North Korea: Part II

This post picks up where “North Korea Part I” left off.

Day 3

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Ryugyong Hotel

By the morning I was itching to get outside and do something. Even though the week before and the first couple days I was there were pretty hectic, being inside all night gave me anxiety.IMG_0611For whatever reason we were not allowed to go anywhere outside of the hotel without our guides so after being inside for 10-12 hours I had started to come down with a classic case of cabin fever. I assume we called it quits around 9:00pm the night before anticipating the long car ride planned first thing in the morning.

Expanding upon the Korean War theme from the day before, the guides lined up a trip to the DMZ.

A side note

Honestly the whole country is more or less centered around the Korean War. I will concede that for the most part North Korea took lemons from the war and turned them into lemonade. Pyongyang has several really impressive features that I believe will make it a desirable place to visit once the current tension fizzles out, as it always seems to. It won’t take care of itself, but conflict and isolation isn’t in anyone’s best interest. In the museum we visited the day before there were pictures of the city taken after the war that showed the capital absolutely flattened like a pancake. It would have been understandable if the DPRK just rolled over and took its lumps once the war was over, which is why I’m that much more impressed by the solidarity the people have shown under the leadership even for all of its perceived faults. I can at least see on a very basic level why they revere (Supreme Leader) Kim il-Sung and his kin as only they do; although the DPRK is undoubtedly mired in poverty, without a charismatic leader to pick up the pieces, the country would be infinitely worse off if a power struggle or other complications had ensued. In this way, any advances the country has made in the 21st century and second half of the 20th century are notable when one understands that any development taking place has been virtually unassisted save for a few actors (ex., China and Russia).

Our whole group met for breakfast on the third floor before leaving. The group consisted of five Americans:

  • Arthur Miller (not that Arthur Miller), an 80 year old retired international trader in phenomenal shape
  • Thomas, public policy professor at Yonsei Unviersity (strangely, across the street from where I study in Seoul)
  • Matt, sergeant in the Columbus (OH) police department
  • Andrew, IT specialist from Columbus, OH (friends with Matt)
  • Me, student-at-large

Breakfast in North Korea is about what you would expect (nothing extravagant). And by nothing extravagant I mean a single over-medium egg, a piece of blackened toast and a half-full cup of coffee that could be purchased for 1 €. Now this was the North Korea I came to visit, no frills. I’m pretty easy so I really didn’t mind because that’s actually 50% of the exact same meal I eat every day when I’m stateside. After refueling for the day I got super laced up and met everyone in the hotel lobby around 8:00am as we set out for the DMZ.

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In the above sub-rant, I said that Pyongyang has several really impressive features, one of which is the roads. Although the roads are pretty nice in the city center, the same cannot be said as you drive further from town and get onto the highways. Out of anywhere I have ever been in my entire life I can say without one iota of doubt that the roads in North Korea are hands-down the worst. They really are just awful. I’m skeptical of how far we actually traveled because well, I just am, but two and a half hours in the van was more than enough for me. Potholes the size of cars (most over a foot deep) coated the road. Not exaggerating – we drove more miles driving left to right than we did straight. That’s another reason it’s kind of hard to gauge the trip distance. We would be driving about 50 mph, come to a dead stop after just crushing a pothole, weave around a few others just like it, and keep on truckin’. I remember in grade school it wasn’t uncommon to argue with kids over who got the back seat of the bus so that you could fly up in the air every time the bus bottomed out. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown taller and wiser, so for every inch grown, I’ve become equally disinclined to bounce my head off the roofs of vehicles. The nausea went away the further we went because I was rather amused by the old men yelling “G***amn!” each time the driver erred (with voice inflection not unlike Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane).

Arriving at the DMZ

Reality started to kick in the closer we got to the DMZ though. The military checkpoints were less amusing than serious every time soldiers flagged down our van and asked the driver and guides to step out for a chat. They had to provide our visas and some other kind of clearance. Another dead-eyed soldier with an AK slung across his back wouldn’t move his forefinger very far from the breast pocket of his uniform as he made sure we didn’t get any bright ideas. After more than one sobering encounter like this we reached a stopping point. At the stopping point there is an extensive concrete wall that stretches for as far as the eye can see in either direction which is about 8 feet high. There’s a quaint little shop that sells essentials, you know – cigarettes, candied fish, weird bags of boiled eggs and propaganda. Every poster is one of a kind because it’s either oil or acrylic even though many are remakes of popular originals. It’s no less interesting (yeah, interesting) for foreigners to flip through them. History in North Korea involves its’ army “smashing” the United States during the war (verbiage used by our guides), so many of the posters portray things like men with US army helmets getting stepped on by a giant boot branded with the hammer and sickle. Unfortunately they’re really expensive ($50 for 12”x16”) so I had to pass.

IMG_0817Atten-shun

We met a few DPRK officers in front of the place where we parked the van along with a small group of Chinese tourists. They coached us into lines of four (just like in the mausoleum) onto a dotted white line and opened up the gates for us to pass through. Our van pulled forward and we loaded inside for a short drive to the building where the armistice was signed. The narrow road was stuffed between two lofty concrete walls that were topped off with some diabolical looking razor wire for good measure. That’s another thing, we still weren’t allowed to take pictures. Even though I took a lot of photos I exercised a fair amount of discretion in my picture taking. Our guides typically told us when we could and shouldn’t snap any, with the latter being the entire way to the stopping point and much of the way to the actual DMZ. The armistice was signed in a small concrete building basically in the middle of nothing. There aren’t any other buildings near it and maybe one or two trees maintained for aesthetic appeal. Inside the 1,500 square foot (one floor) building there are three tables.

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Armistice House

One neutral table separates the one belonging to forces under UN command and another designated for the DPRK. I was surprised to learn that everything was all-original, which made striking a pose at the UN (US) table pretty unique. IMG_0831Other than tables on one side of the room nothing else is inside save for some incriminating looking documents hung up on the opposite wall.

There is only one other building even close to this one – a place where military officials from both sides met to discuss a truce in 1951. One of our guides translated the officers’ description of the encounter something to the effect of “neither side spoke a single word for over two hours as they stared each other down, trying to force the other to break the silence.”

His statement reflects the general impression I got from my stay in the North – both sides are still too proud to initiate any respectful or meaningful dialogue with each other.

After a quick stop at the armistice house we drove for roughly another ten minutes down a dusty road until we reached the demarcation line. Finally we encountered some vegetation and a landscape that resembled the view from the southern side.IMG_0855It occurred to me at that point how symbolic the presence of trees was. In stark contrast to the southern boundary, the absence of vegetation in the DPRK makes one mindful of just how absent the healing process has been. It’s quite thought provoking, and made me wonder if the Korean peninsula could ever resolve any differences in my own lifetime, let alone future generations.

Demarcation Line

From the Joint Security Area there are at least a few encouraging signs. Panmunjom was originally a village that was settled on the exact border between the North and the South. The bright blue buildings are the only places where the two sides ever meet face-to-face. Something that made me laugh – however small it may be – was that the buildings had Samsung air conditioners out front. I had to suppress a bit of laughter; South Korea clearly took the “win” in the comfort department.

You can also see Kaesong Park industrial facilities (even though it’s currently not operating), which was a joint venture established between the North and South. You can also see South Korean flags flying high in the distance so I could rest assured knowing that what I was seeing was in fact real. It was difficult to be accepting while I was in the DPRK primarily because of the way Westerner’s are geared to be skeptical of the North due to its secretive nature and media representation. I’m not saying I abandoned all skepticism but for the most part I tried to remain objective. IMG_0869Understanding the DPRKs perspective was the entire purpose of my trip. After quietly ooo-ing and ahh-ing for a little bit on the roof of the observatory, we were allowed to take a quick picture with an officer equivalent in rank to a colonel.

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A somber occasion.

That was the only time we were allowed to take a picture of the military. It’s an interesting thing to have been on each border of one of the tensest places on Earth. And to have taken pictures with soldiers on both sides? First-world goals.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

After the DMZ we back peddled to Pyongyang, but not before stopping for lunch in Kaesong. The whole “no pictures” thing was really starting to irritate me because you can’t really encapsulate the nature of that atmosphere in mere words. Only about ten minutes from outside the gated stopping point do you begin to see any structures and signs of life.

In truth it’s a little depressing. Most of them are run-down shacks without windows or doors and are in total disrepair. Some of the nicer ones have a patch of grass out front for goats. Kaesong (city) is the nearest place with any kind of development. It still is seriously lacking in terms of modern economic development but the buildings were at least all built within the last fifty years. The roads still needed paved, people were riding rusty bicycles from the 1940s and children were walking around without parents or shoes. Seeing a place like that makes one feel guilty for ever feeling likes the chips are down. The backdrop was pretty cool though – the city has sprung up around the base of these massive copper colored mountains.

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Bottom Right: Dog Meat Soup

Lunch again was pretty royale. The waitresses brought us a plethora of food served in bronze dishes along with a liter of beer complete with a frosty chalice. What made this meal memorable however was one thing in particular. Ever ambitious, I was the first to taste a soup that looked (and smelled) a little strange. I put the spoon down and commented “I think I’m gonna pass on this one…I’m getting the same taste you get when a dog licks the inside of your mouth.” We all kind of laughed but come to find out it was actually (as you may have guessed) dog meat soup. Forget vinegar, mothers-at-large…wash your profane child’s mouth out with this stuff.

 

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DPRK Wedding Ceremony

The next place was pretty interesting if not for its historical significance than because of what we bumped into. We walked from the restaurant to the old Koryo University (now a history museum), which established itself nearly 1,000 years ago. A good amount of it was annihilated by bombers during the Korean War, but several small buildings and ancient trees were preserved. It has been rebuilt several times over the past several centuries. A local guide in a colorful dress approached us and led us through the front gates. Unexpectedly, we got there during a small wedding ceremony. Two small groups of people had locked hands and were dancing around a tree on each side of a sidewalk as the groom and bride were cheered along. The women all wore the traditional bouffant dresses and the men wore plain suits (complete with Kim il-Sung/Kim Jong-il pins). We all kind of froze in our tracks because it appeared (we) five pale Americans had literally crashed the happiest day of their lives. Oops.

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Poster in the Koryo Museum comparing different values. Notice that a cow is four times as valuable as a man, and that women are priced slightly higher than men across all ages.
Stamps, Posters, Books

Once the tour of the history museum was over we stopped at the Koryo Stamp Shop right outside the front gates. It was here that I picked up some really great postcards and printed posters. After a dreadfully bumpy and nausea inducing van ride we got back to Pyongyang later that afternoon.

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Small group gathering together in one section of Kim il-Sung Square

Unfortunately for us, we got barricaded in Kim il-Sung square right when they set up to practice for the Worker’s Party Congress parade. We took the opportunity to go to a bookstore and kill some time. I found a couple hidden gems there, the first being a copy of the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(s) Law Concerning External Economic Affairs” printed in Korean with an English translation opposite each page. It takes care to note that should any discrepancy arise in translation, the Korean language supersedes English. I also found a pamphlet size copy of two speeches made by Kim Jong-un four days before and three days after my birthday during 2015. Apparently October 3-10 is a good time to be in the DPRK. Briefly skimming through the speeches I found him to be a highly skilled orator! Because English was just one of a few different languages the speeches were printed in, I asked one of our guides if he spoke any language other than Korean. Loyal to the end, she confirmed that Mr. Kim Jong-un does in fact speak many languages, and does so with poise.IMG_0936The barricade was kind of a blessing in disguise because it gave us an opportunity to bear witness to something truly spectacular. This figure may be exaggerated, if only slightly, but about 100,000 people had gathered around the square and the surrounding streets by the time we were out of the bookstore. It began to get dark so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building (in addition to others) turned on the glowing red neon signs. Stadium size lights lit up the entire square as tightly packed people were swirling around in dance and marching throughout the streets. Once again pictures were prohibited, so the only ones I got from my pocket turned out blurry.

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This was taken following dinner after everyone had cleared out.

Every person each held two wooden batons symbolizing the torch on the Juche Tower. I asked the guides what it was all about, and they said that come Parade Day, every person will march with two real torches. If one thing is certain, the DPRK sure knows how to put on a show. It’s regrettable that they refuse to share a display of culture like that with the outside world.

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Last dinner with the full group. Duck wraps!

 

Day 4

By the fourth day I figured out why exactly I felt so disoriented. The trip to the DMZ the previous day left me feeling a little disillusioned that evening, but I got a decent nights rest and felt pretty good after spending some time in my hotel room writing postcards to people back home.

IMG_0761Each morning about 5:00am, or at sunrise, music starts to play from loudspeakers and gets progressively louder throughout the day until they shut it down well after dark. I thought I was imagining it at first because it seemed a little strange; it’s really triumphant and is the perfect backdrop for the capital of a socialist country. They must have taken that one out of the former USSRs playbook. Anyways I couldn’t tell if I was amused or annoyed by it, maybe because now it was just two of us (Art & myself, the other three only stayed for three days), or maybe for some other reason.IMG_0584As we were departing Pyongyang for another long road trip (which I was really looking forward to), I can’t remember if I was looking for the loudspeakers, but I noticed that I couldn’t find street signs. Any. Anywhere. And then I noticed that we were starting to pass the same buildings. As in the exact same building more than once. I don’t think Art noticed but I asked the guide if the streets had any street names and she paused for a moment and replied “of course we do.” So I asked “ok, where exactly are the street signs?” She gave me a no-no glance and shrugged off my question and looked out the window.IMG_0656I was really confused and never resolved why exactly we were driving around in circles on streets without names. It was only a little bizarre. For the life of me, I still can’t figure it out.

Myohyang Mountains

On the itinerary for the day was a trip to the Myohyang Mountains and the International Friendship Exhibit. The drive was a little longer and a little bumpier albeit more scenic. Along the way you could see the smokestacks at coal factories pouring out thick toxic clouds of midnight black smoke. People covered in soot and heavy clothes walked along the highway with no clear direction. It was a little troubling because at some points it became clear they would have to walk 10-15 kilometers before getting to the nearest area. The highways in North Korea are in no way similar to interstates in the US; the road is one massive strip of dirt and asphalt without lanes and cars weave around potholes with a low level of awareness for other drivers. Clearly there is some unwritten code of highway conduct, but if they have worked out the kinks, I didn’t notice. As we got closer to our destination the road hugged a very wide river. You could see ant-sized people in the distance busy at work amidst the massive dredges.

IMG_0952We passed a decent size damn at one point before we got into the thick of the mountains. The further we went the more peaceful it seemed. It seemed only a little strange that the International Friendship Exhibit was this far off the beaten path, but I didn’t have any qualms taking in the scenery. It felt more like we were being couriered to the drop for a backwoods-hunting excursion, not to the complex where hundreds of thousands of gifts given to the three dictators were housed. Eventually we got off the logging trails and hit a nicely paved stretch of asphalt tires still spinning. A few minutes later we approached the massive building. My initial impression was that it seemed quite bizarre that something as impressive as this should be tucked away in the middle of a forest. Then I had my “duh” moment. People would probably be pissed if they saw all of this material wealth stashed away!

Due to scheduling conflicts we only had time to visit the exhibit dedicated to Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-un (same building). Kim Jong-il has his own separate complex with even more “gifts.” The International Friendship Exhibit is more a palace than a museum. No pictures inside of course, but for five floors you can explore some of the most elaborate sculptures and precious metals you’ll find anywhere in the world. Handwritten love letters from Stalin to Kim il-Sung, jerseys from Dennis Rodman to Kim Jong-un, and a literal DB-5 from Stalin (used only once by Kim-il Sung) can be found inside. I’ve never seen more grizzly and polar bear pelts in my entire life. Silver, jade…all gold everything. I recall being extremely impressed but at the same time felt a little sickened by the absence of “give-a-shit” for the citizens.

The trouble our local driver had getting to this place highlighted the more important issue: treasure was being hoarded, not culture being exchanged. It makes you wonder if the current regime has any real incentive to do things like pave the roads and make personal transportation a reality.

On the other hand – maybe the status quo should remain in check. After all, it’s good to be King.

Off the Beaten Path

On the way back we stopped at a Buddhist monastery named the Pohyon Temple. It was built in the year 1042 but has since undergone significant repairs between the fifteen and eighteenth centuries.

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Listen to the song Ceilings by Local Natives off of the 2013 album “Hummingbird” and enjoy this picture. If you see what I see, then you’re looking at absolute majesty.

It was the most tranquil place I have ever been in my life.

A soundproof box lets out more noise than this place… It’s nestled in the Myohyang Mountains amidst streams and gentle monks.

A sweet fragrance unknown to the outside world sweeps through the valley with a calm wind. IMG_0987Inside the temple no words were exchanged, we simply took off our socks and shoes and went inside. We lit incense, prayed, and sat in silence for about ten minutes. That magnitude of peace is an anomaly –especially in the DPRK. They deserve it. I envy them.

IMG_0992Pictures were allowed inside, but I felt oddly disturbed by the idea of exploiting it. I took a mental snapshot. That one I decided to keep for myself. I hope this place remains unscathed for another 1,000 years.IMG_0974

Back to Pyongyang: Children’s Palace

Although I would have been content if we had spent the rest of the trip in the Myohyang Mountains we made it back to the capital that evening in time for a performance at the Children’s Palace (ironically I’m writing this on Children’s Day in South Korea). The Children’s Palace is a unique building because its shape is symbolic of a cradle formed from a mothers arms.

The inside of the building is very kid-friendly, in that it has rainbow lights everywhere and makes the fake nuclear weapon in the lobby seem “fun.” Our female guide had to translate it for me, but when the building was completed in the late 80’s by Kim il-Sung, his words were immortalized on a massive sign outside the auditorium. The sign says something to the effect of “children are the nations greatest treasure and unlocking their minds is the key to our success.” The motive behind that inference is questionable at best. A picture of how the DPRK operates became a little bit clearer during the performance.IMG_1013

First off, the performance was remarkable. Children aged 5-12 years old made fools out of some of the most talented musicians I have ever met.IMG_1010Following the choir and orchestra performances, a group of kids no older than eight or nine played a percussive piece that would have given those guys from Blast a run for their money. Every single child was already virtuoso. But what had me a little troubled the whole time was that the backdrop was a screen playing videos of ballistic missiles being launched and children waving flags at military parades.IMG_1014The possibility that children were being used as pawns to generate support for the military and Kim Jong-un regime seemed disgusting. I was not thrilled at the idea, but I couldn’t stop thinking back to the quote from Kim il-Sung about children being the nations greatest treasure. I was (and still am) convinced that is the case.

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“Children are the nations greatest treasure”  Kim-il Sung

 

Day 4

Kangso Yaksu Mineral Water Factory

Only a short drive from Pyongyang, the Kangso Mineral Water Factory was our first stop that morning on our way to Nampho, a city situated on the sea about an hour Southwest. Over the past few years I’ve collected some work experience in plants that produce everything from plastic dishes to animal feed. Those brief years were enough to satiate my interest. I don’t necessarily love working on the plant floor, but I really do enjoy watching operations, which made this all the more enjoyable.

This particular plant only operates for eight hours a day with a two hour lunch break built in between 8:00am and 6:00pm. The well, which is only a short walk away from the plant, generates more than enough mineral water each day to satisfy the days production. I’m guessing capacity utilization probably isn’t the greatest (especially after seeing some production charts that showed output trending down over the last 3-4 months, curious) but the plant still produces 40,000 one-liter bottles daily.

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I was intrigued at how clean everything inside the facility was. Before we went inside we had to take off our shoes in favor of white slippers and a lab coat. The plant manager gave us a brief explanation and tour of the bottling process that our guides relayed back in English. Art (the other remaining tourist) was visibly excited about it. It was amusing to see an 80-year-old retired businessman – who claimed to have owned thirty businesses worldwide –walking briskly with an added oomph in his step. Afterwards we bonded over our mutual love for the show “How it’s Made”. Although it’s a relatively small operation, it seemed pretty efficient for the most part, perhaps because it uses recycled bottles. It begins with the removal of any labels and is sent off to sanitation. When the bottles come off the conveyor belt at the sanitation station, they congregate on a small tray – probably half the size of a twin mattress – about fifty at a time. They’re rinsed out and funneled back onto the conveyor belt at which point they are inspected for abnormalities or errors and either accepted or rejected. The bottles that pass inspection are sent further down the conveyor where an elaborate system (that I couldn’t really understand) injects mineral water from one of the 50,000 gallon tanks across the room into each bottle. They weren’t going to slow down production for us – no sir, no way – but they pulled a couple bottles off for us to drink. After all of the bottles have been filled some kind of high-pressure machine (an engineer would know better than me) caps all of the bottles off. If the bottles are good to go, they’re sent down the last stretch of the conveyor into boxes and carted off to the warehouse for distribution. IMG_1018If any of the bottles that passed inspection previously still have defects, when pressure is used to put the cap in place, it will explode. We had the pleasure of seeing one bottle absolutely crushed by this machine when we were right next to it. Water sprayed all over the place and the worker fussed over the mess it made – probably careful to keep a lid (pun intended) on profanities with the plant manager to near. Even though I’ve overly simplified the process I found it to be really interesting nonetheless. This one plant is the only production and distribution center in the entire country. I know the DPRK isn’t necessarily a huge country but something tells me that one distribution center for an entire country is wholly insufficient. On our way out the plant manager told us a lovely fairy tale about the origins of the plant. As the story goes, Kim il-Sung found a wounded crane with a broken wing that was bleeding badly. He traveled the country far and wide searching for a remedy, until one day, he found a pool of water. When the crane entered the pool, its’ wounds were instantly healed, voila! Kim il-Sung, a national hero.

I made the mistake of not bringing lip balm to North Korea so by that morning the mixture of dust and UV rays had really cut into my ability to smile without forcing my lips to bleed. Point being, I was still drinking the water they gave us off the assembly line when he was telling his story. I wanted nothing more than to call him out. First world problems, I guess.

Chongsanri Cooperative Farm

Nearly every farm in North Korea is cooperative. How I understand the cooperative farm to work is like this: the government owns all land and distributes certain portions for people to farm out. They’ll collect anything produced come harvest and then distribute it equally amongst the people.IMG_1029Farmers are given an annual “salary” regardless of how much they produce. Competitive farming is more or less discouraged if not outright disallowed. Any incentive to produce more than what is absolutely necessary is simply not there in the case of cooperative farms, so it’s easy to see where the problem arises. At this particular farm (one of the most storied in the DPRK) a town has sort of grown up around it. There are elementary schools, a library, a couple large bronze statues commemorating Kim il-Sung’s one time visit back in the mid-70s, and a few shops. Inside the greenhouses workers grew things like squash, tomatoes and herbs.

We were only there for maybe half an hour, but we stopped at the elementary school to bring the children candy and to watch them sing a song. The building is in acceptable shape, but it is very dated. Outside of the city their idea of a toilet is a hole in the ground with a foot pedal that shoots water at the catchall to wash everything away.

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DPRK Classroom on Cooperative Farm

You basically pop a squat and let it ride, which is what we saw walking past the “water-closets” because doors simply weren’t in the budget. We got to a classroom with about twenty children no older than five years old. It was sad to see the eclectic outfits some of them were wearing and that many hadn’t bathed or even washed their faces.

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Schoolkids

Nevertheless, they were adorable and sang us a song as their teacher played an old piano in the front of the classroom. When they were done we gave them cookies and candy which had mixed responses. A couple of them were overjoyed while many others simultaneously looked at us with skepticism. It was a little odd, but I understood why on the way out. In front of the stairwell on the way down is a large mural of children donning military outfits pointing rifles equipped with bayonets at the severed head of a very Caucasian soldier whose helmet reads “US.” [Pictured Below] When I got back to South Korea I asked someone to translate the words painted above, and it literally translates as follows: “It’s fun to play killing Americans.”

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Try to point out what’s wrong with the picture.

Shall I say it, or does it go without saying how totally fucked it is that they demonize Americans to brainwash children?

West Sea Barrage

Nampho is a coastal city about an hour southwest from Pyongyang as the crow flies. Its popularity arises from the famed West Sea Barrage that was constructed in the 1980’s. The massive damn is over 8 kilometers long and separates a really choppy patch of the Yellow Sea from the Taedong River.IMG_1038The Taedong River has branches that distribute water to most of the country, which made it the perfect place for Kim il-Sung to gain national recognition. At times the sea levels deviate 10-15 meters from the norm, which some have argued has caused floods are ruined whole crops in the past, while others claim that moderating the level of the Taedong River has resulted in loss of arable land. We ate a fresh seafood lunch and then watched a propaganda video of the damns’ construction (in English).

It was completed in roughly four years but at a huge cost in terms of available resources to the DPRK (four billion USD). Jimmy Carter actually visited it around the time it was completed a few decades ago. The damn consists of 36 chambers that regulate the exchange of water between the Yellow Sea and Taedong River. IMG_1039We were told that five is usually sufficient. It was really overcast while we were there but you could see the bridge far in the distance. The damn is considered a pretty huge achievement for the North Korean people, and it should be. It’s really quite impressive.

Science and Technology Complex

In the afternoon we stopped by the newly opened Science and Technology Complex once we were back in Pyongyang.IMG_1577

It was only opened at the beginning of the year (January) and is touted as one of the great accomplishments of the Kim Jong-un regime (he seems to be aware he has big shoes to fill). The complex is state-of-the-art. Its shape is that of a gigantic atom.

On the inside, a monstrous rocket standing proudly in the center of the building is impossible to ignore.

For a country that seems to be thirty years behind technologically, the sheer number of computers, gadgets and what have you is a really astonishing. I would highly recommend taking a couple hours to stop by and visit the complex if you are ever in Pyongyang.

Bears + Guns

The quick tour of the Sci-Tech Complex ended in time for us to make it to the Pyongyang circus on time. I wasn’t able to grab a whole lot of pictures because I was kind of in awe the whole time at the skill of the trapeze artists, ice skaters, and many acrobats. IMG_1594The coolest thing was probably the fact that they had trained bears that jumped through hoops, climbed stairs and performed a balancing act on a tower of Jenga-blocks.

It was so confusing but I was really, really amped about it. I got a couple pictures and videos because I knew no one would believe me back home.

The piece de resistance was the shooting range after the circus was over.

By the time our group got there it had started to get dark. I was a little bummed when they switched me from outside to inside because of what they asked me. At the outdoor range they give you a handgun, and for $1 a shot, you can take aim at a chicken downrange which they will give you to take home or cook for an additional fee.

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I call this one “Brace yo’self”

I don’t think I could bring a chicken carcass on the plane the next day anyways, so I didn’t lost much sleep over it. I put about 30 shots through a beautiful handgun inside and that was enough for me.

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After dinner I hit the sheets immediately, because from the mineral water factory to the gun range, we had been going hard for the better part of 14 hours.

The next morning I got up and was escorted to the airport for my flight to Beijing.

 

 

North Korea is definitely a place I won’t be forgetting any time soon. 10/10

All the best

DPO

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