North Korea (DPRK):
Pyongyang - Arrival. Hotel. Monument to Soviet soldiers. Views from Moran
Hill. Birth place of Kim Il-song. (Translated by
This time you will get acquainted with scarcely
researched country of North Korea (DPRK - Democratic People's Republic of
Korea). Recall that DPRK is a socialist country since the 1940s (not in
the Lenin/Marxist understanding, of course, but in that of the USSR in the
late 1980s) with all its pros and cons. The country is lead by Kim
Chong-il and the North Korean Labor Party.
The idea of going there struck me after
watching a TV news broadcast in the spirit of "starving people behind
barbed wire." However, the view of a modern city shown simultaneously
leads me to believe that the text of the report didn't fully reflect
reality. I searched the Internet and discovered feedback articles and
replies from people who have visited North Korea. These replies were quite
controversial, too. So I decided that it is better to see once than to
hear a hundred times, and I readily found out that I could visit North
Korea as a mere tourist. I
selected the most comprehensive tour lasting about one week (if I fly all
the way there, I have to see as much as possible).
There several flight routes available: train to Moscow, flight from
Sheremetyevo to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, or Beijing. My choice was the
flight Moscow-Vladivostok ("Aeroflot"'s Airbus A-310, 8 hours non-stop).
From Vladivostok I flew in with the Korean company "Air Koryo" (Tupolev
134, one hour with change).
To say that the group of Russian tourists was small is not to say
There were two of us: myself and Alexey Novikovsky from Obninsk (near
Moscow). As it turned out, Alexey has once upon a time graduated from the
Oriental Department of Leningrad State University, so I received a great
deal of useful information from him (in the following albums his pictures
will be used among others; they can be distinguished by color quality and
file names). Staffed in this manner - with a farewell remark from Russian
border guards "What the hell did you leave there!?" - with some anxiety,
in one hour we were leaving the airplane in Pyongyang - the Capital of
It is indicative that there were no Europeans on board, only Koreans
several Japanese. Border guards/customs officers were awaiting us in the
airport. There were usual metal detectors and x-ray machines, no special
questions, everything done properly. No one was interested at the site of
a cell phone or a digital camera. After a brief delay - border guards were
looking for our "Ryohaengsa" representatives (this is the chief state tour
agency of North Korea, analogous to the Soviet "Intourist") - we picked up
our luggage and left the airport. Evidently for the duration of our stay
in North Korea we received a van, a driver, and two ladies (hereafter "our
ladies" :)) as translators and attendants. It was growing dark, so we were
driven straight to hotel Yangakdo (4*).
The hotel impressed very much: 47
stories, 6 or 8 fast elevators (among those 4 with a transparent wall
towards the street).
The finish of the hall is quite interesting, as well (in the
picture). The building was completed in 1995.
On the lower right is an aquarium with sturgeons, turtles and other
Room keys are plastic cards. There is satellite TV in the room (ours,
for two, was on the 39th floor); everything the way it should be.
Foreign tourists are treated like in the USSR - all the best for them
(i.e. in this case for us:) ).
When we woke up this was the foggy view
from the window. As it turns out, this happens every morning, and then
the fog lifts. Apparently, that's what their climate is like.
Before breakfast we took a walk around
the hotel. I will point out that in DPRK foreigners are not welcome walk
around the city without attendants. However, no one was holding us by
the hand, a liberty we used sometimes (described below).
the reasons mentioned above the hotel is situated on a small island
almost in the center of the city, and it has all commodities tourists
need: several restaurants; souvenir, book, and other stores; in addition
to a gymnasium, movie theater, and a stadium (the latter two,
apparently, were used for conducting international festivals and other
events in Pyongyang).
The bridge is connected to the mainland by a bridge (unguarded).
General approach for casual tourist consists of the following: sleep
over at the hotel, have breakfast their, go downstairs, and take the van
to see the city, monuments or something else. Then have lunch somewhere
(or return to the hotel for that), then again descend and drive, etc.
Enough said for the introduction, we now
go to the gist of the question:) First, I will show the city more or
less in order, both the points of interest and regular streets; then we
will visit other places in the country.
The first sight is this monument and park on Moran Hill.
This is a monument to Soviet soldiers.
The inscription (in Korean and Russian) reads:
"The great Soviet people smashed Japanese imperialists and freed
the Korean people. Blood spilt by the Soviet soldiers during Korea's
liberation strengthened bonds of friendship between Korean and Soviet
people. This monument is erected as a sign of national gratitude.
August 15, 1945."
It is appropriate to note that the
attitude towards Russians in DPRK is very good. They remark, however,
that very few Russians came in the past years. The keeper of this
monument was also glad to see us. We asked how long he had worked at
this monument. Thirty years, he said (he looks like he is 60).
contrary, the attitude towards Americans and Japanese is bad, and justly
so. During the war (1950-1953) American almost leveled the ground with
their bombings. Almost no historic buildings and monuments remained (not
speaking of human losses). Accordingly, in South Korea (supported by the
Americans) many buildings were preserved.
Nowadays, the US won't let Korea complete its Nuclear power plant and
declared it the "axis of evil." Keep in mind that their is a constant
energy deficit in the country, and no oil or natural gas. Earlier USSR,
probably, supplied fuel at lower prices, but Russia doesn't do it any
Speaking of Japan, it has old problems and disputes with Korea -
century-old, as far as I could tell. Until 1945 Korea was occupied by
Europeans are treated decently. It suffices to say that prices are
indicated exclusively in euros (as well as in the local currency) even
though dollars are also accepted.
Korean wedding near the monument (by far
not the only one we saw).
The bride and her friends have to wear
national costumes. When they see us (European-looking foreigners, that
is) they persistently ask to take a picture with them and put as in the
Another wedding not too far away in the
A memorable picture.
Alexey is on the left.
There are many parks in the city and they
are quite big. A photograph album I bought in Pyongyang is called
precisely that - "Pyongyang - the City of Parks."
The two things that probably had such an impact are that after the war
the city was built anew and that because of lack of private ownership of
land there was no chaotic or high density construction and all streets,
avenues, and parks were built purposefully.
The landscape is conducive to that; there are several big hills in
There is little or no industry in the city - just a chimney of a heating
facility is sticking out.
Now several views from Moran Hill.
rivers flow through Pyongyang - Taedong (on this photo and on the
others) and Potong.
I apologize in advance for not saying Korean names of places. First,
they are very difficult to remember, and, second, to give a meaningful
transliteration from English spelling to Russian is not always trivial.
"May 1" Stadium.
Holds 150 thousand
people. Opened in 1989.
Opening and closing ceremonies of the 13th International Youth
Festival took place here.
It is interesting that it is not typical to mention in books names
people who engineered buildings.
It is pictured on
bottle caps of a beer brand, of which there are quite a few, by the way.
I am not a beer connoisseur; I can only say it tasted good. A
connoisseur whom a brought a bottle confirmed this:).
One can frequently see small vessels that either clean the bottom of
the river or extracting sand.
Central Youth Palace
In this album we will see one more sight
- the birth place of Kim Il-song.
I think it is worth explaining who Kim Il-song is. For Koreans he
signifies roughly what Lenin signified for us. That is, a revolutionary,
who laid the foundation for a new state; he is no more (his son - Kim
Chong-il - is the head of state) and there are many monuments and
memorable places connected to him.
However, there are several differences. First, in his views Kim
Il-song was more an admirer of Stalin that of Lenin. Second, Korea is a
much more oriental country than Russia and the status of the head of
state is much "holier" here. For example, the official chronology in
DPRK begins with 1912, the year of birth of Kim Il-song. They write, for
example: "year of Jujche 93 (2004)."
Nevertheless, the people take this rather indifferently without visible
So, the birth place of Kim Il-song.
They stipulate that he was born in this house and lived here. In
reality it is probably not so: for example, there are no signs of a
heating system (winters in DPRK are quite cold, even with snow), etc. In
brief, this should be treated as a monument and not as a real house.
Tour guides stress that Kim Il-song lived in poverty (it is emphasized
by tools placed in the house and in the courtyard).
The flow of visitors is almost incessant
and consists of tourists, pioneers, and soldiers. Most are in groups.
It is interesting that while some school
dress code definitely exists, not all students abide by it (which, given
Koreans' discipline, is rather odd).
Also, it had been pointed out to
me that pioneer ties here are tied differently from the Soviet way. And
indeed they are:).
I will add that there is no analog for octobrists in Korea. That is,
pioneers are followed by the komsomol, which is followed by the Party
School education is mixed (boys and girls together) and lasts ten
All education (grade school and higher education) is free as well as
all extracurricular activities. Same goes for health care (drugs are
rather expensive, however).
I have personally seen how children in buses are driven to the zoo,
to concerts, etc.
A group of servicemen followed the
pioneers. So, I'll say a few words about it.
The service lasts 6
years. Women can serve, as far as I understood, but for them it is not
Interestingly, all construction in the country is done by the army. As
we can tell from the results, it is done rather well.
From the point of view of an exterior observer it may seem that DPRK
is a very militarized country. There are soldiers anywhere you look. No
one can tell that they are just builders:).
By the way, vehicles owned by the
military have black license plates and a white number (civilian vehicles
- white background with a black number and letters to designate the
The uniform greatly resembles the Soviet one. Here it doesn't stand
out, but on the border with South Korea where we went the uniform is
very similar. Quite often we spot soldiers with medals. We were told
that for the most part they were awarded due to incidents on the border
with South Korea.
At the end of the first album I would like to remind you that went on
a tour, and not on a journalist mission or a reconnaissance:). So I ask
you to treat information and photos presented here indulgently in the
sense of accuracy of the former and quality and choice of points of view
of the latter. I barely had any time to shoot decent pictures.
Meanwhile see the next album, on Pyongyang subway.