A Travellerspoint blog

DPRK part 4

Day 7 – Wednesday 18th April

Today was my last full day in the DPRK, so depressing, I know this place has it’s issues but if you take everything with a big handful of salt you can really enjoy the architecture and just the general vibe of the place and the people do genuinely seem happy. So we started the day off with a long drive down South back to Pyongyang, and as I’ve mentioned before every 10 seconds the shitty roads mean that you’re bouncing up and down so trying to fit in some sleep is impossible. Once we got to Pyongyang, our first stop was the feature film museum, which is basically a massive complex with a ton of different sets which relate to certain countries. So, for example you’ve got South Korea street and Europe street and Japan street and traditional North Korean countryside, the European one was surprisingly correct actually, the houses looked just like the ones you see in Luxembourg (Uncle Steve reference) or the French countryside. Apart from that it was all a bit of propaganda and the other roads just put Japan and Korea in relatively bad light. It was all relatively interesting though, as most films in Korea are filmed here so there are rows and rows of editing rooms and rehearsal rooms as well as all the sets. Despite the fact that they make over 200 films a year here or something, the place was deserted, they keep blaming it on the national holiday, but I’m very sceptical about that as everything seems to be closed, it’s all to convenient to be honest. Anyway, moving on, the next stop was the main Kim-Il-Sung square, which I’d already seen from the balcony of the people’s study house, but we’d never actually stood in it because every day there seemed to be some sort of function going on. It was super surreal to be stood in the middle of this square where over the years you’ve seen pictures of millions of people in perfect military parade, and even the last couple of days it was always full of 1000s of people. So we got a few good pictures standing in front of the particular parts, and just genuinely tried to take it all in as I say it really is surreal to be standing in this square. Next we went for a short walk to the international book shop, which despite it’s name is actually a relatively important tourist site as they sell newspapers in English and all the Kim-Il-Sung propaganda and anecdote books in English as well as a shit ton of other pretty good souvenirs. Had I had more money and no need to carry these things around for months I could’ve bought a lot of souvenirs but I resisted and managed to leave with nothing. The only thing I really want is some Korean money, which no one will give you, and a newspaper of when I was there, which I stole from the hotel the night before. Next we hopped on the bus to the posh hotel which is like that of Dubai with two big towers and a big bridge in the middle connecting the two sides, here you’re able to send postcards, finally! We’d been to the postcard shop much earlier in the week and I’d been carting around these propaganda cards and stamps around with me waiting to send them off, so after writing one to myself, the family and Greg (sorry everyone else but those were the only addresses I had to hand) I was very happy. What’s better than a postcard with typical Korean propaganda and a stamp with a North Korean stamp, how often are you going to receive that. After lunch we went to the Fatherland Liberation museum, which was absolutely hilarious. The whole thing was about how the US imperialists started the Korean war and attacked the North, trying to impose their evil ways and stop the reunification of Korea. I love how they can make a whole museum based on completely incorrect history and then be happy to show tourists around, when we obviously know that the North started it all. It was cool to see all the US tanks and planes and weapons that they captured though, and they also had a massive revolving 360 degree exhibition at the end showing what happened through the art of mannequins and fake explosion sounds every now and again. It was all a bit pointless, but pretty cool. Unfortunately, the museum was absolutely fucking freezing (that’s the problem with building ridiculously big buildings with huge hallways and never ending corridors I guess) and we had lots of things to do so we got going after only seeing a few exhibitions. Next we went to the ‘69’ school (brilliant name!) So called as it was opened on the 6/9/69 (dates are backwards in Korea) where we looked around a few classrooms, unfortunately as everyone is still on national holiday they were all empty. They were all pretty basic to say the least; the biology classroom didn’t even have running water! The weirdest thing was the Kim-Jong-Il learning room, where they have one lesson a week on the history of the great leader; unfortunately the textbooks were in Korean because I would’ve loved to have seen the stuff they have to learn. After looking around we got taken to the main hall where there was a little performance ready for us which unsurprisingly was ridiculously good. They play the most obscure instruments like the accordion, yet they are all completely perfect and all in time and they all have voices of angels, and they’re only like 11 years old. The whole thing was very impressive, and at the end they got us all up and we had a dance around with all of them, just imagine a group of 16 middle aged Brits trying to dance around in circles with a load of schoolgirls, it was pretty horrendous but obviously a good laugh. Luckily the performance wasn’t that creepy and the kids seemed like they were enjoying themselves and not just being forced to come in on their day off and perform for tourists. Even after all these activities, the day still wasn’t done, and somehow the guides managed to get us in to see this orchestra where we sat in the row directly behind Kim-Jong-Un’s seat, unfortunately he couldn’t be fucked to attend though! The whole thing was played on the TV later as well which shows it was a relatively important event. Normally I hate big orchestra kind of things, but this was (as with everything else in this country) something else, they were so fucking good! Apart from the epic choir and all the amazing music there was lots of dancing and at one point these 3 people came on to do this sand art thing. Basically they have a lit up screen and they throw sand on it, and then they sort of mould the sand into certain shapes so they look like people or places. I have seen this done before, but they were doing each picture in like 5 seconds, their hands were moving stupidly fast and yet they have to be so precise, seriously it was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. I really wish I took a video to show the speed of it, but if you just imagine that each picture I took of different drawings was like 5 seconds apart, you can understand how ridiculous it was what they were doing. The whole thing was just fucking epic, and every now and again they show a picture of one of the leaders on the screen at the back and everyone has to get up and clap which was quite fun, I don’t support the regime but it’s obviously rude not to. Long story short, it was 2 hours of just mind blowing stuff, and with that the day was done and it was time for our last supper. We went to a really fancy restaurant and had duck (amongst lots of other things) on grills cooked in front of us. Unfortunately 90% of the duck was just fat so there wasn’t too much to eat, but the rest was so tasty. Then for the big surprise of the day, we went to our hotel for the night, which was the Yankado, the 5* hotel which we were supposed to have been in all along, it’s on a separate island in the middle of Pyongyang with a revolving bar on the 47th floor! Unfortunately the bloody bar was closed, and after spending about an hour walking past the swimming pool, the bowling alley, the billiards room and loads of other ridiculous amenities we couldn’t find another one. So in fact, everyone agreed we would’ve rather have spent the last night in the shitty hotel, because then at least we could’ve spent it as a group rather than everyone having to go their separate ways. Still though, managed to get a few beers and drink in the rooms, and had a fun night nonetheless.

Day 8 – Thursday 19th April

So this is it, it’s time to leave one of the most bizarre countries on earth, really depressing as I have had such a good time here. So, after a wake up that was much too early for my liking, and really didn’t leave time to appreciate the comfortable beds of our plush hotel we got going to the airport. Here we dropped off half the group to get their flight while the rest of us hard core/stupid people decided to get the 24 hour train instead of a 1 hour flight. After a quick coffee at the airport, we headed off to the train station, here we finally had to say goodbye to our guides who have been absolutely brilliant and really not so strict, and who truly made our experience very good and by the sounds of it much better than the other groups. After a lot of hassle with tickets and sorting out who went in what room, we all got settled down ready for the long journey ahead. The train really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, I’m guessing it’s a Chinese one which they just use for the tourist trips rather than an actual North Korean train. We all had our little compartments with 4 beds and there were toilets at the end of each carriage along with hot water, which seems good enough to me. It took about 6 hours for us to get to the border, where all the North Koreans (I’m guessing mainly business men as you can’t just leave willy nilly) were lined up on the platform and all the toilet doors were locked, and guards searched under the train and under the beds, and pretty much anywhere to find someone who might be trying to sneak across. Then they got started on the tourists, for everyone else they opened up their bags and had a good shuffle through, then they take a look through your pictures. Fortunately for me, the guard was so interested in my blond hair, he spent the whole time just stroking my head and arms and didn’t look in any of the bags of our rooms and looked through about 10 of my photos, which made the whole process stupidly easy! The whole debacle only took about 2 hours, and then we were on our way out of Korea and off to China. The border between the two is a river, and on the bridge across you can really see the difference between the 2 countries, it’s absolutely ridiculous! On the China side there’s just a wall of high rise buildings and advertising and then on the North Korean side, crappy farm land with people still ploughing by hand and ox, with no sign of a building in sight. Unfortunately, the bloody girders got in the way of all my pictures so I couldn’t really get a good shot of the massive difference. There we were, back to horrible civilization again, and we had a 2 hour wait at the Chinese station where they attached a few more modern carriages, before we got going to Beijing. These 2 hours were so depressing, being back to Capitalism again (where I have to say China has to be the most capitalist country in the World) was not a pretty sight, and I hate to say it but I really wanted to be back in North Korea! After getting back on the train and spending the night drowning our sorrows, we eventually arrived back in Beijing 2 hours late, and coming out of Beijing central station in the middle of the day where there had to have been a million people (and a McDonald’s pretty much as soon as you get off the train) was not a pretty sight! All the noise of the cars and the packed metros and the shit storm that is Beijing, becomes even more intensified when you’ve come from a country which is a good 50 years in the past. My general impressions of North Korea were very good, I know the regime doesn’t work there and a whole chunk of the country is either in camps or starving, but if you just take everything with a pinch of salt it’s still a beautiful country, and really nice to sort of go back in time. Everything they build is on a ridiculous scale, which always makes for quite an interesting experience. Apart from that, the whole country is completely devoted to farming and on the bus/ on the train all you see is people obviously trying desperately hard just to get enough food for everyone to eat, and even in the countryside everyone leaves in these carbon copy villages of rows upon rows of houses which are completely identical. In the city it doesn’t seem so weird because a lot of cities have that (including London) but to see it in the countryside is quite creepy, and it shows the true extent of communism and how everyone has to be exactly the same. Which leads me on to the point of how well drilled the people are, whether it’s for good or bad, everyone is very regimented and this makes for very civilized people, and incredible musicians, dancers, circus acts, and obviously a good military. It’s all very creepy that they can follow someone so blindly, but it’s no different to a religion and the whole ‘Juche’ ideal of self reliance, and not just being able to follow the rules but also helping out your community when you have any time off means that people all pull together, and shit just gets done. It also means people have some sort of pride in their community and there’s no graffiti for example and if someone sees a piece of litter, they will pick it up no matter if it’s theirs or not. However, the roads are fucking useless, the people still use cows and ploughs to farm their land and you see a shit ton of people just crouching in the shitting position on the side of the road as they don’t have anything to do! It’s nice to see that everyone goes around on bicycles rather than cars, and when you go past everyone waves and they do seem pretty happy with their lives. As the saying goes ‘Ignorance is bliss’ and I think if the people did know what the hell was going on in the world around them, they’d probably die of shock or just kill themselves through the lack of being able to cope with the situation.

I hope you all enjoyed the read, it took fucking ages to write, I had an awesome time and encourage anyone to go as it's bloody interesting, and I'm almost certainly gonna go back at some point.

Posted by travellingjoe 02:07 Archived in North Korea Comments (2)

DPRK part 3

Day 5 – Monday 16th April

Waking up in Pyongyang again feels good, this city just feels like any other city, I know that behind all the identical breeze block building there’s people that are suffering but I’ve put that all out of my head, on the surface this place is bloody awesome. When you drive down the street on the bus you see a super clean city with no graffiti and all the people wave and all the architecture is so incredible, you’ve got all the biggest structures in the world in such a small space, so everywhere you look you something incredible. Today started off very badly as I had a bit of a hangover after all the celebrations of yesterday, but I quickly got over that as we started off at the huge waterfalls, which as per usual were very big and very impressive. But most importantly they’re only a 10 minute walk away from the classic Kim-Il-Sung statue, which luckily opened on schedule yesterday with his kid, Kim-Jong-Il now standing next to him as well, pretty cool to see the statue the day after it’s opened and we got to jump the queues due to being tourists and all. They’ve also added glasses to Kim-Il-Sung’s statue which was quite funny to see, it’s just so surreal to be standing next to the statue that not so long ago on the news you saw millions of people on their knees crying after the death of the great leader, safe to say seeing their God and Jesus now standing next to each other did bring tears to a lot of Koreans that we saw. And there I was standing next to him waiting for them all to get out the way so that I could get a good picture! After this we went on a little stroll through the surrounding forest/park thing which was very pleasant. Didn’t really see so much but it was nice just to be able to stretch our legs a bit as we’re so restricted to sitting on the bloody coach all day and being dropped off at the door of the hotel or the museum. At the end of the walk, however, there she was waiting for us to drive us to the next stop which was the flower exhibition. Normally it’s supposed to be an incredible exhibition but due to the circumstances literally the only plants they had on show were the kimilsunglias (yeah I know, ridiculous name!) and a few kimjongilias thrown in there as well for good measure. The guide for this place was absolutely brilliant, firstly she asked us if we’d ever seen anything like it and someone mentioned the Chelsea Flower Show which is obviously a million times better, and she was like Ha are you jokeing look how amazingly beautiful all these flowers are nothing in the world compares. Then she gave a long spiel about how the kimilsunglia is such a special flower that you can just drop the seed in concrete or wherever you want really and give it no water or food and it will still grow, that seems completely believable to me, I’m no biologist but living creatures certainly don’t need food or water to survive. The place was pretty dull and luckily we were on a schedule so we rushed through as quickly as possible making sure not to miss all the different types of flower (2) and then at the end she asked us to write in the book giving our thoughts on it all. And the tour guide stood there and literally forced us one by one to write something as our poor guide had to sit there and translate it all to make sure nothing disrespectful was said. God I love this country so much, being a tourist is such a good laugh with all the ridiculousness you have to go through. The next stop was the USS Pueblo spy ship, which was super interesting (not being sarcastic anymore) the ship was caught spying in North Korean waters in 1968, and captured and boarded by the North Koreans. They then paraded around the prisoners on TV where they apologized for what they did and said they were very well treated by the Koreans, and ashamed for what they had done. Then in a publicity stunt they gave them the finger and after that they were put in POW camps, but that wasn’t mentioned in the museum. The main point was that president Johnson being the complete fucking tool he was completely denied the whole thing and as a result they were held for ages despite writing an apology pretty much instantly. It was a pretty major thing in the cold war and pretty cool to be on the only US war ship which has been captured and kept as a trophy. So, 4 activities before lunch, bloody busy day today, unfortunately lunch was a traditional Korean dish of cold noodle soup. Up until now I’ve hated all the food but I’ve still managed to force it down, this was something that just wouldn’t go down, it was awful! After lunch we went to go see Kim-Il-Sung’s birth place, which really was a load of bullshit, they’d built a whole modern complex park type thing where you walk down perfectly paved roads to a quite blatantly restored house. If you look at the pictures it’s that tiny yellow thing which is as boring as it looks. If they could at least have tried a little bit and left it surrounded by woods or something it would be good, but no, they’ve wiped out a whole forest just for this one tiny house so they could build a serene lake and a couple of souvenir shops. Thankfully the next activity was a million times better, riding the Pyongyang metro!! Who’d have thought it, they even have a metro in Pyongyang, it’s crazy, as you go down what has to be the longest escalator in the world (the stations double up as bomb shelters) you start to smell the 50s and the whole station is decked out with marble everywhere and giant chandeliers, it’s really beautiful. Thankfully there’s a huge mural of the great leader watching over everything at the end of the hall. After not waiting long at all, we got on the metro, which had just been cleaned with fish or something and it smelt absolutely horrible so the guide decided to get us off at the next stop and get on the next train. What an awesome decision as the next train was completely packed and we had to shove our way through crowds of Koreans, it was a pretty surreal experience! After about 5 stops we managed to push our way through and get off, the guide was quite clearly bricking it because losing a tourist would not end very well for him. Then when we got off there was the old bus waiting for us to take us to the worker’s party statue which was the typical hammer and sickle job but as per usual on a ridiculous scale! The best thing was it had a completely straight view down the road to the Kim-Il-Sung statue, apart from that it was just a communist statue made out of grey concrete. Unfortunately, Kim-Jong-Un had to attend some important meeting, so all the main square was closed and the streets around it too, so we were stranded in the souvenir/coffee shop next to the monument, no worries just enough time to have a beer. Then we went back to the hotel for the usual dinner and watched tonight’s celebrations on the TV, and fortunately managed to catch the fireworks from the revolving restaurant (which thankfully was not working so we did manage to see quite a bit of the display). Then after a few beers we headed off to our ‘luxury’ rock hard beds for a quick night’s sleep.

Day 6 – Tuesday 17th April

Today started off with a 3 hour drive to Mount Myoyhang, which I can’t remember if it was in the north or south, but it should be marked on my map, so have a look there. The area was absolutely incredible, we saw a completely different side to Korea, with amazing landscapes and loads of colour not just dead farm land. The journey also gave me a good chance to catch up on some sleep, but the awful condition of the roads does make that somewhat difficult! The first thing we went to see was the international friendship exhibition, which really is just a huge museum of all the gifts Kim-Il-Sung has ever received (quite literally all of them, he’s not allowed to keep any). As with everything else the building was ridiculously vast I think she said that if you were to look at every item in the exhibition for 10 seconds it would take you 2 years to make it round. As you walk down marble corridors you just see hundreds of rooms leading off to every side, fortunately the gifts are separated into separate countries, so obviously we asked to see the Europe section first. The majority of the gifts he received in this section are obviously from the USSR and all other communist states over the years, the UK section is pretty abysmal, which made me very proud. The things he was getting were just incredible, just priceless artefact after priceless artefact, then our section is like 3 or 4 things, one of them being a tacky flower vase given by our tour company a few years previously and all the others donated by various communist wannabe parties, thankfully nothing from actual government officials! Big Joe Stalin had to have been by far the most generous of all donors, some of his gifts including a whole fucking train carriage and a few bullet proof cars, amongst a hell of a lot of other things. The most interesting section was probably Africa as they’ve had a lot of dictatorships over the years, so obviously understand the theme of wasting a poor country’s money on pointless gifts. The states definitely out did us in the shit gift department, apart from a signed Michael Jordan basketball (yeah I know, what the fuck?!) I think there were 2 other gifts and one was a book which seemed like a gift that would’ve been donated to them and they returned straight back. The whole thing was just the two Kim’s showing off how much everyone loved them (they even had 2 separate billion square metre buildings for their stupid amount of gifts, I think the new guy’s building is in the process of being built). After taking in the immense views of the surrounding mountain landscape from the balcony we moved on to have a picnic by a river. The mountain we went to was called the mountain of 10000 waterfalls (can’t quite remember the exact name in Korean) but safe to say there were a shit ton of waterfalls and just incredible views. So after our little picnic we got on the road up the mountain, and it wasn’t really a trek, but compared to the walks from the bus to the museums and back it was the equivalent of doing Everest! Half way up there was a beautiful lake which had a little waterfall at the back and it just looked so God dam presteen, and despite the fact that there was still ice and snow all around I had to get in. So I stripped down to my boxers on the side of a Korean mountain and jumped in to this freezing lake, which was fucking refreshing but also unbelievably cold! After quickly dipping my head under the mini waterfall and getting brain freeze I got out and sunbathed myself dry. Unfortunately, half the group was further down the mountain (due to laziness) and the other half (the explorers) were half way up, so no one was there to take my picture. So after sitting around waiting for everyone to get down from the top I had to get back in to make sure I had evidence for the blog. After getting back in my clothes and looking like I’d pissed myself (wet boxers soaking through to my trousers) we got going to a Buddhist temple. The temple was in the valley of about 50 mountains around it, so obviously it was absolutely beautiful, but due to the amount of wars that have hit Korea over the years it’s been rebuilt like 3 or 4 times so it wasn’t completely original. So anyway after walking around a bit the guide shows us this pagoda which is 13 stories high in an octagonal shape with bells on every corner, and she said when Kim-Jong-Il came to visit it only took him one minute to count all the bells because he’s such a fucking genius, then she asked how many bells do you think there are? Then literally after 1 second I shout 104, and her face drops, literally drops! How the hell did you know that? Well 13 stories octagonal means 8 sides (8x13=104) holy fuck she was so god damn impressed it was absolutely awesome, how are you quicker than Kim-Jong-Il, it only took you 1 second, best moment ever! So yeah we saw a bit more of the temple but nothing else matters because I am basically Jesus in her eyes now. After leaving the temple we went straight to our hotel, had dinner and the customary few beers then hit the hay, saw a completely different side to Korea today, beautiful countryside and some original culture not just the bullshit Kim-Il-Sung propaganda.

Posted by travellingjoe 10:11 Archived in North Korea Comments (2)

It's coming

Ok guys, I have no excuses now, just been too lazy, I'm now settled somehwere for a couple of days I've written over 6000 words on North Korea only a couple more thousand to go and it'll all be up by tomorrow night, hopefully! As I've said before the internet here is so frustrating so I'm having serious issues with uploading the photos, about 100 are up already but the fucking blog has put them behind the Beijing ones so you have to scroll through a bit but I'll try and get the rest up, you have no idea how many hours I've spent trying to upload the fucking pictures, it's driving me crazy. Over the next 2-3 days I'll be uploading all the last 10ish days of China and obviously north korea and a shit ton of pics, so bear with me but it's all coming!

Posted by travellingjoe 06:35 Comments (0)

DPRK part 2

Day 3 – Saturday 14th April

This morning was unbelievably cold, as I didn’t really buy any warm clothes since leaving India, I’m finding it fucking horrible, but we spend a lot of the time on the bus so it’s not so bad. After some breakfast, we got going to Pyongyang to see some of the famous sites up close and personal. The first stop was the great people’s study house which is effectively a library on the most ridiculous scale, there are something like 20 million books and god knows how many rooms to study in, just corridors and corridors which went on forever. Everything they build in Pyongyang and in the whole country is just ridiculously big, just to make a point! All university students from Pyongyang come here to study after school, but due to the whole national holiday situation at the moment the whole place was completely dead, it was really weird. However there did happen to be a couple of classrooms with people in them, and luckily out of the hundreds of rooms the 2 that were being used were right next to each other. One room had a group of ‘students’ watching Peter Pan in English with Chinese subtitles (seems a bit weird that a Korean English lesson would consist of such a normal film with subtitles in the wrong language!) The next room just had a room full of people of completely different ages who looked very suspicious and kept turning round to check we were watching them. Obviously when I was there I tried to take everything with a pinch of salt, but the whole thing was quite obviously set up and it was just a bit funny. Next they showed us the music study room where the students can come and listen to ‘some recent pop music’ the tour guide then proceeded to put on the Beatles! After this we went to the most important part of the building, the balcony on the top floor which overlooks Kim-Il-Sung square, this was really something else. It’s so weird to see all the classic things up close and personal like the picture of the great leader overlooking the square and the giant North Korean flag, and you’re just standing there right above the balcony where all the leaders make their speeches. As it was the day before the big day, there was also quite a bit going on in the square, with everyone practicing their dance moves and people setting up the last things for tomorrow (if only I could’ve been standing on this balcony when the main celebrations happened.) On the drive away as well we managed to catch a good glimpse of just how many people are going to be in the square and how epic it will be. Our next stop was the Korean people’s war memorial place (not the official title, impossible to remember what everything is actually called, it’s always stupidly long.) which just had a lot of the classic communist statues of people overcoming adversity and looking all grand and stuff, and we bumped into a couple of female army soldiers who I managed to get a picture with, result! There was also a really great view of the massive hotel which they haven’t completed yet, but it looks like something straight out of Dubai, and had it been completed on time it would have been the biggest in the world (at least that’s what I was told). Next we went to lunch, which wasn’t so good, so let’s move on. At least they serve beer with every meal! Anyway, we got back on the road to a place called Nampo where our first stop was a bottled water factory, which had a lot of really impressive machinery and the water we were given tasted good, but nothing was working. They say it was closed due to the holiday and what not and normally it produces 10000 bottles an hour or something even more ridiculous, but one of the guys on our group had been 2 years ago and it was closed when he went as well, due to ‘inspection’ or something like that. The best part about the factory was the fact that the toilets didn’t even have running water, this is very common around the country, but the irony of a water factory not having any running water is too funny. We all had a good laugh, then got going to an orphanage where we were taken directly to this one specific room where there were kids all jumping around and playing nicely. Then they started to give us a performance whilst the teacher played her accordion, the kids who were no older than 5 were all in perfect time, with the perfect show smiles and absolutely incredible singing voices. It was super creepy to say the least I mean the fake smiles were enough for me but just how military trained they were at such a young age was terrifying, one of the kids even acted as the conductor for the others at one point! We all had brought chocolates and sweets with us, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to give them directly to the kids, instead we had to leave them all by the door on the way out, so they could be shared out properly later (I hope that’s true). The next stop was this absolutely huge barrage which divided the Nampo river and the west Koran sea, effectively the Thames barrier but on a ridiculous scale of 8km long! The whole thing was ridiculously impressive and it only took 5 years to build as they can just contract as much of the army to come and build it for free (40,000 men were used) and as with everything else in the DPRK I think it is the largest structure of its kind in the world. It’s really fun to go to all these places and have the guides chat shit about how great the country is and how Kim-Il-Sung visited there x amount of times, and everyone has a different name for him, either President or Great leader or Comrade, his official title is something like 10 words I think. Our next stop was the spa hotel, which really is a place of luxury, each room has its own spa in the bathroom which is filled up with the natural spring water and safe to say it felt so good to lie in a boiling hot bath after such a long day. Then we had dinner which wasn’t so bad here actually, and going to bed nice and early for the big day tomorrow.

Day 4 – Sunday 15th April (4.15)

Got up early today so we could get on the road to Pyongyang and try and see as much of the celebrations as possible. I put on my new suit today, didn’t really need to buy one in the end as the only place where you need to be smart is the Mausoleum which is currently closed as they are getting ready to put Kim-Jong-Il next to his Dad (it was scheduled to reopen today but unfortunately not). Anyway, it’s always nice to get dressed up even if my shoes did give me fucking huge blisters. Our first stop was this theme park where pretty much all the tourists in the country were put in to to see some stupid display of random things. None of us came to this country to see fake celebrations set up just for us, we’re all here to see the military parade which is never going to happen unfortunately. So we sat around this place watching all the stupid Americans having a great time and then our group just sitting around trying to drink as much free beer as possible, and force down all the free ice-cream too. Next we got going to the martyr’s cemetery, which I think was for the Japanese war or maybe the Korean I can’t remember. Either way it’s where Kim-Il-Sung’s mum is buried, so there were lots of flowers around her little statue but apart from that it wasn’t particularly interesting. It was effectively a field of Bronze heads with writing on I couldn’t understand, and no real idea why it was only these particular people who were important enough to be buried there. At least it had a really great view of Pyongyang from the top, and the city does look bloody good from pretty much all angles, not only is it spotless and no graffiti, but all the monuments are really impressive and it’s all laid out like a showcase city. Then on the way to lunch we hit a road block of people standing there waving the military parade as it goes through the streets before they all arrive to the main square, this was really cool with all the people getting super excited and you seeing just rows and rows of military going past, first thing we’ve seen of the big day so far and hopefully a lot more to come. Lunch was a hot pot, where you get your only little pot full of boiling water on a stove and you just throw in random ingredients and let them cook, this was one of the better meals we had. After lunch we went to go see the circus, where unfortunately no cameras were allowed, but I did manage to sneak a couple pictures at the start. But this circus was really unlike anything I’ll ever see, I mean the performers were absolutely incredible doing the most insane stuff perfectly, it was truly something special. I’ve seen the cirque de soleil as well and they don’t even come close to the Koreans, obviously they’re all drilled from such a young age but really they were fucking awesome. The whole show was flawless except for at one point a guy did slip a tiny bit, he’ll probably be sent to a camp for that. Our next stop was the children’s palace which is as with everything else a huge building where kids are allowed to go after school to practice instruments and such, but we went there to see the performance in the grand hall. And holy fuck was this mind blowing, these kids are no older than 10 and they’re playing Mozart perfectly on the piano and all playing the most bizarre instruments unbelievably well and the singing is fucking mind-blowing, anyone of them could win the X factor, they all pretty much have perfect opera voices from birth it seems. It’s hard to explain everything and you really had to be there, but long story short it was really something else. There wouldn’t be one kid in the whole of Europe who could compare to any of the kids on that stage that’s for sure! It really makes you wonder how far our country could go if they drilled the kids as hard as they do in Korea (and not just in a musical sense but just in terms of having a no nonsense work attitude to everything). Despite having to miss the military parade to sit through both shows it wasn’t far off being worth it. We then went to visit the arc de triumph which needless to say is the biggest in the world, and then we had dinner. Unfortunately, our guides who were absolutely perfect throughout the rest of the trip timed it so we were eating as the fireworks started, so we all just said come on lets fucking go we don’t care about missing 1 meal. So we got on the bus and obviously every road is closed and we’re driving around in circles missing this incredible show until eventually they give up and say we’ll walk. So after pissing about for like 30 minutes we drive right back to the restaurant and walk from there, through a tunnel to try and get a view over the river. Unfortunately the fireworks were over, but that meant that there were about a million Koreans coming towards us on their way out all singing and dancing and waving and just having the best time and the atmosphere was fucking incredible! I’ve got a couple of videos of it but my crappy blog won’t let me upload them but I would have to say that in my whole time in Korea my favourite part was walking through a tunnel! Then we got to the other side and heard some more singing and saw some more waving and it was just brilliant and more than made up for missing the fireworks. After that we got back to the hotel and had a few beers whilst we sat and watched the parade on Juche TV (the only channel in Korea) which was almost as cool as being there I guess. Today was absolutely awesome, and I’m really loving this country so far and all the people waving whenever we go past, and just the overall beauty, it’s brilliant.

N.B. I’m having serious internet problems and I know that the blog gallery is crap for showing pictures in any sort of order, but just keep waiting and eventually I’ll have all the pictures up and hopefully you’ll be able to relate what I’m writing about with the pictures. Sorry about the slowness of all this, but each day is taking about 1000 words to write and with me being generally quite busy at the moment in Beijing I’m getting there very slowly.

Posted by travellingjoe 04:11 Archived in North Korea Comments (6)

DPRK part 1

overcast

Day 1 – Thursday 12th April

So here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, North Korea!! First thing to note is that there are around 2000 tourists/journalists in the country at the moment which is way more than they’ve ever had before, and way more than I was expecting. What this means is that come the big day I won’t be able to attend the main celebrations as there are way more important people than me who need to be shown the true might of the army. It also means that all the 5* hotels are booked up and I’m not staying in the hotel that I was expecting (it has a bowling alley, casino, swimming pool, revolving restaurant on the 47th floor and so much more.) Instead we’re staying in a pretty average hotel with intermittent hot water and a revolving restaurant which doesn’t work! So I left Beijing this morning to meet up with the group at the airport and get on our plane to Pyongyang (the capital) and due to the high number of tourists they only had the old soviet planes left from the 80s. Which was an experience and a half, the seats fall down all the time, the overhead lockers are shelves like on a plane (ie things fall down very easily) and the seatbelts are pretty much non-existent. On top of all this the actual ride is terrible and you have constant turbulence just because the plane is on the verge of falling to pieces. Luckily we did make it safely to Pyongyang in 2 hours. So we got off the plane and met up with our guides, Mr Lee and Miss Kim who we can’t travel anywhere without from now on, and our coach driver who’s name I’ve forgotten. In our holiday group there are 4 groups of 16 people, and I’m in group C with 12 other Brits a Czech (who I’m sharing a room with) and 2 Aussies. By the time we’d all got through customs (very long process, checking everyone’s bag for anything which may be able to send GPS signals or anything which denounces any of the great leaders.) it was very late so we got to the hotel and had dinner (a mish mash of random famous Korean dishes) which were all pretty disgusting. We then all spent the evening in the ‘revolving’ restaurant having a few beers. I’m really thinking it might have been a bad idea coming at this time, there’s going to be tourists everywhere we go (not something you come to such a remote country for) and we’ll be put last in line to see any of the special events and it might just end up being a crap time of seeing museums and staying in crap hotels. I’m trying to keep my hopes up, and we’ll have to see what happens, the itinerary is also completely up in the air so I have no idea what I’m going to be seeing, up until we are actually there. Right now all I know is that we’re going to be leaving this hotel tomorrow morning and going to the South of the country.

Day 2 – Friday 13th (Unlucky for some, not me!)

Got up nice and early today and had a mediocre breakfast in the hotel then got on the bus to get going and start seeing some of this fucked up country. First we had to drive through Pyongyang to get on the motorway, the city is incredible, it’s littered with super impressive high rise buildings and some incredible hotels and monuments, feels like you’re in Beijing or something. Apart from the beautiful buildings it’s row upon row of identical tower blocks for the locals and propaganda all over the shop, with some pictures of Kim-Il-Sung hugging kids and loads of big red signs of slogans in Korean which always end in an exclamation mark, without fail! My first impressions are that it really is a nice city, and obviously a complete waste of money as people are starving all over the country, but it is a showcase city for people like me so I guess for them it is money well spent. So we get on the motorway, and it’s a huge road with 4-5 lanes on each side and literally no cars whatsoever, our bus is the only thing you see for miles except for every now and again seeing another tourist bus or an army vehicle. The satellite was launched this morning, we were told it was successful, I’ve since found out that it exploded in mid-air who knows what to believe (the American imperialist propaganda or the Korean news??). We stopped off at a service station on the way, which is just an excuse for them to sell you some cheap tat souvenirs of the DPRK (literally everywhere you go in this country there’s a bloody souvenir shop, at the end of every museum tour the first stop is the shop). So we had around a 2ish hour drive south to our first stop which was the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which is the border between South Korea and North Korea. So you start off with a quick explanation of what you’re going to see and then you get given your soldier to accompany you on the bus to the official line between the two most different attached countries in the world. So you get to the line and on each side there’s a huge military base and then in the middle these 4 or 5 little huts where they do any signings of agreements and stuff like that. Running through these huts is just one long concrete line and in the actual rooms there are microphones along the table which also line up with the line. Straight away it’s easy to see the gap between the two countries, the South Korean base for example is way nicer than the North and from the top of the building you can see the North Korean farmers with their ploughs and then on the South side you see tractors and other proper farming equipment. The weather wasn’t great so we couldn’t really see that far, but it’s pretty obvious these 2 countries are pretty far apart, the other thing was there were no South Korean military guarding the line. Maybe they were just on their break when we got there or something but the North had a real opportunity to invade! It just meant we didn’t see the famous sight of the two separate sides of soldiers staring each other down all day. After a few quick jumps between the South and the North and some pics with the military, we got back on the bus to our next stop, Kaesong. We went to a couple of pretty boring museums going on about Korea’s ancient past, which let’s be honest given the recent history, I’d much rather be hearing about that. But just driving through the countryside on the way, all you see is the entire population farming these plots of land which are completely dead, I don’t know if that’s because it’s this time of year but at spring you would expect a bit of activity and given the amount of land which is all dedicated to farming, something isn’t working. Luckily our guides were pretty lenient so I managed to take lots of pictures out the side of the bus (that’s why a lot of my pics are blurry) but all you really see is these little farming communities with their identical houses and people just crouching on the side of the road doing nothing and the rest just ploughing away. Anyway, after the boring museums we went to go see a statue of Kim-Il-Sung which was at the top of a hill looking down on Kaesong with awesome views. Even though it’s not the really famous one (currently under reconstruction as they’re adding one of Kim-Jong-Il next to it) it’s still a pretty weird sight, and bloody surreal to be standing in front of it and getting pictures. Here we bumped into a few local kids who were initially terrified of us and kept running away when you tried to take a photo, but after we got the guide to tell them we weren’t American they were all friendly with us. Next we went to the main gate of the city, which is just a little monument type gate thing effectively on a roundabout. So we had to cross the road to get to it, and all the guides are like guys be careful when you cross the road, and there’s obviously not a car in sight it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s just weird to look around and see North Korean flags everywhere and as well thousands of posters prepping everyone for the big centenary day (4.15, April the 15th). The guides then accompanied us on a walk through the village back to the hotel (something very rare, according to the rules you should never leave the bus) and here we saw the real Korean people, and they’re all really friendly, waving all the time and saying hello and things, all just riding past on their bicycles (so many people ride bicycles in the country). Then we got back to our hotel which was really nice and quaint looking from the outside, but then the inside was just mats on a freezing cold floor (the under floor heating didn’t work) with a really thick blanket as it was pretty much arctic in the night. Needless to say the running water was freezing. Then we had another typical Korean style dinner, we seem to eat the same things all the time, and all of it is pretty horrible! Ah well, half the country is in famine so you force it down. After a couple of beers it was off to bed for a really cold night’s sleep ready for another busy day tomorrow.

Posted by travellingjoe 00:00 Archived in North Korea Comments (0)

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