30th April 2013
North Korea is China during the Cultural Revolution (1960 to 1976). The people back then were identical. Sam Mao suits, same hairstyle, same loyalty and same loyalty – “Our dear Chairman Mao! Long Live Chairman Mao” they would chant. In North Korea, it’s “Our glorious leader this and his eternal sun that.” Yep, pretty much the same.
Any wacky unorthodox places gets my attention. This hermit country is definitely something that I want to see.
The timing was awful since North Korea had just finished a nuclear bomb test. Such acts were seen as highly provocative and a threat to regional peace and stability.” China blocked her borders with North Korea so I had to fly into Pyongyang instead of train-ing it. Only one local Chinese agency ( Beijing Youth Travel Service) was running the May-June trip. It was a sensitive time so tourist numbers were low. For those who can speak Chinese, go with them since it is cheaper and you will enjoy greater freedom.
My parents called me the night before the trip and wished me luck.
“Take photos if you can and make observations. Tell me everything! And try to stay alive please (haha).”
You must pass through Beijing for North Korea be it train or plane.
Air Koryo’s cabin crew greeted us and as soon as the plane took off, the little TV screens were playing patriotic “My dearest leader” songs. Pyongyang Times and magazines offered a glimpse into the life of the most supreme powerful leader Kim and his equally happy people. The in-flight food was ok. I’m not fussy- as long as I have something to nibble on. But, since it’s a ‘hamburger’, it was odd that my burger is ham-less. The cabin crew was unable to make a swap since they don’t have any spare ones. Oh well…
We landed in a small airport and our wonderful guides came to pick us up. You are shown around the country by both the tour guides and government minders however, only two guides (Mr Ren and Ms Zhao) were allocated to our group. Our driver is a cheerful man in his mid 50’s and surprisingly, we were not given any government minders.
“Our 12 guests- welcome! We are now heading towards Pyongyang. We can’t wait to show you our country!”
Our first stop is the China-Korea friendship Tower. Constructed on 25 October 1959, it is a memorial dedicated to the Chinese soldiers who fought and perished in the Korean War. The hall consists of a mural depicting battle scenes and a booklet with the names of those Chinese soldiers.
We headed to the Arch of Triumph which was designed to commemorate Korean resistance to Japan from 1925 to 1945. This is modelled after the one in Paris. We saw an amusement park near the Arch but we didn’t have time to make a quick stop.
We headed straight for Mansu Hill to see the Chollima Statue and the square.
The Chollima Statue ( a man riding on a horse) constructed on 14 April 1961, symbolises the courage, drive and innovation of the North Korean people. We lingered around the Mansu Hill Grand Monument before leaving.
We had dinner at Yanggakdo International Hotel and rested to prepare for an early start tomorrow.
Then, I did something naughty……