While Trish and I prefer to travel independently, if we wanted to see North Korea we had no choice but to take an authorized and restricted
tour. The few times we were allowed out of our hotel, or our tour bus, we were accompanied by our two ‘guides’, one in front, and one always
in the rear. Our itinerary was totally controlled in this most controlled of all countries. We have no illusions that we were able to observe the
realities of life in this last bastion of communism, but occasionally we were able to peak behind the Potemkin curtain.
Even before we reached our hotel on the way from the airport, the bus stopped and we were encouraged to buy flowers and pay our respects at
the first of many huge monuments to (the eternal) President Kim Il Sung and his also deceased successor Kim Jong Il.
|Our tour focused on the showplace city of Pyongyang. Only citizens selected for their loyalty are allowed to live, or even visit there.
Often we passed groups of fifty to a thousand, marching while holding up staves, or sitting on the ground in the squares, all dressed in white
tops and black pants and skirts.
As you pass through the streets of the DPRK in your air-conditioned bus you wonder about the people outside. They may not look happy, but
they do portray an aura of contentment. It seemed a bit like Legoland, with Lego People.
An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 ending The Korean/American War. But no lasting treaty was negotiated. And the people are not
allowed to forget it.
We were driven to the DMZ demarcating the temporary boundaries between the North and the South. A wide and well maintained highway
brings busloads of people to come and gaze, past the towers, gigantic flags, and fortifications. To see the enemy.
|Our guide explaining the situation at the DMZ
This is a view looking from the
South taken on a prior visit to
South Korea. Is the North
Korean soldier with the binoculars
observing a particularly suspicious
|The view of the South from the North
Another educational experience was our visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, which also included a tour of the captured
American spy ship, the USS Pueblo
|We found a ride on the Pyongyang Metro system more to our liking.
|We had a chance to see what people read.
|On an excursion in the country we visited a 'typical' school.
|They had some nice murals.
|And they made sure the popular toys
were on display.
One popular entertainment in Pyonyang is Streetdancing. After work, the people dress in the national costumes and gather in many of the
large squares where loudspeakers are set up.
We were not allowed to photograph one of the most bizarre sights. In fact our cameras and phones were taken away from us upon entry
before we went through a thorough airport style security check.
The Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the ‘final resting place of President Kim Il Sung (still President, even though he died in 1994) and Kim
Jong Il is a huge mausoleum where we were ordered to group ourselves in rows of four before being escorted down several monumental
halls, each several hundred meters long. We gazed at the murals depicting the Great Leaders in action poses with the people, continued past
the respective leader’s preserved train cars where we could stare through the windows into their perfectly preserved offices, even past the
plane they flew in, preserved in a hanger like chamber with sky blue ceilings decorated with white fluffy clouds, through rooms displaying
all of the degrees they had received from around the world—mostly from African and Latin American states; through air locks (I’m not
kidding), —and finally into the inner sanctum. Still in our groups of four we were told to yet again ‘pay our respects’ by bowing three times;
once at the feet, and once at each side—but never above the heads. Finally we were allowed out into the sunshine were we could see the
immensity of the palace—and take some staged photos.
There were many such orchestrated
opportunities to ‘pay our respects’ by bowing in
front of the gigantic idols. In addition to the
towering statues, sometimes in bronze, often in
brightly painted plaster, there were gigantic
murals of their smiling faces everywhere; on
most buildings, set up in parks, on street
corners, and most striking, on the polished
badges on every citizen’s chest.
And an array of American weapons
The subject of this piece is our impressions of The DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, known in the West as North Korea.
North Korea is still defined by the first casualty of the Cold War, The Korean War, a war that left this small country in ashes, a country that
while it has recovered from the total devastation, has suffered through sixty years of one of the most brutal and efficient dictatorships in
modern history. A nuclear armed country that is festering to this day. This is the country that Trish and I visited for a week in September, 2015.