21 September 2009

Impressions of North Korea (Day 2)

The Great Leader's Mausoleum, Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetary, a ride on the Pyongyang Metro and a tour through the captured ship - USS Pueblo. The itinerary for our 2nd morning on our trip to North Korea promised to be as jam packed as the 1st day, but fortunately we were to have a respite that afternoon as we would be driving to Kaesong for our visit to the the DMZ.

The highlight of the day was definitely the visit to the mausoleum of the Great Leader - Kim Il Sung. It was quite an event. We had to dress up and all in all it took around 2 1/2 hours. It is all very dramatic and the atmosphere is heightened by the silence, the long corridors and big halls. I found the experience a complete contrast to the 20 minutes in and out at Ho Chi Min's mausoleum in Hanoi. Describing the whole experience is a full post in itself that is coming, so watch this space.After a stop at the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on the hills towards the north east of Pyongyang we made our way for the much anticipated trip of the Pyongyang subway. You can read more about the subway system here. Only 2 stations are open to foreigners -Puhung station and one stop away is Yonggwang station. The train-lines run quite deeply underground and the air was full of gumph (it was worse than a bad day on the Northern Line in London) that stuck in my throat. Both stations had large halls with massive murals and elaborate decorations and on the platforms newspapers are put up on stands for the passengers to read. While we were waiting, a commotion erupted behind us. Two of our group had gotten onto the train which was pulling away from the station. Our panicked guide stopped the train and they got off before it left the station. Our ride on the next train was completely uneventful eventful and the guide was a bit more relaxed once we were all safely back on the bus. It is unlikely that anything would've happened to the two who were on the train as the guide most probably would've been held responsible for allowing it to happen.

"The armed spy ship of the US imperialist which was conducting espionage in our territorial waters and over 80 aggressors on board the ship. It was a severe punishment for US imperialist aggressors who violated the sovereignty of our country. [military music] Pueblo, armed spy ship [mm] This is Pueblo, the armed spy ship of the US imperialist aggression forces captured by our seamen on January the 23rd on January 1968. [mm] In the crew men of Pueblo there were 83 ncluding 6 officers and one of them was killed at the time of capture as he attempted to resist. [mm] The report on the capture of Pueblo excited the world."
This is the text of the introduction to the only overt anti-US propaganda that we received during the entire trip. On our visit to the USS Pueblo we were shown a 15 minute video recounting the capture of the USS Pueblo, the negotiations for release and the release of her crew and the subsequent capture of an unmanned sub (which was also on display). I had expected there to be more propaganda, but on thinking about it after the visit to the USS Pueblo it made sense of what I knew about Korean people and their culture (largely from my previous visits to the South). These people were more like the their southern counterparts than the rough, "we'll tell you if we don't like you or what you do" attitude that I expected based on the standard cold-war Russian movie characters that I'd seen. The concept of "being seen to be doing the right thing" is very important. Not making another person look bad is also equally important. So things were said and done far more subtly, which probably meant that we missed all of it.
At the end of our busy morning it was back to the hotel for lunch, and then we packed up and departed for Kaesong and the DMZ. The drive south took around 3 hours on very empty roads. Petrol and travel are strictly controlled in North Korea, so we were generally alone on the road. We were fortunate in that one of the bridges was undergoing repairs and we had to get off the highway to take a detour along the local roads and got to see the people working in the fields (rice and beans) and the work parties mending the road. Everything was done by manual labour - the mixing of the tar, moving it on a wheelbarrow and pouring it into the potholes.
"Closing the door to the outside"
When we arrived in Kaesong you could immediately see the difference between it and Pyongyang. Pyongyang is the home of the "party faithful" and therefore gets the best of everything. The buildings were in disrepair and the street surfaces were cracked. Even the job of the famed "traffic girls" of Pyongyang was done by men. We were to spend the night in traditional Korean accommodation, sleeping and eating on the floor. Electricity was periodic which was an issue for me as my camera battery had died. I'd also not packed a torch and with my cell phone (usual emergency light source) sealed away in my bag I had a bit of a problem not tripping over the steps into our unit. But fortunately I was tired and fell asleep quite easily.

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Related Posts:
North Korea, China and Vietnam - The Communist Tour
Impressions of North Korea (Day 1)

1 comment:

Bring Back Pluto said...

Wow, I've learned a ton. So interesting to learn about different cultures! Great Post!


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