Why Visit North Korea 

October 2005: I first became obsessed with North Korea while teaching English in Seoul, South Korea in 1999/2000. In Seoul I was a mere 50 miles away from North Korea, a tyrannical country ruled by a crazy leader with a bad haircut that created a cult of personality around himself. North Korea was a mysterious place that few foreigners had ever visited, and this was exactly the kind of place that intrigued me. So, when an opportunity presented itself to be among the first American tourists to step into North Korea since the Korean war, I didn’t hesitate to seize it. 

Map of my route in North Korea-Pyongyang to Kaeson/DMZ

Opportunity to Visit North Korea as a Tourist

In the early 2000’s, I looked into getting into North Korea (DPRK) but back then it was not possible. Then a few Chinese travel agencies began to start taking Chinese tourists into North Korea. I reached out to some but received no response. Then I came across a travel agency run by a British man living in Beijing. His company started taking small groups of DPRK foreigners into DPRK. I reached out to him, and he informed me that Americans are not allowed into DPRK but if it ever changed, he would let me know. I was not hopeful as relations between the USA and DPRK were piss poor and had shown no signs of improvement. Then in 2005, I received notice from the British company that DPRK is allowing a group of American tourists into the country for the first time and that if I am interested, I need to book and depart in two weeks. I didn’t even hesitate. I booked a flight to Beijing, China that night and submitted my passport info and deposit required to sign up for the DPRK trip.

Transiting Through China to North Korea

I flew to Beijing via San Franciso on United Airlines. On the flight I sat next to two other Americans, who were coincidently travelling to North Korea (NK). The man next to me was travelling to NK on a business trip in the same window of time that my group of Americans was allowed to visit NK. The other American, Andy, in the seat in front of me, was travelling in the same tour as myself. The 12-hour flight was made shorter by our long discussions of NK and what we expected to see. The American businessman was from Utah and Mormon, and he was excited about the prospect of helping in the humanitarian area of NK and Andy was a 32-year-old student from Seattle working on a third master’s degree. I recalled my first flight to China ten years prior and how I was only one of the Americans on the flight amongst Chinese passengers. During the present flight the situation seemed to be reversed and there were many Americans.

Day 1: Andy and I teamed up and split a taxi to the Red Brick Hotel, the meeting place for the tour to NK and the most convenient place to stay. The whole process of getting to our hotel on our own was not an easy one. We had trouble getting a taxi, so a soldier assisted us. Then I showed the taxi driver the hotel on a map, and I attempted to speak the name however the taxi driver seemed to have no clue where to go. We managed to at least agree on the general area where the hotel was located. Then Andy went into a nearby hotel to ask someone who spoke English to write down the name of our hotel in Chinese characters. The taxi driver nodded, and we still drove around for another 30 minutes asking random people for directions when we looked up and we noticed we were driving in circles around our hotel.

Andy and I decided to share a room. The room was 15$ each per night. The room was a suite with living room, bedroom and shower with 4 or 5 different shower heads. After dropping off our stuff we headed off for dinner. After succeeding in getting lost we found a local restaurant and we ordered some food. We weren’t sure what to order so we just guessed. Any received a pretty nice pork rice dish, and I received a dish with a two-foot-tall heap of fried broccoli. We drank some Tsing Tao beer and decided to roam the streets some more after talking to some Chinese teenagers at the restaurant.

While walking around I observed that China had modernized considerably since my last trip to Beijing. There were less bikes, more skyrise apartments and everything appeared new and fancy. The streets were chalk full of vehicles. Andy and I stumbled into a strip of bars with some foreigners wondering about. We were accosted by touts offering girls and massages. We ended up drinking beer at 2 different bars. The first bar was occupied mostly by Chinese and blared with the shrieking of three Chinese girls singing, and the second bar, the Fashion Club, had tabled lined up next to a runway with really bored Chinese girls pacing back and forth supposedly modeling outfits. As I understand this street with bars is pretty new and under the close scrutiny of the authorities.

After the bar Andy and I found our hotel and a massage place next to our hotel. The place was nice. The assistants-3 of them led me into a locker room and tried to have me slip into a pair of skimpy white underwear briefs which I declined to wear, keeping to my shorts. Then they led me to a dark room and had me lay down in a bed next to another bed with an old man snoring. A girl then proceeded to give me a back rub for an hour for 8$. I noticed that all girls that work at the massage parlors are from the countryside in poorer districts of China. I fell asleep getting a massage.  

Day 2: I awoke early and went walking around my neighborhood. I watched scores of elderly doing Taichi in the park. I walked the alleys in between the buildings. This morning we met some of the other Americans in the group. There were roughly 90 Americans travelling to NK. After speaking with some of them I realized this was a well-travelled crew. Most seemed pretty well of given the trip to NK alone was 1600-1800$. At 10AM we met for the orientation with Simon Cockerall, the trip leader. He was a sarcastic Brit, who gave us a quick and dirty presentation. He advised us that we were not allowed to speak to the local NK’s, not allowed to leave our hotel, not allowed to take photos w/o permission, and definitely not allowed to insult the Dear or Great Leader as Kim Jung IL and Kim Sung Il are called.

 

I convinced a few other travelers to share a taxi with me to go to the Simital portion of the Great Wall. This took us 3 hours to get there-80 kilometers, and when we arrived there were no tourists. We had left the city and now we were in the countryside which was much poorer in contrast and many of the farmers used non mechanized farming practices and wore the Mao style clothing. At the Great Wall we took the Gondola up 1/2 way.

Simital portion of the Great Wall

When I purchased my ticket, I noticed there was a 1$ insurance policy for visiting the Wall. The Gondola was relaxing and slow. The weather was great, and the mountains were amazing. The wall snaked along the tops of the mountains. At the top of the gondola, we took a cart up these tracks another 1/4 of the way up, and then we proceeded to walk the last 1/4 up to the wall. There we were harassed by self-proclaimed framers who don’t have work. I told mine to leave me alone and I took of walking along the wall.

The wall was semi-restored and un-restored in some parts. We had the whole place to ourselves. Too bad my camera was having issues. After an hour of exploring the wall, we were told to leave the Great Wall by an ornery kid in an official uniform. It was getting dark anyways. We watched the sunset and a full moon rise over the wall in the distance. We set back in the dusk. Then we spotted an old Chinese man standing next to a cable, harness and a large cliff. We couldn’t refuse. One by one we took the leap of faith. The cable was some 100-200 yards long over a 150-foot drop across a river to a platform below. The ride was very fast. At the bottom we skillfully balanced along a ledge perched above a 30 foot drop off while following a Chinese woman back to our taxi.

The drive back was long and tiring. I slept most of the way only to be awakened 4-5 times because of near death driving incidents. Once I awoke to a horn and the sight of a semi approaching head on. The driver was unphased.

We returned to the hotel and went to eat-the tree of us at a local restaurant. We cooked our own food at the table and once again we guessed as to what to order. The food was great. Down the hall of our restaurant was a karaoke bar. Andy and I took turns posing for photos in a pink room with 40 karaoke girls dressed up in pink dresses. Sadly, Andy deleted them from his phone because according to him his girlfriend wouldn’t understand.

After the three of us took a taxi to Tiananmen Square. It was dark and cold while we walked next to the Forbidden City. We could not get into the Square. It was nostalgic for me to return to this place that left a real strong impression on me 10 years prior.

 

Flight to North Korea

Day 3: In the morning we awoke for breakfast, and we all loaded into a bus to the airport. This was the day we will travel to NK. At the airport we finished all the airport stuff, and we loaded up on a Russian jet, NK airline-Koryo airlines. The stewardesses did not have seats instead they held on the bars in the gally of the plane. The plane was empty with the exception of everyone in our group. The interior was retro 70 style. I sat down and looked for an inflight magazine. There was no such thing. Simon had told us that on a previous trip, a passenger was looking at a newspaper with a picture of the Dear Leader on the cover and some water dropped onto his picture from the air-conditioning vent. The flight attendant grabbed the newspaper and frantically began air drying the newspaper as to preserve the photos. The flight was an hour and 20 minutes. I noticed the flight was not direct and we seemed to veer around the ocean and instead travel up over land. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was to prohibit us from viewing strategic locations -like a nuclear weapons plant-I will never know. Every time the plane performed a maneuver it was always accompanied by a strange moaning, creaking sounds, something I wasn’t familiar with. When we landed, I saw how small the airport was. Aside from our jet, there were two other Russian jets both equipped with gun ports on the bottom. Both planes were converted to passenger planes. 10 or so soldiers were on the top of a plane making repairs on the one of the wings. We were picked up by a shuttle and transported 20 feet to the terminal. I am not sure why we couldn’t walk. At this point we were divided into 4 teams. Andy was randomly selected as our group leader for team C. Customs was chaotic and nightmarish. Cellphones were illegal and confiscated by NK officials to be returned upon departure. I completed a customs declaration form stating I was not bringing in outside publishing’s, cell phones, laptops, and killing devices. Some of the other things I was told were banned are-tele-photo lenses over 150mm, video cameras, cell phones, laptops, anything that will help expose the truth to the people of NK. Some people managed to get in with video cameras, only after some interrogation. We were told journalists are not allowed entry without permission. I figured that at least one person in my group was undercover CIA conducting some general surveillance, intelligence gathering. We split into our groups and loaded into our appropriate buses. I met Oh, who claimed to be a guide. He sat in the back of the bus. There were another two guides in the front. Only one guide seemed to ever talk or speak decent English. I am sure the oter two guides belonged to the communist party and were assigned to keep an eye on us, to make sure nothing forbidden occurred. We were told to ask the guide prior to taking any photos, and that photos were not allowed from the bus.

 

North Korean Customs and Immigration Form

Pyongyang

We drove 30 miles to Pyongyang through the countryside. The drive made the trip worth it alone. The landscape and the feeling of being in a so-called axis of evil country was amazing. We entered the capital and largest city of NK, Pyongyang. It is said that only the most loyal of people to the communist party are selected to live in the capital. Pyongyang is a showcase city, where handicapped and the extreme elderly are not allowed to live. We drove to our hotel. Along the way we passed through NK’s version of France;’s Arch of Triumph. It was an incredibly huge arch built over the road. Another grand communist monument. 

 

I noticed that the streets rarely had any vehicles, or people walking in the sidewalks, or vehicles parked anywhere. I also noticed that there were no advertisements, stores, or restaurants. Billboards had murals promoting communist propaganda, slogans instead of commercial advertisements. The city was full of dour, communist style apartment buildings. 

 

Me standing in Pyongyang

Communist Propaganda Murals

Our hotel consisted of two twin towers with a bridge connecting the two towers at the top. Our hotel quite possibly was the nicest building in all of Pyongyang. The hotel had a 50’s style feeling of luxury to it. We had to wait to receive our keys, and during this time Andy and I explored the front floor. We purchased some NK beer and chatted with the NK waitresses and a bartender. The waitresses and an old man commented on how good looking we were. I discovered that the waitresses did not know who Michael Jackson was. This was a true test of how isolated a place is in my book. While Andy and I were drinking beer, we managed to miss the moment room keys were issued and so we had to haul our stuff to the Mass Games. The bus went from the hotel to a restaurant where we ate dinner. Dinner was traditional Korean food. We were given beer and Kimchee and various other dishes. The waitresses were dressed in traditional Korean dress. This was always the case. We were the only ones in the restaurant. This was always the case in every restaurant we went to. Andy and I befriended a guy from DC and another guy from Georgia who was living in China. For the rest of the trip, we usually sat with them at a table during meals, and at the end of the bus. After dinner we left to the May Day Stadium to see the Mass Games. The sun set and the city was dark. The streets were almost absent of cars and there were no streetlights. About 1/2 of the apartment units were lit. The light consisted of one light bulb hanging from the center of the visible room from the street. Driving in the city was almost like driving in the woods at night. Our guide Hopney, explained that the housing is provided by the government and the electricity and heating is paid for by the people. We arrived at the May Day Stadium. I saw hundreds of NK’s marching from the dark streets into the stadium. The vast parking lot was void of vehicles with the exception of our buses. We entered directly into the stadium, and I was immediately blown away. 

Mass Games-Most Incredible Performance I Have Ever Seen

North Korean spectator section of Mass Games

The stadium was huge, with an open top. It was said that 150,000 participants were involved in the Mass Games. The entire other side of the stadium was full of people holding up signs to form giant pictures. This was described as human pixels. On the field hundreds of performers danced and sang, marching in sync. This was the Mass Games. The Mass Games lasted for about 1 1/2 hours. The different scenes, dances and songs told of the history, plight and the goals of the people of NK. While watching the Mass Games it was clear to me that countless years were required by the participants to master these skills. The whole setting before me was surreal. The music, the dancing, colors and the full moon shining through the open top all added to this surrealness. The NKs were separated into a different section from the tourists. A group of American South Koreans in my bus were weeping from the spectacle of what was presented to us. In the end the Mass Games was a spectacular scene of propaganda praising the Great and Dear Leader, and the Revolution.  

Mass Games

Great Leader

Police Keeping a Careful Eye

Me at the Mass Games

Human Pixels-people holding cards to create scenes in the Mass Games

Scenes of the Revolution 

Bunny Performers

Mass Games Dancers

Female Revolutionaries

Mass Games

The Mass Games, propaganda or not, proved to be a very emotionally profound experience. After the games finished, we walked back to the bus in a group. We were always rounded up by our guides if we strayed too far. The NK’s marched off into the darkness. I waved to a group of NK children who were smiling and waving at me from a balcony. We departed in the bus and returned to our hotel through the dark city streets.

Andy and I finally received our room key, and we dropped our stuff off in the room. Our room was on the 27th floor. The room was amazing. We had an old-fashioned television, with two state run channels. At first BBC appeared on the screen, but it shortly thereafter disappeared. The two remaining channels portrayed the accomplishments of the Army, and on the spot guidance of the president Kim Jong Il. We also had an old-fashioned radio with two state run channels-A and B. Both channels played Korean opera, which I am sure praise the president and talk only of the ideals of the communist party. Andy and I felt like we could speak our mind in our room, falling short of blatantly insulting the Great or Dear Leader, because there was always a possibility that our room was tapped and maybe somebody was listening to us.

Andy and I visited the lounge and explored the hotel grounds. The hallways in the basement were dimly lit, and a guard sent us away. After a short journey which got us know where, we returned to the lounge and ordered beer. Some of the others were drinking beer as well. Andy and I were invited to the table of some of the guides. Oh, and another guide were drinking beer and smoking. We sat down and talked. Oh’s English was a little lacking, but his friend spoke very clearly. Oh and his friend commented on how Andy and I looked like movie stars. We discussed age, wives, girlfriends, and children. Oh and the other guide were married in their thirties and had 2 children. The conversation kind of took an awkward turn when I asked Oh what he felt about America, and he responded I hate the American Imperialists. I was not really sure how to respond except by nodding with a polite smile. Oh made sure to clarify to me however that he did not hate the people, just the government.

My Hotel Room Television airing only programs of the Dear Leader providing on the spot expert guidance to government ministries and industry

Day 4: We awoke early in the morning; I opened the sliding glass door for air and there was no screen just a huge gaping drop off plummeting 200 feet below to the ground.

View from my hotel room

Famous Female Traffic Police

After a shower I had breakfast in the dining hall. There was always a soothing Korean opera music playing in the hotel. I sure if translated the lyrics praised the Great Leader. Coffee really hit the spot this morning, and after breakfast I ventured outside of the hotel to see what was happening outside. The hotel was situated in the middle of Pyongyang, so I was able to have a bird’s eye view of the average city activities. We were told that we could not wander further then 100 feet from the entrance of the hotel. So, I wandered exactly 100 feet and stared in awe at the activities in the streets. It was rush hour and the streets were almost empty of cars. A lady in uniform stood in a painted circle in the middle of an intersection directing traffic with movements that had carried the precision of an acrobat. One guy in my group stepped in the street and received a whistle rebuke from the traffic lady.

Female Traffic Cop

People walked by us almost oblivious to our presence. The people wore a kind of drab green uniform on the most part. Women wore 50’s style formal work clothing. Everyone wore a badge with a picture of the president Kin Sung Il. Evidently the badges vary by the ranking of the individual in the communist party. By now a few others in my group stood beside me staring in awe at the weirdness that lay before us. Something just seemed unnatural about the city. In the background a strange siren or music bellowed from a speaker somewhere. The sound reminded me of the sounds the alien machines made in the War of the Worlds. I wondered if the sound was to alert everyone to report to, they’re workstations.

North Korean Man with pin depicting Great leader

 I heard the same sound the next day to at roughly the same time. The people walked onwards never really talking with each other. The streets were rather empty considering this was the middle of a city with supposedly 2 million people. Oh came to get me and he informed me the bus was waiting. Honey then informed me that she needed a copy of my return ticket to turn it to whoever was requesting it. I guess proof was needed that I was planning to leave NK. I had to rush up to my room and get a copy of my ticket and rush back down to the bus where everyone was waiting for me.

Street Scenes Pyongyang

Street Scenes Pyongyang

De-Militarized Zone

Then we departed to the DMZ. We were told the drive would take three hours and cover a distance of about 100 miles. I was looking forward to leaving the Pyongyang the showcase of NK and seeing the countryside and how the people lived there. During the drive out the city, we observed a battalion of children marching on the roadside following a flag bearer. There were many different groups of NK’s walking along the roadside. Oh, was not that strict about letting us take pictures from the bus. Every once in a while, he would tell us not to take photos of something. The countryside was beautiful. The main highway connecting Kayson and the DMZ to Pyongyang is called the re-unification highway. During the entire length of the highway, we rarely saw another vehicle. The highway was large and well maintained. 

Empty Road to Kaeson

We observed many collective farms and a few small villages along the way. We watched as farmers, women, men and sometimes children toiled in the fields, harvesting crops sometimes with their bare hands. Aside from a few ancient looking Russian tractors, most farmers tilled and harvested with the aid of oxen. The bus never stopped, and we were discouraged from taking photos of farmers. One woman in the group decided to sacrifice herself by asking to go to the bathroom so that the group could take some photos from the roadside of the country. Of course, the bus continued until there were no farms or [people in sight and then we stopped for a bathroom break. The countryside was barren and dotted with small hills. Once we arrived at the DMZ, we were told no photos w/o permission. The bus stopped and I managed to take some photos with a soldier at his post. The soldier stood in the photo with a disdainful look.  dreams.

An officer explained the events of the Korean war and how the US attacked NK and provoked war. Of course, this conflicts 100% with the accounts of the war I have learned in the US. I observed a Spanish national, in a communist NK uniform speaking with an NK officer. The man is the lead organizer in some communist organization and is the only foreigner hired by the NK government. He appeared garrish and wore a giant golden watch which in itself explains why communism is doomed to failure. The bus continued to the demarcation line, where I stood just 50 feet away 5 years ago on the South Korean side. We weren’t allowed to go any closer, I wonder if it was because they were weary of a tourist stepping across the line and being shot. There were no SK or American soldiers standing on the line, only 4 or 5 NK soldiers. In the distance I could see the enormous NK flag and the propaganda village. The NK flag stands on a foundation the size of a skyscraper and is 200 feet tall and is so big it cannot flutter in the wind.

Me posing with North Koreak soldier who posed with me after I gave him a cigarette. 

General explaining North Korean version of war and how North Korean soldiers defeated Americans

Looking at the South Korean side of the DMZ

Kaesong

We drove to Kaeson for lunch, the ancient capital of Korea. There were a few apartment buildings, and the streets were empty. Of course, there was a traffic director with a wand standing in the circle in the middle of the intersection-cars or not. At the top of the hill was a giant bronze statue of the Great Leader. We ate lunch and afterwards we walked outside and snuck photos of daily scenes of the people along the street from next to the bus. I have heard there is a park here in town, where there is a dart board of an American soldier with a long beak nose, and a hole in the ground with a picture of an American soldier with his hands cut off and a hole in his head where the ball is to be aimed. We did not see this place. Afterwards we drove to the site of the ancient king’s home. The buildings were traditional Korean. The site was peaceful and surrounded by giant oak trees. We toured around and on display were many photos of the Great Leader. The guide explained ancient Korean culture.

Empty Road in Kaesong

Buddhist temple, one of the few allowed and this pone was controlled by govt

street scenes

street scenes

Traffic cop controlling empty street

street scene Pyongyang of bicyclists in front of propaganda murals

Then we drove back to Pyongyang. After a few hours we stopped at the gateway to the city where two giant statues arched over the road reached outwards for each other meeting where a south and north Korea formed united with each other. The statues where huge maybe 100 feet tall. In the background I watched as hundreds of people, women, children and men marched down the streets, some getting into a bus. It looked like they were returning from the fields. Many of them waved and smiled at us. 

Monument of Re-Unification

Farmers toiling in the fields

Farmers toiling in the fields

farmers waving at me

We drove to a restaurant where we ate dinner. After we visited the birthplace off the Great Leader in the outskirts of the city. Although it is widely believed in the west that the Great Leader was born in Russia, but this didn’t fit the patriotic narrative of him being borne in DPRK.  It was a brand new looking traditional Korean hit. All of the NK’s there wore formal attire. I drank from the well a ritual believed to bring good luck.

The streets were dark again tonight. We stopped at a propaganda stamp store and purchased some stamps. Most were of the Dear or Great Leader. Then we returned to the hotel where some people went to a different hotel on an island because it had a casino, and mostly because it would offer us a glimpse of someplace else in NK, a place where because it was on an island didn’t require a chaperone to explore. The hotel is huge and only a 1/4 of it was lit. There evidently is a golf course, and the workers are all Chinese and not allowed to leave the island. North Koreans are not allowed to go downstairs to the casino. Next to the casino is a massage parlor which was believed to provide “special services”. The casino was small and as quiet as a library. There were a few slot machines and one blackjack table. The dealer was very slow, and the only player were those from our bus. Everyone won ten or so dollars. My friend Andy held up the bus while he was getting a massage. I went back to the hotel, and I crashed. I accidentally left the television on with the Kim Jung Il propaganda and opera singing in the background and I had strange dreams all night.

Me posing in front of the Great Leader

Day 3: Today we awoke had breakfast and we went to visit the bronze statue of Kim-Il Sung. He is the founder of NK and is considered the everlasting president even after his death. His son Kim Jung Il is in charge of the communist party and is the current ruler. The statue was previously made in gold, but the Chinese frowned on this since they funded the NK economy, and the statue was recasting bronze instead. The statue is 80 feet tall and stands on a hill overlooking the city. Our guide Honey requested we buy so we purchased a bouquet on behalf of the group. 

We were then told to march single file to the statue and bow in sync. I made sure to bow as little as possible. The flowers were placed in a heap of other flowers at the feet of the statue.

North Koreans in formal wear paying respects to Great Leader

After the statue we visited the American war crimes museum. A guide dressed in a soldier’s uniform led us through the giant museum halls, that were long empty and dark. Prior to our arrival at the museum, we witnessed a large assembly of NK troops, loaded like sardines into the back of old military trucks, while others marched. We were told absolutely no photos. The museum was interesting. We were told the Americans provoked the Korean war again. 

North Korean censorship posted over un-approved media

There were all kinds of copies of supporting documents posted along the walls to show how vile the USA is.

America War Plane wrecked during the Korean War now in the museum. The museum walls were built around the plane. 

Anything that was not supportive of this notion was covered with Korean writing that told a version more approving to the NK’s. Then we were shown photos of tortured and dead NKs as a result of Americans. We were shown documents from a POW that confessed in captivity to conducting biological and chemical experiments on NK’s. We saw captured airplanes and tanks. The most interesting was the room with rotating panoramic replica of the battle for Pyongyang. The battlefield was enormous and very detailed, and glorified the NK’s, with visions of NK’s charging the hills stabbing and shooting Americans, as they fled into retreat.

After this we ate lunch, and then we set off for the film studios. Kim Jung IL is very big into film and his goal is to export NK films. This is a joke. We saw all kinds of different sets-Japan, Korea, city, and we even visited some of the most famous north Korean actors who seemed to be tied down to their posts awaiting us. One actor was dressed in tradition Korean wardrobe, while he sat in a chair and posed for photos with us.

movie studio

After this we went to the Pueblo, an American spy ship from the 60’s that was captured by the NK’s. The Americans denied it was a spy ship and instead claimed it was a research vessel. During the capture 1 American died and the others were held for almost a year. We watched a propaganda video which heralded the NK’s and brandished the Americans as imperialist aggressors. The guide was an old man in uniform who claimed to be a part of the capture. Simon Cockerall informed me that the Americans were photographed many times to show the official at home that they were treated well. Undenounced to the NK’s the Americans posed with middle fingers extended in every photo.

USS Pueblo

 It wasn’t until an American newspaper exposed the act in a publishing that the NK’s became aware of this. Subsequently the Americans were tortured for a month because of the middle fingure stunt. I noticed the river was much like the streets empty and void of much traffic. Evidently there are two fountains that shoot 250 feet into the air from the river somewhere. Now we went to visit the Juche tower. This tower is 300 or so feet tall and is one of the most prominent structures in the city. The juche philosophy was fathered by KimIl Sung. It means reliance on oneself. This philosophy dealt a death blow to religion. Now religion in NK is strictly forbidden. I have heard Christians are either executed or sent to work camps. The tower is located on the river and as I was taking photos, I watched some bicycles ride by. There are not many bicycles but here I saw a few ride by. I noticed they all have license plates. The people ride and walk by oblivious to us. We saw a woman in her wedding dress posing for photos with her bridesmaids. They both were wearing traditional Korean dress.

We ascend up the tower in an elevator to the top. The view is amazing. There is a smog layer. This is probably from the coal plants since there are so few cars. In the distance I see a giant pyramid hotel. This is meant to be the largest hotel in the world. The hotel is incomplete. It has been built but the interior has not been finished. It was initially erected in the early 80’s and has not been finished, evidently when there was an attempt to install an elevator the elevator would not work because the building weas off center and deemed not structurally sounds. The guides were not too helpful in helping us take a photo of this and we were told briefly as a result of someone question that the hotel is still under construction. It is widely accepted by the west that the funds to construct the hotel simply dried up. When I stopped to pee in the bathroom, I couldn’t help but to notice that my guide followed me as if to keep an eye on me.

 Juche tower

View from Juche tower

Defunct Pyramid Hotel

After we went to the subway. It is rumored that the subway only connects to locations and is not used by real people to commute to work, and instead actors pretend to ride the subway when tourists show up. It is said the subway is just a bunker to protect against nuclear attacks and that there is a secret subway that connects the government buildings. The subway was enormous. The excavator to the bottom seemed to take us 1000’s of feet down. As soon as we got on there were NK’s ascending and they seemed to have the appearance of wondering about without purpose. I couldn’t help but to think they were actors. No one spoke to smiled. Once we arrived at the bottom, we walked through these giant doors that evidently shut to provide seal proof doors in case of a nuclear attack. The subway tracks were inside this giant elaborate looking ballroom equipped with chandeliers and a giant mural of KimIlSung walking with the smiling masses on both sides of the room. We took a ride on the subway and when we got off some NK’s conveniently got on the subway, then we travelled back up the lengthy escalator to the surface where we caught our bus.

Great Leader Mural at Metro

Metro

There were few people on the streets. Those we saw wore a kind of uniform and the streets were devoid of advertising and there were propaganda signs everywhere showing accomplishments of the communist party, or a woman in uniform aiming a gun. It was all very weird. After this we went to visit another monument of three huge structures, a painter’s brush, pick and a hoe-the three symbols of the communist party. We were always told the three ideologies are culture, technology and industry. Once again, I saw some NK’s in formal dress visiting the site. 

 

 

 

Hammer, sickle and paint brush monument

rare sight of Public bus

Street Propganda

street propoganda

I can see after a few days in the city why it is said handicapped, extreme elderly and pregnant women are not allowed to live in the capital, because I have not seen any. I saw one person in crotches, that was it. I still have not seen any functioning stores are inhabited restaurants or food vendors, or even advertisements. We saw one advertisement by the airport of a NK car. Supposedly it hasn’t even been built yet and may not ever be built. We went to have dinner on a houseboat on the river. It was dusk by now and we could see the everlasting rolling flame at the top of the Juche tower across the river from us. The flame it is said never dies, and the sight of the flame, the tower and the atmosphere of the city leaves a very weird 1984 kind of feeling. Dinner was great I had one last beer with the guys and after we returned to the hotel, and I had planned to have some more beer with Andy but we both just passed out.

 

Day 5: We awoke this morning, and it was dark outside. I had breakfast and we loaded up the bus and drove to the airport. We drove thought the Arch of Triumph, s huge arch that is the largest one in the world. The Koreans are very big on huge monuments. At the airport it was chaos, and no one knew exactly what we should do, not even the customs officials. Those who phones and books that were confiscated had them returned. I spoke with my guide Oh, and I gave him a 20 dollar tip and he almost teared up he was so thankful. I thanked him and I told him that I wish our two countries will be friends someday. He asked me if I believe that will happen. I said yes. He then asked me if I think the two Korea will ever unify and I said yes. Oh explained he is sad when the tourists leave. I shook his hand and invited him to visit me some day in America. We boarded the Russian jet and departed to Beijing. The flight attendant roiled a duty-free cart with bottles of snake wine. A big snake was inside and there were some other really gawdy looking junk. Simon who said next to mee exclaimed that he has never seen anyone buy duty free before. Once again, we were the only ones who were on their flight. Evidently the flights usually are empty, except for freight loaded in the plane.  We arrived in Beijing, and it was a frantic rat race to catch the connecting flight home.  

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