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Thread: South Korea, DPRK & China (April 2010)

  1. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by scumonkey View Post
    ^That wouldn't happen to be painted on black velvet would it?!
    Traditional Korean Landscape Art + Photoshop People?

  2. #32

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    Photoshop in Korea? Probably not. But I hope to have some better answers in a few weeks.

    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post
    What do you find regarding food and meals in the DPRK?

    Or is drinking snake cocktails the alternative to eating?
    The meals aren't that bad, although most of it is pretty bland compared to Southern Korean or Chinese food. Most of the meals are some mixture of Korean, Chinese and western cuisine. But you won't starve to death, after all, no one will in this socialist paradise. Of course that's what they want us to believe, you'll never know what the reality for the local people is, especially outside of Pyongyang. Our guide from Koryo (this was his 88th tour) had the impression things have improved quite a bit, but in the end he doesn't know either.

    But nowadays they even have a Italian restaurant (the cooks are actually trained in Italy!) and even some burger joints. We hope to visit both on our next tour.





    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post
    And does everyone have teeth as straight and white as seen in the official images?
    The best dentists are from the DPRK, didn't you know? But indeed, I don't think there's a single painting of Kim Il-Sung and only few of Kim Jong-Il without a bright white smile.

    Of course most people don't have those perfect teeth. That said, I've seen only a few people with really bad teeth, much less compared to China. Maybe knowing there's a regular shortage on sedatives makes people brush their teeth better...

  3. #33

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    Day 13, Thursday April 15th 2010: Kim Il-Sung's birthday!

    It's a special day today, as it's the birthday of President Kim Il-Sung. He might be dead for 16 years, but he's still the president of the country, and he sure isn't forgotten. Enough reason for a national holiday, well, even two. A great opportunity for us to mingle with the locals.

    After buying flowers which we would need later we visit the Mansudae Fountain Park.



    Next is the Mansudae Grand Monument, the biggest and most important statue of The Great Leader. It was a gift to himself for his 60th birthday, originally this huge bronze statue would be covered with gold leaf. The Russians prevented this however, since at the the time they were basically funding the DPRK economy. A visit to this monument is an obligatory part of any tour to the DPRK, tourist are expected to lay flowers and bow to the Great Leader.
    (This is basically the only time paying respect to the regime is absolutely obligatory, all other occasions are more or less optional. If you have a problem with that, don't visit the country)



    The next stop is also all about both the leaders, but much more relaxed. The Koreans named flowers after them, the Kimilsungia (an orchid) and the Kimjongilia (a begonia). And at the Kimilsungia Kimjongilia Festival there are millions of them. It's a very busy place with thousands of soldiers and school children, we're free to walk around and mingle with them. Once outside they sell ice cream, and some of our group (unfortunately not me) are interviewed for television.



    On to Moranbong Park, the central park of Pyongyang. Again lots of locals, having a barbecue with lots of booze, and mostly old ladies singing and dancing. Needless to say we simply have to join them, it's not like we have a choice...



    Unfortunately no barbecue for us today, we take the bus back to our hotel, where they started up the revolving restaurant. Not that the view is that spectacular...



    After lunch we visit the Pyongyang Circus, for a great show with acrobats, trapeze acts, bears and of course clowns.



    On to something more serious, the USS Pueblo. An American spy ship, captured in Korean territorial waters in 1968. One of the crew members was killed, the others were sent to POW camps. After full confessions of the crew and a formal apology of the US government they were released, the ship however is still in Pyongyang.
    (By the way, on my second tour starting next week we might meet someone of the crew who actually captured the ship.)



    Finally we visit Mangyongdae, the alleged birthplace of Kim Il-Sung. Not too poor but nevertheless quite simple, to highlight is humble origins. Whatever is true of the story remains to be seen, for the Koreans it's kind of a pilgrimage site, but for us tourists it's pretty boring.



    At the end of the day our bus takes us to the Nampo, the third largest city of the DPRK, we'll stay outside of the city in a spa hotel. All of the rooms have a hot spring bath, which is actually pretty nice. But one advice of the guides: don't stay in for more than 15 minutes, otherwise terrible things might happen...



    The food is also pretty good here, for once no fried fish, but perfectly grilled chicken and duck. After dinner we spend the evening in the hotel bar, we had the feelling it might be possible to drink the bar dry. We don't succeed, but that's not because we didn't try. But what happens in Nampo stays in Nampo...

  4. #34

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    The Grand Monument reminds me of a National Geographic documentary I saw last year. A team traveled to North Korea with Nepalese eye surgeon Dr Sanduk Ruit.

    One day they were permitted to visit the monument with their cameras. One of the photographers laid on the ground to get a good angle on the huge statue. Apparently, a huge mistake. One of the "minders" got upset, and told him he would have to leave the country. As I remember, they didn't really throw him out.

  5. #35

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    The site is about as sacred as they get in the DPRK, so although you're free to walk around and take pictures, you have to be respectful at al times. So no funny angles, only pictures of the whole statue, and while it's perfectly fine to have your picture taken in front of the statue, don't even think of copying the pose.

    Most people visit the Grand Monument on the day they arrive in Pyongyang, when the guides don't know the group and as a result are very strict and act a bit nervous. After all, they might have to face the consequences when someone misbehaves. But if everyone keeps to the rules and behaves respectful, they soon get a bit more relaxed, then you can even get away with things that are officially forbidden.

    For our upcoming tour we asked for the same guides as last year, so we can skip most of the strict phase. But we'll only know if our request is granted when we step out of the plane in Pyongyang.

  6. #36
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Thank you so much for this fascinating glimpse into NK! It's interesting to see the normal food they were eating because they tell us the North Koreans are practically eating boiled sticks and cardboard over there. Dancing, flower festivals...I guess it isn't actually HELL like we're told? The cities do look dreadfully bleak, but apparently there's much to like because you're already going back. Have a great trip!!

  7. #37

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    Thanks!

    The problem with everything you see is you don't know what's real and what's not. Pyongyang is basically a showcase city, it's a privilege to live there. There's enough food and water, usually reliable power supply, public transportation, some shops that actually have something to sell. And most important: while other cities at best have grumpy men to control the busy traffic, in Pyongyang they let the prettiest girls do the job. But still, while from street level it might look bleak but still not that bad, that's merely a facade. When looking from the restaurant on top of the hotel it's obvious large parts of the city are just slums. According to our (English) guide the food situation seems not as bad anymore as a few years ago, although he also still sees just a small part of the country. Also, while I don't think this visit to the park was completely staged (there were thousands of people having good fun), it could be they were supplied with the food just to fool us. The next day we had a BBQ in another park just outside the city, many of us somehow had the feeling the Koreans in the park weren't there by accident, like they were brought in not to show us a completely deserted park (and they brought better food than we got). But even in the worst of situations people probably will still try to make the most of it, even in the DPRK it's not against the law to have fun.

    About my upcoming trip, I wasn't really planning on going back this soon, but one of the group members came up with the idea of a tailor-made tour. Most group tours are more or less the same, first and for all meant for first time visitors. And since you'll have to pay for the two guides and the driver traveling on your own is pretty expensive (a week in a pretty nice hotel in NYC including the flight would be cheaper), now we can split those costs by four persons. So this was too good an opportunity to be missed. Otherwise I might have had a problem, before she came up with that plan I was thinking of visiting northeastern Japan...

    Today we got some disappointing news: we expected to visit Hamhung, the second city of the country, where we hoped to attend a military parade on the 25th of April ("Military Foundation Day"). We already knew the main road from Wonsan to Hamhung was closed because of "roadworks" so we would have had a detour on some crappy roads never used for tourists. But according to the Korean travel agency there has been an "accident", that route is now also closed for tourists, with no other way to get there (we could use a train, but electric trains and regular power blackouts aren't a very good combination if you're on a tight schedule...). Must have been a huge pile-up I guess, since they still have over a week to fix it...

    Next Monday I'll fly to Beijing, I hope to finish the DPRK-part of this tour before I leave. One full (and busy) day to go, and a few pictures from the sleeper train back to Beijing. Then there's still a week of China left we got as a result of the Icelandic ash cloud, but that will have to wait...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; April 14th, 2011 at 07:01 PM.

  8. #38
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    A tailor made tour sounds very cool, WizardOfOss...I'm sure I'm not alone in saying we're excited for a future update.

  9. #39

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    You'll have to have a little patience I'm afraid, while I hoped to finish the DPRK-part of the story before this new trip, it didn't work out that way. Today I arrived in Beijing, the day after tomorrow I'm flying to Pyongyang, and be completely off-line for a week.

    Some news about the Hamhung-situation though: the "accident" after all seems to be very serious, not some weird excuse not to allow us into some parts of the country. There have been reports (by international organizations, not a word of the DPRK government so far) of huge wildfires in that region, which because of a very dry period are totally out of control.

    But the good news is I was wrong about the location of the military parade, that would be in Wonsan, a city we will still visit, at least as far as we know right now. So assuming there actually is a military parade (those aren't advertised for tourists, but that day it is Military Foundation Day, and there is going to be a big but otherwise unknown event at the main city square. Even in the DPRK 1 plus 1 equals 2....) and we haven't screwed everything up with our guides, we'll still be attending the parade.

  10. #40

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    Yesterday I returned from my second tour to the DPRK (today I got from Beijing to Hong Kong), but I think I'm getting addicted to the country. This second time we've seen a lot more of the everyday life of the Koreans, which only stresses the distinction between the horrible regime and the hopeless situation of the people. We visited some farms, schools, department stores and even someone's house, but while these are specifically selected for tourists and are way above average in the country, the extreme poverty is very, very obvious.

    One of the highlights however was meeting the commanding officer of the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, nowadays one of the biggest heroes of the country. He guided us around the ship, and told in great detail how everything happened that day. But different from the video we'd seen last year or about any other situation where Americans are mentioned, there wasn't even the slightest hint of hatred against the US, it was just him doing his job against Americans doing theirs.

    a totally different experience was the visit to the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, where we also met a men who as a six year old kid supposedly was one of only three survivers of a brutal massacre. Although probably part of the story is true, it's been built up to the extreme. American monsters versus those poor Korean farmers. Humiliation, rape, torturing, gruesome murders, all done by soldiers who in the paintings all look like the devil himself.

    Too bad we didn't get to see a military parade, because this year is Juche 100, they had preparations for other events later this year. We did however attend the Grand Magic Festival in the colossal May Day Stadium, quite hilarious and by western standards definitely not worth 80 euros, but somehow that's probably as it should be in the DPRK. And I'll probably never again see a magic trick using a real helicopter flying around in the stadium. We also visited the Kumgang ("Diamond") Mountains, by any standards a magnificient area.area

    As for the American influence, not only have we seen the only Hummer in the country (a army-green H2), Coca-Cola also seems to have gained quite some popularity, last year we hadn't seen it at all. The funny thing was most of the time our Korean guides and driver were drinking Coca-Cola, whereas we tourists (including one American) were drinking the Korean Taedonggang beer...

    And finally the recipe for a great BBQ: take 10 kilograms of clams and spread those on a piece of cardboard. Light a piece of the cardboard on top. Take plastic bottle with one liter of gasoline, and spray it calmly onto the clams. When all of the gasoline has burned, the clams are done. Best combined with some mushroom soju (30% alcohol, 0.3 liter bottles, at least 3 bottles per person...).

    Of course there were many more highlights, these were just some things that popped up. I'm already thinking of a third tour next year during the Arirang Mass Games...

  11. #41

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    For those interested in some original North Korean publications , the Korean Friendship Association (a rather creepy organization sympathizing with the DPRK) is offering two North Korean books for download (PDF):


    • Panorama of Korea (1999), 290 pages of Korean history, politics, the country nowadays, and lots of pictures. Of course everything is written from the DPRK point of view, so you have to take most of it with a grain of salt...
    • Panmunjom, 35 pages about the "truce village" on the Korean border. With lots of pictures explaining the history, again of course from the DPRK standpoint, which isn't very favorable for you "American imperialist agressors"...

  12. #42
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Gotta love the creative writing, not to mention the big admonition on the first page:

    Wipe out the US imperialist aggressors, the sworn enemy of the Korean people!

    PANMUNJOM is crossed by the Military Demarcation Line drawn by the US imperialist aggressors to divide Korea artificially. It is a stern court which indicts their aggression and exposes and condemns their crimes to the whole world.

    It was here that the US imperialists, who started an aggressive war to swallow Korea whole in June 1950, knelt before the Korean people and signed the Armistice Agreement. It is also here that, after the war, they made many apologies for their criminal military provocations and hostilities committed against the northern half of the country in gross violation of the Armistice Agreement.

    Panmunjom still remains a stern court indicting the US imperialist aggressors who perpetrate their manoeuvres for a new war, bringing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of war ...

  13. #43

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    Wait till you see the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, probably the most absurd bit of propaganda on this planet...

  14. #44
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    You got me wondering, and google found these for me ...

    flickr has a whole gallery of photos from the Sinchon Museum:

    Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities (Massacre) North Korea

    And youtube has a short vid of what's on show ...

    North Korean Propaganda.

    Warning: The paintings in this video contain very disturbing images (not suitable for children..)

    This anti-American propaganda was created by North Korea. I cannot date it, if anyone can, please let me know and I'll update this description. Any information you have on these painings is welcome! The paintings depict U.S. soldiers committing crimes on North Korean civilians. Bear in mind that this is propaganda. The paintings are about the Sinchon Massacre (and possibly the No Gun Ri Massacre). Several of these paintings (and more!) are featured in the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities in North Korea.



    flickr also has a gallery from another museum in Pyongyang:

    Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum Pyongyang DPRK

  15. #45

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    Disturbing, that was the word I was looking for...

    The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (also see day 9 of my trip) also is highly historically incorrect, but that's just their version of history. It's not the first war museum I visited that shows a very one-sided view on history, and probably won't be the last. The sole purpose of the Sinchon Museum however is to build up the hatred against the USA, and the pictures and stories used for this are indeed rather disturbing. I didn't make any pictures inside the museum, though it was allowed, it just didn't seem appropriate. Afterwards we could write down a message, something I also skipped, I really had trouble not to get very cynical. Can you imagine how the American member of our group must have felt, after being shown all this. Of course, horrible things did happen during the war, and part of the story is probably true. But it's the way this is build up to the extreme that makes your blood boil.

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