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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Museums, Towers, Metros...

NORTH KOREA | Wednesday, 18 November 2015 | Views [506] | Comments [1]

Jam-packed Pyongyang Metro

Jam-packed Pyongyang Metro

What a long day it was today! Rising early from a deep slumber I was up whilst it was barely light out. Breakfast would be early as we had a really full agenda today! Our meal was a simple but tasty one of fried sausage, shredded cucumbers, and bread with jam. It was rather difficult to ask for coffee without milk. After a shower and getting ready we all piled into the bus and get out on this grey and slightly blustery day. The first stop of the day was the War Museum. The Korean War comes to mind but the Korean peninsula has been the site of various wars. Our guide for the museum was dressed in military-style attire. Discussing the guides can be a rather confusing topic because on our bus we have three guides and a driver and at each site there are often one or two guides for the site itself. There was a large group of Korean students on a tour of the museum so there’s an opportunity to see Koreans in their day to day life. Photography is much more liberal than I expected but the big key here in the DPRK is, when in doubt, always ask. Lim granted me permission to get a photo in an outdoor area of the museum where I thought they weren’t allowed.

Before entering the museum we got to tour the USS Pueblo, an American ship captured by the DPRK military. Eventually it was turned into part of the museum and there’s an interesting section where American soldiers wrote letters of apology to the DPRK government. When I come to think about it, the vast majority of people (the media included) who criticize the DPRK have never even been here! The same applies to Cuba, Iran, and many other places. I think some people simply criticize because a particular culture isn’t like them. Inside the museum we weren’t allowed to take photos and none of the captions were in English. I noticed the guide whenever she referred to the Great Leader she always said “Our Great President, Kim Il-sung” as she demonstrated her loyalty. Whilst I had mentioned the captions aren’t in English, it adds to the authenticity of the museum; it’s frequented by ordinary DPRK citizens and not mostly by tourists. By the time we were outside it was pouring down rain! The DPRK is a place to take loads of photos but rain and cameras don’t mix! As I hopped from umbrella to umbrella to keep my camera dry we made our way to a place where we could stay dry: the Pyongyang Metro. At more than 90 metres deep it’s the world’s deepest metro.

The station is very simple: no 7-Elevens or shoeshine boys here like you’d find in Busan or Tokyo. The vertiginous escalator ride is similar to the one at Melbourne’s Parliament Station. For our first ride we had a car all to ourselves where we stopped, had a look, got a few photos, and then got on a car packed with standing Koreans! Margo was lucky to get a seat and later on I’ll share something funny I thought of today (related to her). As she got up to offer her seat to an older local, they were absolutely insistent that she have a seat! See, this is what the experience is all about: train rides packed with locals, bowing to statues, visiting museums with no English captions! It’s about being Koreans, not tourists! At our last station there’s a large golden statue of the Great Leader.

As I moved to get a photo in front of it one of those station attendants came running after me and then had her eyes on me for the next five minutes. I think it was because I got too close but Lim said it was because I had my jacket tied around my waist. Well, nothing significant happened. We have far more freedom and far fewer restrictions pertaining to photography than I expected. Our next stop was a brief, albeit wet one at Kim Il-sung Square.

Military parades occur here, and when they do the soldiers march in perfect unison. The DPRK has the world’s largest army for a country of its size. More than one million men are in the DPRK military! The rain today has hampered a lot of plans and I don’t have an umbrella. Koreans seem to be the world’s largest users of umbrellas. Our lunch was most definitely an interesting one: a hot pot. You add what you like and cook it to your liking. We were served many side dishes as well. The food, hotel, and guides have all because substantially better than I expected. The group is a great one as well! I expected mostly elderly and retired couples but the bulk of us are backpacker-types in and around my age. The best thing you can do in the DPRK is to be yourself! That doesn’t mean you can go and insult the leaders, but be yourself! On the bus today I freestyled with comedy and for Margo I said “cargo from Fargo on an embargo by Margo.” Nick has nicknamed me after some character from American Pie (I’ve never seen the movie). After a lunch that filled me until my stomach burst, our next stop on our long day is the monument to the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK); oddly named because the sickle, hammer, and paintbrush represent farmers, workers, and intellectuals, respectively. Some members of the group opted for a helicopter flight over Pyongyang and we saw them pass by overhead. The helicopter flight is 180 euros but I later opted to go to the top of the Juche Tower for only 5 euros.

The WPK monument sits directly across from the Mansudae Grand Monument. After visiting an art studio we headed for the Juche Tower. Completed in 1982 for Kim Il-sung's 70th birthday, the Juche Tower is made of 25,550 granite blocks: one for each day of the Great Leader's life. The view from the top is spectacular!

A 360-degree panorama of Pyongyang sat atop the tower but sadly my battery was getting ready to die. As much as I wanted to be a daredevil and climb up on the railing for a photo I didn’t want to risk anything, and it was raining. The lift to the top costs five euros, which is much better than the 180 euros it would have cost for the helicopter. I was surprised the helicopter even took off in weather this foul because in Fox Glacier, helicopters wouldn’t have dared take off in this kind of weather. The rain eventually subsided enough that I didn’t have to worry about my camera getting wet. That meant we had more time to visit Kim Il-sung Square and have a chance to visit the bookshop. Speaking of squares, it seems there’s a square everywhere. Tiananmen Square (Beijing), Red Square (Moscow), Trafalgar Square (London), Taksim Square (Istanbul), and Times Square (New York) are just some of many examples though none of them seem to be truly square-shaped. A traffic officer seemed to be a good photo op but she blew her whistle at me when I snapped one. She moved like a robot: in person unison giving a quick salute to elite vehicles.

Our next stop on this long, long day was the Mansudae Art Studio. Both Korea and the DPRK still claim each as part of their territory and I’ve noticed that even on souvenirs.

The map outside of the art studio shows the entire Korean peninsula and not just the DPRK. With a brief glance of the art studio and some freestyling under my belt a la "cargo from Fargo on an embargo by Margo," it was time for dinner! Oh yeah, it was time! But I wasn’t that hungry. For lunch we were fed so well that we barely ate dinner. I can’t believe how much we packed into a single day! The war museum, Pyongyang Metro, WPK Monument, two art studios, and the Juche Tower, all in one action-packed day! After a long day of either walking, sitting on a bus, or climbing towers it was time to hit the bottle once we got back to the hotel. Earlier I had picked up a bottle of soju. I first had it in Busan but it’s Korea’s version of sake. That and vodka would be my drink of choice tonight. Since I’m not Russian I’m not brave enough to down vodka on its own so I mixed it with orange juice. With a large group of us young and on the drink none of us would guess we were in the DPRK but more like New Zealand or Bali, or perhaps at a hotel somewhere in the Caribbean. That’s what I mean, when you come to the DPRK, show respect but be yourself! And after a long day like today, a few drinks to wash it all down always helps! More adventures await us in the DPRK tomorrow. See you soon! 

Comments

1

Thanks Chris, for this report.
What I love most about Pyongyang is that they keep using our old Berlin subway trains and they look like they are in fantastic condition. Not a graffiti or scratched window to be seen! I always wondered what happened to them when they were replaced.
It was probably wise not to go on the helicopter flight. There was a crash only a few days ago at Fox Glacier even with their stricter safety rules.....
Apart from that you are right to say that people should visit a place first before passing judgement. However, you will never find out what life is really like in a place after being on a week (?) long organised tour. A country like North Korea is a place were most decisions about ones life are taken by the authorities: where you go to school, what you study, where you work, where you travel, where you spend your holidays, what sport you do, where you live, which doctor you can see, etc. Nothing for a free spirit like you, my friend......

  Holger Woyt Nov 27, 2015 1:39 PM

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