Impressions of North Korea: A Chinese Tourist’s Photo Diary – Part 2 (of 3)

October 31, 2010Chiafu Chen 陳家福4 Comments, , , , , , , , , , ,

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13. This is our coach.
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Before dinner, our tour guide decided to take us to Kim Il Sung’s former residence, which was not far away from our hotel. One of our tour guide’s name is Li Jun, and we call him Li Dao [Dao is short for tour guide]. He was 30 years old, and worked for North Korea Third International Travel Agency. He studied Chinese for for four years in Korea, and seemed like a very kind young man.

There were 24 of us in total on the coach. All tourists are Chinese except one person who was from Belgium. As soon as [Li Dao] boarded the coach we requested him to sing “Flower Girl” in Chinese and Korean revolutionary
songs. He had a good voice, and was very pleasant to listen to.

Li Dao told us beside the driver, there is Cui Dao[Tour Guide Cui] in the crew with us on the coach. In fact, we had long noticed the mentioned “Cui Dao” sitting at the end of the bus. Furthermore, we were very aware that for every single tourist group visiting North Korea, there is bound to be a “tour guide” who stays quiet and follows the group the entire time.

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16. With Unlimited respect to President Kim Il Sung, the Korean people hailed Mangyongdae as “Holy Land of the Sun”.alt

17. This is the before mentioned “Cui Dao”. Vigilant eyes never left his face. His job every day was basically doing head counts. His Chinese was very good, and sometimes asked us some basic information, but it sounded like doing some kind of investigation. We always gave him frank answers.

Soon we became acquainted with him. We offered cigarettes and chatted with him, but whenever we asks questions about whether he worked for the military, he blushed and shook his head hard. We Chinese tourist understood the difficulty of his job, and consciously abides by the rules. However, our teammate from Belgium gave him headaches all the time.

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18. Whenever the tour guide was not paying attention, our Belgium tourist would indulge himself in quenching his curiosity by wondering around the street. At the beginning of the tour, Li Dao explained to us that at most attractions we are allowed to take photos, unless at prohibited places he would explicitly mention to us. As for the streets, “good things” are allowed to be photographed whereas “bad things” are not. We would come to appreciated his point later on: as soon as we finished visiting an arranged attraction, Cui Dao would immediately urge people to get back on the coach, never leaving us the chance to stay longer and look around.
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19. At many places of our visit, we ran into other tourist groups with the double-tour guide configuration just like ours. The only difference is that they generally had two Korean girls as their guides, one of which, needless to say, had the same status as our “Cui Dao”. They spoke good Chinese and were good looking too. They never refused our taking photos of them. Our fellow male group mates kept complaining in private that the agency did not arrange two females tour guides for our group.

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Back to the hotel. We had our first meal in North Korea. While there were chicken and fish, the meal was meager in quantity. This was one of the worse meals we had in North Korea.

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Before coming here, we head that there was an ongoing food crisis in North Korea. Basic food was a huge concern in their country. Therefore, we were mentally prepared and even brought some of our own food from home. After the meal, perhaps due to psychological effect or just us being greedy eater, we went to a small grill restaurant behind the hotel and had an additional meal. It cost the four of us 60 yuan to have two plates of roast beef, two dishes of kimchi and a bowl of Pyongyang cold noodles. I heard that a meal like this would cost a significant portion of a local’s monthly income.

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21. The Tall Pyongyang Arc de Triomphe stood above the road, the front engraved in gold color with Baekdu Mountain, “Song of General Kim Il Sung” and “1925″, “1945″, during which period Kim Il Sung joined the revolution and made a victorious return. The structure strikes a remarkable resemblance with to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. Because there were very few vehicles on the road, we were at ease to stand in the middle of the the road and took panoramic photos of the Arc.

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Here stood the Monument of the Liberation War of the Motherland. We noticed the building pointing to the blue sky behind the monument. This was what we had long heard about: the Ryugyong Hotel of Pyongyang. Standing 105 stories tall, it was built to compete with the United States [for the tallest hotel in the world]. However, due to lack of funding the construction had suspended. It remained standing alone there for a good 20 years, and ended up becoming the world’s tallest “shabby tail”[unfinished] project.

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25, after lunch, we walked into the North Korea Museum of the Motherland Liberation War. It was a giant, magnificent architecture, and had a similar layout to the Great Hall of People., Inside are dozens of exhibition halls, covering the entire Korean War as well as a a panoramic oiled painting museum dedicated to the Battle of Taejon. However, there were only two exhibition halls dedicated to the Volunteer Army of China. They covered record and heroic deeds of the Chinese People’s Volunteers.
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27A. In the exhibition hall of the Volunteer Army, displayed are photos and stories of Mao Anying[Chia-fu: one of the sons of Mao Tse Tung], Luo Shengjiao, Qiu Shaoyun, Yang Gensi and Huang Jiguang, along with many Chinese Volunteer soldiers that was previously unknown to us. Feeling overwhelmed and reluctant to leave, we stopped there for a very, very long time.
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30. Long have we head of the world-famous Pyongyang subway, known as the world’s deepest subway, reaching 100 meters deep underground. It took us several minutes to take the escalator down to the platform. We speculated the reason why they dug it so deep: perhaps they could serve as shelters should the Americans initiated attacks?
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31A. Upon getting onto the platform, despite a wave of humidity that came at us, our eyes were lit up: this was a perfect underground palace, with arched high ceiling supported by marble pillars, the ceiling decorated with beautiful chandelier, creating an atmosphere of warmth and softness. Huge mosaic murals depicted the great and difficult history of the founding of North Korea.

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A train arriving at the station.
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34. The most important moment for our trip was to watch the massive rhythmic gymnastics and artistic performance “Arirang” at the May Day National Stadium. The stadium looked grand and magnificent from the outside, with huge capacity inside. It is said that it could fit in a hundred to two hundred thousand people, claiming to be the No.1 stadium in Asia. We were in such a hurry to get into the stadium that we did not have time to take photos outside. To our surprise, though, we ran into the Chinese rock star Cui Jianalt, who happened to be entering the stadium at the same time.
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35, “Arirang” is an ethnic song with a long history and a beautiful legend. Sitting across us are tens of thousands of middle and elementary school students, with flip boards with beautiful, complex, brilliant patterns. Their flipping motions were without a single trace of errors.

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36. Such ambitious scene completely entranced us: the choreography and overall lighting design are absolutely of world class! Extraordinary ethnic colors, music, dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, and perfect rotating background sets. Electro-optic devices, laser lighting, and many other image effects make the show unbeatable.

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37A. Our tour guide told us that from August 16 to October 17, except Sundays, thousands of performers dedicated their lives to perform like this every single night. It was rumored that in 2002, pay for the same performance is a few kilograms of Korean food stamps per show. We could not bear to ask Li Dao about this.
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The reader should now be fairly familiar with these two kids, who greeted President Hu Jintao during his recent visit to North Korea.
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4 comments to “Impressions of North Korea: A Chinese Tourist’s Photo Diary – Part 2 (of 3)”

  1. Kerry | November 4, 2010 | Permalink Reply

    Thanks for the articles! Very informative. I'm intrigued by North Korea & I really want to visit it someday. Unfortunately, it seems like a safe place only for Chinese citizens because of Pyongyang's dependence on Beijing, and even then it's not an absolute guarantee.

  2. [...] 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 Impressions of North Korea – Part 2 (of 3) [...]

  3. [...] Impressions &#959f North Korea – P&#1072rt 2 (&#959f 3) [...]

  4. Andre M. Smith | February 10, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Most of the urban scenes in this travelogue look like any abandoned American city on a bleak Sunday morning. I have yet to hear or see any good reason to want to visit North Korea except idle curiosity.

    When the New York Philharmonic Orchestra visited Pyongyang in February 2008 there was much reporting about bilateral weeping, shared wavings, music being the universal language understood by all, and the predictable overreactions about all of us being essentially brothers, etc. http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&aq=2v&oq=%22New+york+philharmonic%22+%22north+korea%22&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGLJ_enUS344US352&q=new+york+philharmonic+north+korea+documentary+&gs_upl=0l0l0l16484lllllllllll0&aqi=g1g-v4

    After everyone on both sides of the divide – including the PR department of The New York Philharmonic – had put their feet back on the ground it was business as usual: Them vs. Us!

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