1 May 2013
We bowed to the statue of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. We were in the hall of the 60,000 square meter International Friendship Exhibition Centre. It is home to all the presents given to the two leaders by others around the world.
Our centre guide led us into the hall and started to explain about the significance of the museum and the meanings behind the various anti-American paintings.
The 144 rooms boasts some 70,000 presents from 184 countries. You have vase, portraits, ivory, statues, rhino horns, bear skin from USSR, calligraphy works, paintings, photos with other leaders ( Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou), gifts from my Tsinghua University, furnitures, clothes and much more. The rooms are divided according to the year and the country of origin.
Ms Zhao, our 28 years-old female guide kept an eye on me since I have the tendency to linger longer than my other 11 companions. She thought that I was a high school student – (if only!). We chatted about our families and she told me that as much as she wants to get married, it is not easy. It would be hard to find a suitable partner for such a well educated and pretty lady. A tour guide is considered a good job for the locals especially one who speaks fluent mandarin. She is also very pretty. I’ve seen some really good-looking North Koreans here- damn. Not a pervert – just making an observation.
A short walk from our restaurant is P’yohun-sa. A Buddhist temple near Mt Myohyansan, it was found in the 7th Century under the Kingdom of Silla. Since it is a sacred place,the temple became a popular place for pilgrims before, during and after the Japanese occupation.
Before the Korean War, there were four great temples near the mountain area but only one survived. The other three were bombed by US forces.
One old professor from the group started a discussion with the guides about the current North Korea situation. The temple guide asked if China has placed a ban on Chinese tourists to the DPRK since we are the first group in 2 months to visit the place. We told them that the decline in tourist numbers is due to the recent nuclear bomb test. Any move from North Korea is seen as dangerous so when the region atmosphere becomes tense, that would no doubt affect tourist numbers.
“But why can’t we test our own nuclear bomb? Can’t we have our own nuclear weapons?” asked the temple guide.
“Sure. You can do whatever you want however it is a shame that tourism is affected. We are not against North Korea developing their own nuclear system but transparency and clear explanation would help to ease the misunderstanding and tension,” said the old professor.
Before long, the whole group joined in and we huddled in a group, sharing our own views about a rather sensitive topic. Basically in the end, we assured the guides that China harbours no ill feelings towards the North Korean people and will likely continue to provide aid.
It was a rare opportunity to have a civilised chat with the locals. It was more than just a visit to a Buddhist temple but a great mini “6 Party Talks” or in our case, a “15 Party Talks.”
Before the drive back to Pyongyang, we went mountain climbing. Myohyang-san (Mysterious Fragrant Mountain) is well known for its scenery. It is a sacred site and a popular destination for many national tourists.
The climb took quite some time since the trail ends halfway up the mountain. To get to the top, we had to climb over rocks and hop over streams. It was a nice climb- fresh water and fresh air. We finally made it to the top.
Mr Ren and Ms Zhao came looking for the 4 people who eventually made it to the top.
“We must head back to Pyongyang now”
Man…I kind of don’t want my trip to end.