Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Pyongyang metro, mass dance rehearsal, Juche tower and farewell dinner

ALLIE: DAY 28: Wednesday, 14th of March
Return to Pyongyang and last visits around town, circus

Didn’t sleep for more then 2 hours. It either got too hot underneath my mat or too cold and my mind was so disturbed of last nights events. Kim, Ong Min and the driver also appear to be in bad state: they have been heavy on the schnapps till midnight. Especially Kim is very grumpy and sleeps all the way back to Pyongyang in the car.
Ong Min complains about the drinking, but admits that she also has had quite a few pints of it.

The Pyongyang Metro - one of the most beautiful in the world
Back to Pyongyang we are invited to take a short ride on the underground, the Metro. This train line was built in 1968-73 and runs two lines. Long escalators bring us a few hundred meters down. 

The station is beautifully decorated with large wall paintings and a huge glittering chandelier. The trains seem to run quite efficiently and it’s amazing that not more people would use it. But since the network is limited it’s probably not of much use to most of the people in town.

Check in at our hotel – again! We take the desperately desired hot bath and have lunch downstairs. 

At 2pm it’s time for more sightseeing around the city. Today the People's Study Hall and Library. A huge, impressive building with several stories. We are greeted by a lady who shows us around the many study rooms. 
View from the People's Study Hall to the main square

Here a room to study the works of Kim Il Sung (allegedly more then 30 million visitors come here every year), there a room to learn foreign languages (mainly English and Chinese), another one to listen to music.

She proudly puts on an ancient tape with some German hits from the 60is. I couldn’t care less, all I am concerned at this stage is whether we can go out to the balcony (our guide book was mentioning this fact!). 
And indeed we can. This is fantastic: right in front of us is the main square with hundreds of people practicing for the games. I ask the supervisor girl for permission to take pictures and she just says, ‘yes no problem!’. Wow! Ong Min also doesn’t say a word and so whilst Phil is chatting to both of them I frantically run a series of shots down to the square, trying to catch all the movements and people. We are so lucky. 

Posters on top of government buildings
The light conditions are great and the people are in fact just practicing Kim Il Sungs signature. It’s incredible how accurate they manage to get into the correct formation without being able to see the overall picture as we can from up here. We are absolutely fascinated and could stand here all afternoon.

But alas Mr. Kim is waiting and on we go to pay a visit to the Juche Tower.

The Juche idea is THE great invention of Kim Il Sung, but it’s actually nothing much else then the concept of a socialist government run in North Korean style – and under the great leadership of the Dear Leader.

The Juche Tower
Anyway to remind all the citizens of this, the Juche Tower was built in 1982 and stands 170m high near the river. You could go up by elevator but it costs 10 Euro per Person and we are not fussed.

I am still boiling with excitement about all these rare wonderful pictures and I pray constantly that we won’t loose them for some reason. ABM is on the list (another bloody monument), this time the Party Foundation Monument.

We are again greeted by a lady but none of us has the concentration to listen to her. At least from the name of the monument I gather that this circular monument was built to commemorate the foundation of the Party! How clever is that?

Much more interesting is the next we do: we are going to the circus! For another expensive 20 Euro we got tickets to this show and sit amongst a full arena most of the people watching us rather then the performance. But the show is very good. Acrobats doing various balance acts or swings and trapeze, a dancing brown bear and a clown.

literally:'feeling under the hammer' in the DPRK
Time for our farewell dinner. We are invited to a ‘hot pot’ dinner at a restaurant in the embassy quarters. Kim is again in his strange, grumpy mood and I find it really difficult to get going. What’s wrong with him? He has been very friendly and communicative in the beginning but ever since Kaesong he is absorbed in a shell and hardly explains or talks. 

Anyway, tomorrow we are off. 5 days in the DPRK don’t seem a long time, but when you are under constant surveillance and not free at all to do what you like, it’s quite tough. We finish the evening at the hotel bar and collapse to bed. Our last night in North Korea.

PHIL: Day 28/14 March

Back in Pyongyang for a final day of fun-packed cultural indoctrination. The day begins with a long discourse by Mr Kim on the need for unification of the two Koreas as seen by Kim Jong Il. It seems natural, apparently, for each side to maintain their chosen path for social, political and economic success. 

Ministerial building in central Pyongyang
Thus a confederation, such as Switzerland, would be ideal. ‘One country, two systems’ – no problem. And, by the way, the ‘Dear Leader’ would naturally be in overall charge of this harmonious partnership. Whether this is the result of naivete or plain pig-headed arrogance is difficult to discern.

On the streets of the capital the immaculately turned-out policewomen on point duty perform like automata in their bright blue tunics and tight trousers. Meanwhile the queues of drab workers waiting for buses seem to get longer as the temperature drops in a shuffling reminder of ‘Dr. Zhivago’.

We visit the National Library where “every worker has access to any book, internet, or video 20 hours every day”. Languages are taught, seminars held, in a seven-storey block overlooking the main city square. “Could we go out on the top floor balcony to take photographs?”, we ask the Curator. 

She agrees despite the square being packed with thousands of students and workers practising for the Mass Games. 

Their skilfully orchestrated groupings represent exactly the signature of Kim Il Sung and the date of his death in script over 50m tall. The final performance will be on 14 April in front of assembled national leaders.

hundreds of people on their practice day in the square
More impressive performance by the State Circus where we were in the company of hundreds of uniformed soldiers, some families with children, and a group of official foreign dignitaries who we thought might include Dr el Baradei until the BBC World News (surprisingly available in our hotel room) told us he had been unceremoniously sent back to the West after being snubbed by the senior DPRK officials. 
Most surprising was the inclusion, surely a rarity in the 21st century, of two dancing bears amongst the acts. The last time I saw one was in front of the Orthodox cathedral in Sofia in the mid-90s.

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