Impressions of North Korea: A Chinese Tourist’s Photo Diary – Part 1 (of 3)

October 29, 2010Chiafu Chen 陳家福2 Comments, , , , , ,

Chiafu: Howdy MiniTofu fans. Today I present you the first part of a three-part North Korea trip diary with wonderfully detailed photos and accounts. The post was originally published by an unnamed Chinese national, who had the fortune of visiting North Korea as a tourist back in 2005. It has since been reposted on a number of Chinese websites and forums. In case the readers are not aware, in recent years the North Korean government has been opening up their border to selected tourists from China and a few other countries.

The author’s itinerary was strictly limited to government-sanctioned routes and locations, and he and his companions were heavily monitored by a government agent during the entire trip in case they “wondered off”. Despite all the restrictions, the diary still gives a rare and good glimpse of many aspects of the contemporary Hermit Kingdom and her strikingly dutiful and obedient citizens. More importantly, it offers a Chinese’s perspective on topics such as economic development, ideology and culture.

North Korea, a country both familiar and strange. Ever since China’s opening-up policy, there has been less and less information about North Korea. Everything about this country was thence covered with a fog of mystery. During China’s National Day this year [Chiafu: 2005], I was fortunate enough to be invited by North Korean government to to pay a visit there and watch “Arirang”, a mass gymnastic and art performances in Pyongyang for the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of both the founding of the North Korean Worker’s Party and liberation of the motherland. As a generation who grew up watching North Korean movies and listening to the story of heroes from the Volunteer Army, we, with immense feeling of curiosity, stepped our feet on this land, a land where we had yearned and longed to visit. Following are photos and  descriptions that chronicled what we saw and heard during our trip, which lasted for four days and three nights.

1. At 11:30 am, we landed at Pyongyang Airport, via a free, half-hour flight from Air Koryo that took off from Beijing Capital International Airport.

2. Pyongyang Airport’s parking apron was small, and the airport was rather quiet. The first thing we saw when we got off the plane was a portrait of Kim Il Sung standing on the roof the terminal.

3a. My plane was occupied with basically Chinese tourists. We got on the airport shuttle bus to the terminal building and got ready to pass the custom. This is the shuttle bus drivers.

4. Next boarding the bus was a female airport police, scanning everyone on the bus with her eyes. We were told when we were leaving Beijing that cellphones are prohibited to be brought to North Korea, but cameras were spared from custom check. Therefore, at the departure custom in China, our passengers had obediently handed the phone to the hands of [Chinese] customs officers, but our long guns and short pistols[i.e. professional cameras] easily got through.

5. This is first tourist scene we saw after we got off the plane: vending booths and North Korean sales girls outside the airport.

6. North Korea is a country where foreigners are not allowed to travel freely. Because of that, we were lead by the local travel agency to a tour bus that had been waiting outside the airport. Along the ride, we made our best effort to appreciate this long-yearned city that was always covered with mystery in our mind: high-rise buildings and some of the more exotic spectacular architecture could be seen from time to time, but the tone of the entire city was gray and white, the building’s exterior walls were of rustic character, and there were no luxurious or beautiful decorations.

7. Gigantic slogans, colorfully drawn propaganda posters and monuments can be seen almost everywhere. For those of us who have experienced Cultural Revolution during childhood, they brought back memories and made us feel like travelling back in time.

8. The common citizens on the street dressed in plainly colored clothes, you rarely saw women dressed in traditional costume, but without exception, everyone was wearing a badge of Kim Il Sung.

9. While our bus was passing through an intersection, there suddenly appeared a beautiful female traffic police officer with her valiant figure. The tour guide said that Pyongyang’s major traffic junction traffic control are mainly staffed by female police. Traffic police is a good career prospect: a stable job and high income. The female traffic police officers were required be tall, good looking and never married. The competition [for this career] is fierce.

10. The bus took us to the Chongnyon Hotel [translate: Youth Hotel] where we would stay for the next three days. The hotel was a big disappointment to us despite its thirty-story height. We had heard from friends who had traveled in North Korea that foreigners visiting Pyongyang were able to be arranged to live in the best hotels around the city, such as Koryo Hotel, Yanggakdo Hotel and Miao Xiangshan Hotel. Still, these three mentioned hotels are equivalent to at most three- or four-star hotels back home. This hotel in front of us must be of even worse quality, but we were not at the position to complain: they had already offered us free flight. Fair bargain.
11. The hotel room did not have a luxurious look, but was neat and clean. It has air conditioning, color TV, refrigerator and shower facilities. According to our tour guide, it was considered first-class hotel in Pyongyang; the above mentioned Koryo Hotel and Yanggakdo Hotel were supreme-class hotels. There was only one channel on the hotel TV. The channel was dedicated to the stories of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il with TV dramas, dance and singing programs praising their thoughts and ideas.

12. Upon finishing the hotel registration procedure, our passports and documents were taken away by the tour guide. Except a few major streets, there are no street lights at night in Pyongyang. Although we have more freedom moving inside the hotel, we could not travel much further outside. Our tour guide told us that there were rarely taxis, and they would not serve foreigners if they were not accompanied by locals. Thankfully, though, we were able to catch a view on the distant skyscrapers and streets from our hotel room. Our hotel was located at Pyongyang Guangfu Avenue.

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2 comments to “Impressions of North Korea: A Chinese Tourist’s Photo Diary – Part 1 (of 3)”

  1. [...] Impressions of North Korea – Part 1 (of 3) [...]

  2. [...] there is another reason for Chinese tourism to the DPRK. A Chinese tourist to the DPRK notes in his travelogue, “For those of us who have experienced Cultural Revolution during childhood, they (referring to [...]

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