavy Metal Tour add-on package offered by Koryo Tours.   Also included in this tour was our visits to the Nampo glass factory and the Hamhung fertilizer plant.  We had unrestricted photography access to each site, other groups had their visits restricted to a bus ride through the parking lot with no photos allowed.  These groups had shadowed us at times and were continuously in trouble with their guides for breaking photography regulations – for the best access it pays to follow the rules set by your guide!

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Entrance to Chollima Steelworks.

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Our guide Ms Han and the local guide in front the Chollima Steelwork’s Kim II Sung mosaic.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Chollima Steelworks representative.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Chollima Steelworks representative and worker.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

As we did not venture too far onto the factory floor hard hats and safety gear were not provided for us.  On close inspection you can see only about 50% of the workers have hard hats on.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Chollima Steelworks production floor.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Chollima Steelworks production floor.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Close up of the electric arc furnace.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Electric arc furnace in wide angle.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Chollima Steelworks production floor in wide angle.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Propaganda on the production floor.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Entrance to Chollima Steelworks.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Entrance to Chollima Steelworks.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Entrance to Chollima Steelworks.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

Achievement banners at the steelwork’s museum.

Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea

North Korean guide Ms Han and a Chollima Steelworks painting.


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


Pyongyang Mansudae Housing Complex

Kim II Sung and Kim Jong-il Pyongyang

Built in 100 days* to commemorate the 100th birthday of ‘eternal president’ Kim Il-sung, the new Mansudae housing project is the latest addition to the Pyongyang skyline. Also seen in the picture above is a new mural of Kim Jong-il. Conspicuously absent during his lifetime, grand murals and statues of Kim Jong-il are being unveiled and installed throughout Pyongyang.

Pyongyang Mansudae Housing Project

View of the Mansudae housing complex as seen from the base of Juche Tower.

Pyongyang Mansudae Housing Project

View of Mansudae housing complex as seen from the top of Juche Tower.

 

Video of the Mansudae housing complex nighttime light show – shocking evidence of change in the DPRK considering that last summer the city was blacked out by power shortages every night by 9PM.

*Although said to have been built in 100 days, I was told the construction of the Mansudae housing complex  took a little longer than that – but it was still done in an amazingly quick time. I don’t remember any construction in that area of the city during my summer 2011 visit.