Me and my big buddy: The Great Leader

North Korea

ok it’s way over time, but finally we’ve got some time and the facilities to do some bla-bla about North-Korea. (in the mean time we’ve been to Shanghai, Benxi and currently were at the ‘base’ of the yellow mountains, where we’ll go tomorrow). So on the 24th of October we’ve took the plane to Pyongyong. But basically already on the 23rd espcially I got rather excited as we had a 2 hour briefing about North-Korea from the English tour-operator who had fixed this trip for us. Let’s get some things straightened out immediately:
• 2 guides and 1 driver excorted us 24/7. we weren’t able to buy stuff from locals. They bought for us. Only are certain designated ‘shops’ we could buy stuff, but only with Euro, Chinese RBM or USD. At one shop we could buy some local currency (Won), but that we even a ‘special’ edition, so we actually never saw the local currency in our trip for one week.
• the guides hardly ate with us. We ate ‘special’ menu’s. And one guide was always extremely curious what we had. Weird. Even when we’ve asked for ‘local’ breakfasts, instead of bread, omelet, jam and juice what The Dear Leaderwe’re offer in the beginning, our local breakfast would still surprice our guides.
• Our week trip took us from Pyongyang (PY) to the west coast (Sariwon & the border with S-korea) back to Pyongyang, a 2 day trip to Wonsan (east-coast) and concluded in Pyongyang. We’re really happy that we’ve included Wonsan, cause otherwise it would have been too short and too much of the same. The next point will explain why too much of the same.
• basically on the trip we were paraded along the various ‘important’ histrical points and their monuments. Kim Il Sung is really their God. The refer to him as ‘the Great Leader’. His son, the current rules, Kim Jong Il is being refered to as ‘the Dear Leader’. Every monent bears the dates when either of them has visited a certain location. In the beginning you’re impressed by the monuments and you listen carefully what the guides are saying. But after a while it’s basically huge parade of non-events. For example we’ve visited the hotel in Wonsan where the Great Leader (GL – Kim Il Sung) was for 2 days in the 1950’s. The museum also included the train-station and the train Pyongyang @ rush hourwhich was used when GL went to PY. Then we figure out that he actually never slept in that hotel, but just had a few meetings. and the the train station is actually a replica, as the original one was bombed during the Korean war. GL actually slept one night in Wonsan in the house of a secretary, which we also had to visit. The house was immediately branded as a typical Korean house, and the GL rememder the details of thius house when he came back on time in the 1980’s (“hmmm, yes, I do indeed remember that the house had a second floor….” The GL must have said s-thing like that when he stood infront of that building, cause the guides happily tell these details in full color). The funny thing is that this house is not a typical Korean house, as we asked stupidly while poinintg at a large desk-like table with a normal chair: “so, he had breakfast at that table? We tought that Koreans ate primarily from low tables not using chairs????” Then the guide suddenly goes, “but ohh, this building was make by the Japanese and still has all the Japenese details in it. Metro map of Pyongyang” So this Japanese house is typical Korean???? This is just one stupid example, but just imagine that every Dutch place/location where the previous Dutch Queen (Juliana) said something, a monument would be raised that Juliana whas there and which glorious words she uttered at that moment… And to make to make things worse, now now monuments are being raised where the current Queen (Beatrix) has been….
• But after a while you’re realizing that they are totally stuck in the past and are memorizing only 2 things: the ‘liberation’ from the Japense in the 1940’s and the Korean War in the 1950’s. Every sentence relating s-thing Americain is combined wit hthe word ‘imperialist’. Every word connecting to the Japense is connected to the ‘horrors’ done under the japanese occupation, which lasted several decades. It’s really sad.

But the weird thing is that many North Koreans do not really understand how much they are being let down. Our guides, who spoke good English, we’re hanging on our lips when we told s-thing about the outside world and one the second day actually one guide asked me whether there was any progress in the 6 Nation Talks. All that he could Agi having lunch with her friends...tell was that everything was being stalled by the USA. At the end I gave my print-out of the Lonely Planet chapter relating North-Korea to one of our guides. He had already seen that I had, and actually while we’re waining to go the DMZ with S-Korea he actually read about kidnappings done in the 70’s and 80’s by the North-Koreans (N-Korea kidnapped several Japenese in order to have Japenese who could teach their language in N-Korea) or eveny a South-Korean movie director and his actress wife were kidnapped, since the DL was apalled by the quality made by North-Korean movie directors…..

Ok, enough serious talk. We really had a good time, although it’s better to say we had an interesting time. I do recommend to go their, as you’ll get a strange feeling, but the people are nice and several occasions people wanted to take pictures with us (especpially wedding couple, who were making their picture shoot. The guides likes us, so we got a bit more of a glimpse in the local stuff (e.g. they bought for us additional street food (rice pudding, possomon (a.k.a. kaki-fruits), fermented rice drinks, peanuts) and arranged some special food (for which Clams with petrolwas had to pay dearly, but definately worth the price): dog-soup and clams burned with petrol. The dog-soup was ok, basically chicken soup, but then made from dog meat and the clams were perfect: you place the clams on the floor. The back all skywards and then with a small bottle you poor the petrol (freshly tapped from our car) slowly ,but evenly over the clams, which are then in flames…. delicious. Think I might try something like this with mussles at home…..

Adios, C&A

Ps, before I forget: our car. We were driven around in a Toyota land cruiser, which was donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)…. I’m not sure whether the car was meant for this purpose….

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