Pyongyang, North Korea… These names have always been mysterious for me. With North Koreans known to be so close-minded, what kind of capital city can they possibly build? And how exactly can they live in this very capital under the dictatorship of the semi-immortal gods, surrounded by all the modern enemies? I have been dreaming of witnessing all these myself for a long time. After the North Korea by train, Kaesong and the DMZ, let’s discover Pyongyang.
Upon an early morning, we went to take a ‘wild’ walk during this little free time we have before the guides arrive. You cannot normally move around unaccompanied, thus everything seemed abnormally nice, especially without those disturbing explanations and questions our guides dote on.
As we were enjoying the quiet morning, our guides have arrived, much earlier than we expected. They did not say it but they actually live at the same hotel! Although one of them actually lives near the center of Pyongyang. So why are they there? To watch us? Excuse my bad language, this is obviously to ensure our security.
We thus wasted no time and set off straight away. Nobody works today, apparently it is a day off. It is a beautiful sunny day but quite cold (-14 degrees). As a result the battery of my camera freezes and I have to replace it every 20 minutes.
The first place we visit is the Pyongyang Grand Theatre. The building is not ugly, rather colorful but if you look closer and you willrealize that it is poorly maintained, especially the roof. Here are translation for movie listings:
- Speak, Forest! (Revolutionary Opera)
- The Faithful Daughter of the Party (Revolutionary Opera)
- Song of Mount Kumgang (Revolutionary Opera)
- Seonghwangdang (name of a temple) (Revolutionary Opera)
- With Anger Bloody Ten-Thousand Countries (Revolutionary Drama)
There is no traffic on the street, no traffic lights. People are walking, rather quietly. There is a lack of stress as we are used to in the large mega-cities. The morning light is soft, soothing, that an inattentive eye might almost believe himself on a boulevard in Beijing without traffic. But things are always beyond the first impressions.
There are families walking, you can see people in the bus (without lights), almost everything seems normal. But there is an only oddity: the street is a very central axis but without any shops or restaurants. Nothing is on sale, there are no marks, no advertising at all…
But there are actually some kind of signs, all similar and rather explicit. Businesses are apparently all like that, always hidden behind a heavy curtain. It is not certain that something is behind there all time: the few stores where we visited were either closed or practically empty. There was even one shop blacked out during our visit, and we had to finish our shopping with a flashlight! And of course, you never see anybody in them. The universal rule that stores need to have nice window display and seasonal promotion to lure our appetite is of exemption here.
We now arrived at Kim Il-sung’s Square where all the government buildings are located. I’m not sure that Karl Marx shared much enjoyment seeing his own portrait on the “Government Complex Number 2”! Above it is written 영광 스러운 조선 로동당 만세! Long live to the Korean Workers Party!
It goes on with other slogans written vertically:
- 경애하는 김정은 동지의 령도따라 주체혁명위업을 끝까지 완성하자! Long live the leadership of our respected and beloved Comrade Kim Jong-un, are completing the Great Revolution!
- 위대한 김일성동지와 김정일동지는 영원히 우리와 함께 계신다! Our great comrade Kim Il-sung et Kim Jong-il will live with us forever!
Kim Jong-il has been dead and embalmed for weeks at that time, but on the slogan above was the only time that we see our beloved new (fatty) leader (Kim Jong-un) being mentioned; he was otherwise completely ignored by our guides, nor does his photo appear anywhere, and you can just about to catch a glimpse of him in television news (for which we can seriously enjoy it as “the 10 Minutes Show”, because it is so ridiculously short… or to say it shortly, it is ridiculous).
This is what happens to be the principle building of Pyongyang : the Grand People’s Study House. We will go for a walk (and explore its roof of course) later.
It seems that turquoise is a popular color in Pyongyang. Most of the buildings and monuments use this color, especially for roofs. It is the color of the quiet authority. The message was very well very well delivered, on the paintings here, the leaders are always represented with big smiles aiming to rival Mr Colgate. But the people, featured on the same pictures, are always in their revolutionary spirits, ready to jump on any possible enemy. Fortunately, our dear fathers are here for them, with the quiet force, law and order.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il, enthusiastic about devouring pitbulls, was ordering them alive from United States in order to acquire the power that we already knew.
Many buildings are in short preparation for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung (Juche 101). As it is immortal, he can obviously come back and enjoy the long array of empty buildings.
Strangely, Kim Jong-il was not granted the holy grail and therefore will not be able to check this exciting new landscape. Alternatively, he was able to avoid going to the toilet. His biography says that he was not defecating! Quite a convenient power as well. Although it is clear that everyone has his own super power, the power that Kim Jong-un possesses, however, is not clear yet.
We are now going to visit Tower of Juche, from which we can enjoy an overview of Pyongyang. Super! I shall run fast! But first, what is this “Juche”?
The Juche is the official ideology of North Korea. There are supporters from all countries (even France) but I have a big doubt. It was created by Kim Il-sung in the 30s. Here are the three fundamental principles (also known as the “Three Legs of the Grand Chat”).
The Chaju: Political Independence
Do seek the advice before firing anyone, that way you can shoot first. This is the strength of the Weak… but also the one of the Malicious and even… the Sneaky!
The Charip : Economic Self-Sufficiency
The Chawi : Self Defense Force
North Korea is the most militarized country in the world. Just look around, it seems that most people are soldiers, especially outside the capital. Unless the military costumes are the trend of the moment.
At this perilous moment Kim Jong-il took the reins of the country that he continued to dry on low heat, while allowing some air to fully appreciate the joys of life (several women, a great sushi Chief, good drinks, gourmet dog, golf, movies, travel, etc.). Since Kim Jong-il, no party congress took place which was supposed to happen every 5 years.
We find again the well known weapons of the party: the hammer (the worker), the brush (the intellectual), and sickle (the farmer). In an attempt to steady the balance of this country in the total loss of speed, the loss of control was then added; no freedom, no rights. The North Koreans are the shares of a failed machine, but yet they worship their leaders, and few people wake up from it and try to escape.
They are not faking it in front of the monument, showing respect to Kim Jong-il a last time. You have to see to realize it, for they have eyes are glittering! I am now certain that they must have really cried the day he died . It is intimidating to think so. This trip feels like a game so far, but I realize that our presence here is on the borders of their tolerance, and everything is taken very seriously.
Then we walk much further, around an amusement park where everyone goes. The park itself does not open in the winter, but the doors were open.
There is really not a lot of cars in the city, most honest people use their feet, the subway, or bus. Some have a bike but it seems that it is limited to the richest. Note that the bicycle is one of the “pride of the party”. No the buses, for sure,they are completely neglected.
Here is the entrance to Kaeson Youth Park (개선청년공원). Nothing very interesting, in fact.
You noticed the cleanliness of the city? We are not far from the Japanese OCDs here.
The disabled are also removed from the land (from birth if possible). Another thing worth noticing is that there are no dogs, no cats either, they are all extinguished in the barbecue a few decades ago. I wonder if they even know what these animals look like?
The only animal that we could see alive is the ostrich (you will see them all lined up very soon). The day that hunger disappears, would be the day we see them as pets. Otherwise we can we do with these big bird. The scene of the early morning ostrich-walking must be impressive.
In Pyongyang, the most flattering scene must be the traffic ladies. They are the conductors for the streets of Pyongyang and we are lucky to have them here. The world has a passion for them, there are even fetish forums about them! They are usually pretty nice, well built, strong and intelligent. Oh my! They are also entitled to cosmetics; which is probably necessary for the performance of their work. And their costumes are out of the careful consideration of Kim Jong-il; in summer, they are all in skirts.
Then we are on the way back to the hotel.
We are here! The Yanggakdo Hotel looks like a big old nasty robot. It is almost empty, there are 1,000 rooms but only a dozen are occupied. At this time of year, there are less than twenty foreign tourists throughout the whole country.
Interesting little detail: if you look into the hotel elevator, the 5th floor is missing. I wanted to go there with the stairs, but I avoided it because I had seen a website before revealing the secret, so no further explanation needed. It does not worth getting caught for such a trivial.
After a refresh, I am absolutely ready to explore Pyongyang at night. Let’s go!
We are now on a bridge across Taedong River, where there is a market. Everything is on the floor, people are dirty. This is the miserable parts that we were hidden from throughout the day. Of course, there I was warned that my camera will not last long if I dare take a picture. I refrained.
Presently we are passing Arc of Triumph. I point out to our guides that in France we have the same thing, ‘oh really’ was the half heartedness answer we got , as usual. It is very difficult to attemp a deep conversation with the guides, unless you go completely their way (which is very annoying). They do not seem to know or care that this monument was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, even though their study was only about the ‘world’.
We then return to where we were this morning at the Grand People’s Study House. This is surely the most illuminated place of all Pyongyang.
The Koryo Hotel is well lid as well. This is the second biggest hotel, after Yangakkdo. Inside this hotel there is the restaurant frequented and owned by Japanese people.
Now back at the Juche Tower, who is definitely more impressive and funky at night.
I will try to end this post with an attempt for a bird view of the city at night. It was not very clear since there was a fog, plus the city was not really bright.
A zoomed one for the Ryugong Hotel, which is not lid just yet!
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Pyongyang. In the next article, we will visit the ostrich farm, and all the indoor pictures will be revealed. In the meantime … are there anything particular you noticed on the pictures?