Sightseeing in Pyongyang: marble, marble and more marble.

If I had just returned from any other country, I might spare you a post like this one. I don’t have many insightful things to add to my long arguments about why the DPRK is both very normal and very strange, but I cannot avoid talking about our Pyongyang sightseeing.


I have seen this place, Kim Il Sung square, many times on television. Usually, it is filled with tens of thousands of neatly lined people and missiles parade down the street. The topic of the news bulletin is usually alleged imminent nuclear war. The roof in the foreground is where the Kim of the day would wave, filled with love, paternal care, confidence, pride and in the case of Kim Yong-Il, wearing high heel shoes to appear taller.


The Grand People’s Study House, a mix of library and adult education centre. I shot the previous photo from it’s balcony.


As you can guess from the change of clothes…


We visited the Square and the Study House on different days.


The enormous square, the sidewalks, the street and every other piece of ground is covered with numbers, lines and other markings. This is how they get people to line-up so neatly.


The visit to the martyr’s cemetery was not in our original program and I am not sure what the exact name is. We probably went because it was a special day, as you will see. It honours the heroes of the fight against the Japanese, and perhaps also against the UN troops, but I am not 100% certain. Some people died in the 30’s, but others are still being buried there these days, elderly veterans of battles of the distant past. The number of relatives of Kim Il Sung is quite high. Obviously a family with two copies of the hero gene.


The summit of the cemetery is where a few extra special heroes are buried, the centrepiece of which is grandma Kim, the mother of the first one, with the humble title: “Mother of Korea”. It so happened that the day we went was the anniversary of her death, or maybe her birth, or some other event in her fictional life. Lots of people doing what you see in the picture, just like we had done moments before. Apparently, the Marshall himself had been there that very morning, although he might only have sent a representative, there was some confusion and I didn’t watch the news that evening to find out. You could tell something important had happened though, as the microphone for the MC and a few other such things had not been picked-up yet.


This type of behaviour is not, as I understand it, seen as very respectful by the North Koreans. I was surprised to see the “us-in-front-of” shot, especially from soldiers. I guess “Mother of Korea” or not, grandma doesn’t get quite the same level of respect as the Kim boys.


The Chollima horse, a mythological winged horse, which the current regime has surprisingly adopted as an important symbol. It was even printed on my Tourist Permit. When something has to happen ASAP in the DPRK, they say it has to go “Chollima speed”, apparently.


The monument to the foundation of the ruling party, the Worker’s Party of Korea. Strangely, the DPRK is not, technically, a one party state. There are two other parties, which perhaps you join as a consolation prize, if you can’t make it into the main party. Like in China, joining the main party is very difficult, with lots of exams, vetting processes and required service in youth organizations, etc. The other two parties even get seats during the elections (about 10%), but these are not competitive elections. Every candidate gets elected, with a number of seats going to these parties. On an elector’s ballot there is only one name. You can check it and drop it in the normal box, or you can cross it off and go drop it in the special box, a really stupid idea.

Although I have no pictures of it, we did see a church while driving by in Pyongyang. There are three of them in the city: catholic, protestant and orthodox. I must say this is the kind of thing I would expect to be built for show but apparently, people in Pyongyang are free to join them if they want. However, it is not a very good “career move”, and bars you from ever being a party member. Kind of like voting against the one candidate in your district.


Just as the Juche Tower is 1 meter taller than the Washington Monument, the Triumphal Arch is one meter taller than the one in Paris. It’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.


Back to the Grand People’s Study House, inside this time. Functional, affordable and simple are not the top 3 design criteria.


How to build something like this light-producing-thing? Rob a hardware store, take LSD, go crazy with the glue gun.


My point exactly!


The mandatory grandpa Kim statue. More bowing.


And the computers to search library holdings. I peeked in, they run on Windows. But not Korean Windows, which is probably only available in South Korea, English Window. Precious.


Action shot of the librarian catching the little trolley as the books arrive via a conveyor belt.


And one of the many reading halls, with the adjustable inclination tables built thanks to the field guidance of Kim Il Sung.


This anti-theft device makes no sense whatsoever. It separates the librarian’s area from the customers. If the librarian want to steal a book, she can just put it on her own counter and steal it on the way out. I bet someone ordered this thing, they didn’t know what to do with it, so they put it there because it looks modern. I also bet it’s not connected to anything.


The Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace. I have to show you this bad picture taken from the bus because the thing is too big to fit in one picture once you get there.


Basically, it is a centre where kids can do extra-curricular activities. Again, very functional architecture. If they had dropped the marble from the plan, they probably could have afforded to build one in every city in the DPRK.


Actually, if they took it easy on the marble in every major Government building, maybe they could build a real space shuttle!


So kids go there to learn the accordion, which they may one day play in front of captured enemy soldiers, to torture them prior to interrogation. I admit, not my favourite instrument.


And they learn calligraphy, the piano, dancing, Tea Kwan Do, and everything else an Asian mother wants to force her children to learn. Mrs Park, our guide, said her mother made her study piano all her youth. She said it made her want to die. It seems no political regime can match the level of oppression of a demanding Asian mother.


And then we got a show. Maybe I’ll post some videos later. Basically, some very talented children performing impressive music solos and circus tricks, and an artistic director who belongs in the gulag.


And when this appeared, the crowd went wild.


Funny kids.


Waving at the bus. A nice experience.

Next, travelling outside Pyongyang, or maybe the Mass Games, depending on my mood…


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