A Tourist In North Korea - dswphoto
Day 5 - continued.

Outside again at Rungrado 1st of May Stadium on Rungra Island. Unlike the opening two night before, we didn't have to dress up and were fine in normal clothes.


With the lack of VIP's we had much better seats this time, despite still only buying the lowest tier ticket for €100. A Dutchman in our group also paid €800 for a VVIP ticket for seat #1 and ended up sitting in the same seat as where Kim Jong-un had sat two nights before!

Looking across to the thousands of seated school children that make up the 'human pixels' of the backdrop.


Even seeing it for a second time it was still so amazing at the sheer scale and level of co-ordination required.


Before the main event began the school children warmed up with a bit of a display with their shouts and the clapping of their cards echoing around the stadium.


The lights dimmed just after 8pm and the main show began.


A giant flag of North Korea being carefully carried out.


And being hoisted up.


The giant torch in the centre now fully ablaze.


The drone show then began with them flying out in perfect unison to make an outline of the flag of North Korea.


And then breaking formation to spell out "Shining Fatherland" in Korean, the title of the performance. "Shining Fatherland" is also the name of a patriotic song performed by Kim Jong Un's favorite girl band.


Followed by the first performance of the evening.


The precise and choreographed movement of so many dancers was simply mesmerising.


First started in 2002, the mass games were last held in 2013.


After a five-year hiatus the mass games returned this year under the theme The Glorious Country.


A smiling Kim Il-sung with the dancers forming the shape of the flag of North Korea below.


A gymnast being held aloft by her fellow dancers.


The performance was divided into 'chapters' that depict important ideas or stages in the growth of the country.


Pianists being wheeled out on mobile plinths by invisible stage grips underneath.


Ladies in red symbolising raging fire.


And the virtual destruction of the country during the three years of the Korean War.


Rescuing a muddied flag of North Korea.


Past Mass Games prominently featured the themes of anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism.


However this iteration was relatively benign, focusing on the stuggle and hopes of the country.


“Comrade, are you riding the Chollima horse? The passiveness of conservatives will burn!” This is apparently in reference to the Chollima movement during the Kim Il-sung era, emphasising "ideological incentives to work harder".


Eight days later Moon Jae-in the President of South Korea attended the games along with Kim Jong-un as part of his summit tour to Pyongyang.


Three ladies and three gentlemen singers on top of a mobile platform.


Dancers in green holding flowers to form a giant bouquet.


Hundreds of gymnasts dressed in red and white.


It was great to be able to take photos while seeing the performance for the second time.


And the male gymnasts holding up red flags. The colour red stands for the working class.


Dancers in red surrounded by a sea of other performers beneath a slogan glorifying Kim Jong-il.


And a giant portrait of the Eternal Leader.


Marching Army Band.


Military First.


Hundreds of children performing in perfect unison. It was very cute to see the children performing but also a little concerning given the intense training they have to go through.


Rows upon rows of skipping gymnasts.


Hundreds of performers holding high glowing lights with the slogan “Self-reliance” (자력갱생) on the human screen.


The skyline of Pyongyang above scores of musicians playing the gayageum.


Streams of performers in red, white and gold.

And showing some expert moves.


Taekwondo fighters about to put on a display.


With some serious flying kicks!


Dancers gather around a large globe with a unified Korean Peninsula.


The Arch of Reunification in the background.


And symbolising hopes for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.


The historic meeting of Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, being projected onto the human screen, where they shook hands across the demarcation line at the DMZ on the 27th of April, 2018.


4.27. Below is the quote written by Kim Jong-un in the Panmunjom guestbook on the day: “From the new age of peace, from the starting point of history” (평화의 새시대, 력사의 출발점에서).


Dancers in the shape of the Korean Peninsula with performers in the middle at Panmunjom.


And another spectacular finale with fireworks shooting from the roof.


Some of the school children holding coloured floral fans for the final display.


And waving at the crowd at the end of another amazing performance!


It was great to see the performance all again and to double-tick off my travel bucket list.


Day 6.

Downstairs for breakfast again at the Ryanggang Hotel before heading out for our last day of sightseeing.


A group of ladies putting on a performance outside a metro station. Ms. CHang said that this was to motivate people as they head off to work.


At the waiting room at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.


Kumsusan Palace of the Sun was built in 1976 and served as Kim Il-sung's official residence. Upon his death in 1994 it was converted into his mausoleum.

Following the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011 his body was also subsequently embalmed and put on permanent display in the same manner as his father. (Photo Credit: Korean Central News Agency).


As expected the protocol for our visit was very strict and we had to wear formal attire (shirt & tie for the men). After checking in our cellphones and cameras at the cloakroom we travelled along a very long travelator that was lined with various photos of the two Eternal leaders before going through our first security check.

Mark, a Canadian in our group, was flagged by the metal detector due his small metal collar stiffeners. The security officers weren't too happy with them so had to give them up.

I had my sunglasses in my hand and the security officer asked to put them in my pocket.

We then proceeded into the larger windowless building, walking in rows of four and forbidden to speak.

Outside the room where the body of Kim Il-sung was on display a sharp-eyed security officer ran up to me when he saw a bulge in my pocket but I quickly reassured him it was just my sunglasses.

We then walked into the room where Kim Il-sung lay in rest under a transparent crystal sarcophagus and draped in the flag of the Workers' Party of Korea. The body was surprisingly well-preserved and almost looked like he was just having a nap. I had seen Lenin's preserved body in Red Square and he looked almost like a wax manequin, but the elder Kim looked surreally lifelike.

As per protocol, we lined up in our group of four, performed a deep bow at his feet before repeating on either side of him.

It was quite a strange and interesting experience, and very different to my visits of Lenin and Mao, where you just had to remove your hat and shuffle past.

Next was the Eternal Leader Kim Jong-il, who was situated in an almost identical mausoleum and where we repeated our three bows in our rows of four. He was also in pristine condition, having been preserved soon after his death by experts from Russia.

We then went into adjoining rooms filled with some of Kim Il-sung's and Kim Jong-il's possessions includding his personal VIP train carriage, Mercedes and as well as gifts and awards they received from around the world.

After the very interesting and slightly surreal experience we then went outside to the immaculately kept gardens.


And a great place for a group photo in front of the Palace.


After driving back into Pyongyang we arrived at our next stop, the Victorious War Museum.


And our guide for the tour. It was quite interesting to get a North Korean perspective on a war which continues to be quite a defining part of the identity of the country.


Some of the captured US military vehicles from the war.


On display were several captured American military equipment such as M26 Pershing, M4 Sherman and M24 Chaffee tanks.


A US Army OH-23 Raven helicopter captured by the North Korean military after it strayed across the DMZ in 1969.


Our guide then took us down to the side of the Pothong River for a display on the capture of the USS Pueblo. In the background is a photo of the surrender of the ship's crew.


The USS Pueblo, a US Navy Spy Ship, was captured by North Korea on the 26th of January, 1968, off the eastern coast of the country in the Sea of Japan.


Despite being over 70 years old the ship was very well preserved.


Inside the ship mess room.


Machine gun holes in the vessel inflicted during it's capture. One crew member of the Pueblo was unfortunately killed.


Our guide showing us the sequence of events leading up to the capture of the ship.


The US Navy insisted that the ship was well outside North Korean territorial waters (12 nautical miles from shore as per international standards at the time). However North Korea said that the ship had encroached within a self-prescribed boundary of North Korean territory of 50 nautical miles.


After being held for 11 months the crew were taken on the 23rd of December, 1968 to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and crossed over to South Korea at the "Bridge of No Return".


The Crypto Room where sensitive material was stored.


Only a small percentage of the total classified material and devices aboard the ship was able to be destroyed by the crew before it's capture. Subsequent reverse engineering of communications devices on the ship allowed North Korea and the Soviet Union to access the US Navy's communication systems until they could be revised.


Personal effects of the Pueblo crew.


Books in the ships library.


We then carried on inside the museum. No photography was unfortunately allowed however.


Inside the main entrance of the museum was a life-like statue of a young Kim Il-sung which looked eerily very to similar to his grandson and current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Photo credit: Koryo Group).


The museum was very large and expansive but very quiet as we were the only visitors this afternoon.

We first got to watch a 15 minute propaganda movie that explained how the US had been planning to invade the north for several years in the lead up to the war. It was presented quite rationally and logically and I might have been convinced if I was a little more gullible.

We were then led through some displays and dioramas of the war. One display was quite gruesome with fullsize dummies of rotting bodies of Allied soldiers being picked at by crows. Another had a muddy battle field with each of the Allied countries flags laying in the mud including the flag of New Zealand. Another display had a large cache of captured infantry weapons and helmets stacked up to reinforce the idea of severe casualties sustained by the US military and it's allies during the war.

Our last presentation was a large 360-degree full-scale diorama of the Battle of Taejon which rotated around us complete with lights, sound effects and narration. Although Taejon was initially captured by the North Koreans in July 1950 it was eventually recaptured and is now South Korea's fifth largest city.

After the very interesting dose of alternate history we then headed to a local restaurant in the city. Outside was some posters to promote the Mass Games.


Some interesting and tasty dishes to start.


Followed by a big bowl of Naengmyeon, or also referred to as Pyongyang noodles. Interestly served cold in a stainless-steel bowl with a tangy iced broth, julienned cucumbers, slices of Korean pear and thin, wide strips of lightly pickled radish. The long noodles also supposedly symbolize a long and healthy life.


Resuming the sightseeing at our next stop, the Grand People's Study House in Central Pyongyang.


A large idealised mural of Kim Il-sung inside.


And with our local guide in the central lobby.


People using computers to access the North Korean Intranet. The computers were running Microsoft Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6.0.


A poster on the wall showcasing North Korean ballistic missile technology.


One of the many study rooms.


Portraits of the two late Kim's keeping a watchful eye.


North Korean Books.


Study.


They also had some foreign language books including Harry Potter!


A painting on the wall of Kim Il-sung and his wife Kim Jong-suk (and mother of Kim Jong-il) during the Japanese resistance.


Students busily working away in another grand study hall.


The English study text of one student.


Continuing our tour upstairs.


Down one of the seemingly endless corridors.


And into the music listening room. Our guide offered to play some music for us. We immediately chose North Korea's most famous song, Pangapsumnida (Nice to meet you), and she got a bit of a kick when a few of us started singing! I can't remember where we learnt it but you hear it everywhere in the country.


We then proceeded out onto the main balcony to enjoy the view over the city.


The Grand People's Study House is situated right in front of Kim Il-sung Square and has a perfect view out over the Taedong River and to Juche Tower in the distance.


And I couldn't resist buying an Air Koryo t-shirt from the gift shop to take home too.


After putting on ties and tucking in our shirts again we headed to the Mansu Hill Grand Monument. We also had to be on our best behaviour with no running or other disrespectful behaviour.

A group of soldiers paying their respects to the two Eternal leaders below. The monument is on its third iteration; it was originally just a sombre Kim Il-sung. Following the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011, a statue of him was added and his fathers statue was altered to portray him at a later age and smiling. Later the statue of Kim Jong-il was changed from wearing a long coat to wearing his signature parka.


On both sides of the statues were two monuments featuring soldiers, workers, and farmers to represent the country's anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle and socialist revolution.


And taking the opportunity for another group photo.


Continuing our drive through Pyongyang with the Ryugyong Hotel straight ahead, which also has the interesting honour of being the tallest unoccupied building in the world.


In the late afternoon we went for a visit to the Pyongyang Circus.


After the double dose of the extraordinary Mass Games it was a little underwhelming but still interesting to watch.


This acrobat made me especially cringe given the lack of safety net or harness!


Another acrobat balancing on a sword.


The trapeze artists putting on a breathtaking show.


And a standing ovation at the finish.


We then went out for one last sightsee of the city.


Looking east over the Taedong River and Juche Tower at dusk.


The sun beginning to set behind Kim Il-sung Square and the Grand People's Study House.


And getting a photo of our videographer, Mr. Park, our western guide, Zoe, our North Korean guide Ms. Chang and our minder Mr. Ju. A great team of people and really helped to make the trip run very smoothly and all the more enjoyable.


Underpass. We then went for a stroll north down Sungri Street.


A traffic guard about to blow her whistle at me to get off the road while taking her photo.


Green & pink.


Visiting the Foreign Language Bookshop.


Where you could buy the essiential writings of the two Eternal leaders. I passed on the propaganda book and instead bought a few DPRK badges to take home.


Our final dinner of the trip at a Korean restaurant.


Tasty barbecued beef washed down with some local beer.


Looking to the buildings in south Pyongyang while back at the Ryanggang Hotel.


And enjoying a few songs and drinks in the hotel karaoke bar at the end of our final day.



Day 7.

Outside the Ryanggang Hotel with my bags packed and on the bus and ready to begin the journey.


And back at Pyongyang Station looking up at the portraits of the two Eternal leaders.


We arrived in plenty of time and there was still 45 minutes until our departure to the city of Dandong, just over the border in China.


Thanking Ms. Chang one last time after the amazing trip.


The National Emblem of the People's Republic of China on the side of the Chinese train just before boarding.


A returning Chinese family next to our bunks as we depart for Dandong.


Looking out at the Ryugyong Hotel as we leave the city.


My now returned passport and tourist card and filled out departure card.


Passing through a train station adorned with portraits of the Eternal leaders about an hour out from Pyongyang.


An attendant with snack cart in tow.


It was great to simply look out the window and watch the scenery rush past.


Enjoying a tasty lunch of duck, chicken, fish and kimchi in the dining car.


And one last view of the North Korean countryside as we coast into the border town of Sinuiji.


I was a little paranoid about the border checks and the possibility of my camera being searched for prohibited photos. I had heard that they had relaxed recently but I had hidden a memory card with a copy of all my photos inside my iPad cover just in case they wanted to delete any.

Luckily the Customs officer was quite friendly with Zoe and recognised her from previous crossings. He did a perfunctory search of my suitcase and was pretty easygoing and didn't bother checking my camera or phone.

A salute as we leave the train station and head onto China.


Crossing the Yalu River on the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge.


And looking up at the towering Chairman Mao statue in the Chinese city of Dandong. After five days of restrictions it was quite refreshing to be able to simply walk about unhindered.


It was about 90 minutes until our next train departed so I headed to the nearest Starbucks for a dose of caffeine, cake and wifi.


Back outside Dandone train station to resume the journey to Beijing.


Although China has built significant highspeed train routes across the country our train was similar to that we had travelled across North Korea in.


About to depart.


Some snacks for dinner before crashing out for the overnight trip to the captial.



Day 8.

And back in Beijing outside the central railway station at the end of an amazing and fascinating trip to North Korea!

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