DPRK Photo Essay

Instead of posting a bunch of the same old photos every tourist snaps on their highly choreographed tour of North Korea, I’ve put together a collection of some oddly interesting yet otherwise mundane moments I captured.

Enjoy:

Entrance to the Grand People's Study House

Entrance to the Grand People's Study House

The statue is of Kim Il Sung: this kind of thing was common at the entrance to most of their big important buildings. There was one that looked uncannily like Kim Jong Un at the entrance to the new War Memorial, though I was told recently that it’s apparently a young Kim Il Sung and it’s intended to help remind people of Kim Jong Un’s respected lineage. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take a photo.

Slim Dusty Cassette

Slim Dusty Cassette

This was taken in a room that was decked out with a boombox on every desk, for students to listen to and study music. I didn’t know what was weirder; that every desk had a boombox (not a personal music player), or that they thought a decades-old cassette would be impressive. It was oddly cute in a way. The cassette is of country music legend, Slim Dusty, clearly picked as a nod to our nationality.

North Korean Food

Typical fare served on the tour

Most meals were dominated by pickled foods. In small doses it was pretty decent, but a week of this had me longing for some fresh

Arirang Mass Games

Arirang Mass Games

This is Arirang, also known as the Mass Games. It’s held in the world’s largest stadium (capacity 150k), and that picture of the Kims you see in the background is actually thousands of kids holding up cards. Their precision and speed in changing pictures and even creating the effect of moving images was impressive, to put it mildly.

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is the mausoleum housing Kim Il Sung and Jong Il’s bodies lying in state. Weirdly, it’s not so much the bodies of the two that stick out in my memory, it was the really long and incredibly slow moving-walkways that transport you around, and the displays of various modes of transport that Kim Jong Il had travelled in; the mausoleum houses Dear Leader’s old yacht, Mercedes, golf cart, and even mobile office/train carriage complete with MacBook Pro.

 

North Korean Mens Hairstyles

Hairstyles available to North Korean men

Supposedly North Korean men’s hairstyles must conform to one of a limited number of prescribed hairstyles. I don’t know how true this supposed rule is, but here are the hairstyles on offer at a barber we were taken to.

Table setting with Cathay Pacific napkin

Table setting with Cathay Pacific napkin

In a Pyongyang restaurant, they decked out each place at the table with a Cathay Pacific fresh wipe. I have so many questions about so many things in NK, but this - I really want to know what this was about.

Pyongyang Film Studiuo

Pyongyang Film Studiuo

This is a film set from the Pyongyang Film Studio. The interesting thing about this place was how full of advertising it was (note the fake Coca Cola sign). It’s obviously to add the element of realism to scenes set outside of North Korea, but it was still really weird to see in a country where you don’t see advertising anywhere.

North Korean learning to skateboard

Bus driver learning to skateboard

This was our bus driver learning to use a skateboard. He was having so much fun playing around on this.

In the background you’ll notice a couple kids in white shirts and red scarf things. They’re ‘Young Pioneers’, a kind of scout-like organisation that centres itself around party ideals.

North Koreans Skating

Playing around on the skateboards

I snapped this after coming back from a tour of one of the palaces. I don’t even remember if they asked if they could play around on our skateboards, but it was funny watching these 40+ year olds having so much fun on a skateboard.

 

North Koreans skating

This is our tour guide and bus driver screwing around on the skateboards yet again.

The thing I really love about these skateboard photos is that often our minders were very serious and almost robotic in the way they treated us and their jobs. While they were cordial and put on smiles, I’m not sure I would have described them as friendly but when the skateboards came out, all bets were off and they were adults suddenly transformed into giggly, happy children.

If you’re interested, I put together footage of these guys learning to skate, and the Pyongyang Skatepark.

Monument to the Workers Party

Inside the Monument to the Workers Party

The amount of ‘world’s largest’ structures throughout NK often felt like a really weird dick measuring contest. This shot of the Workers Party Monument made that seem a little more literal.

Workers Party Monument

Workers Party Monument

Empty roads of Kaesong

Empty roads of Kaesong

Road devoid of vehicular traffic in Kaesong. Despite the lack of real traffic, it was apparently still necessary for a traffic girl to keep watch and direct all the non-chaos.

Road to the DMZ

Anti-tank devices by the roadside heading to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)

I believe these large concrete structures on the roadside are anti-tank barriers, to be toppled across the road in case of war. These lined the highway as we approached the DMZ (border with South Korea).

When I asked our guide about them, I was told they’re for preventing flooding… This very spot was on the top of a large hill.

North Korea DMZ Flagpole

North Korea DMZ Flagpole

There’s a good story about how South Korea built a 98 metre flagpole in the 1980’s. North Korea responded by building this much taller flagpole (160 metres).

South Korean DMZ Flagpole

South Korean DMZ Flagpole

The South Korean flagpole that started it all.

Propaganda in Kaesong

Propaganda in Kaesong

Pyongyang Streetscape & Ryugyong Hotel

Pyongyang Streetscape & Ryugyong Hotel

That pyramid building in the background is the Ryugyong Hotel, aka ‘Hotel of Doom.’ Construction began in the late 80’s, and it was to be the world’s tallest at the time. Money dried up due to the collapse of the USSR and so construction was halted until recent years, when the facade was completed. It remains little more than an uninhabitable shell.

Pyongyang transit

Pyongyang transit

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang Metro

The inside of a train from the Pyongyang Metro (incidentally, one of the deepest systems in the world). The ubiquitous portraits are of course even found here.

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace was full of children super talented in both performing and visual arts. This picture breaks my heart because our minders were showing off this place as a point of pride, but everything in this room seemed strangely familiar, and then I realised: These were the same kinds of artwork that we were being pushed to buy in all the souvenir/book stores they took us to. At that point it went from ‘Wow, these kids are talented!’ to ‘Am I witnessing child slave labour?’

I’m still not sure if I’m just being cynical, or if my gut reaction is founded.

Kim Jong Il bookstore quote

A choice quote from Dear Leader

 

Mansudae Grand Monument

Mansudae Grand Monument – Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il

Written on January 17, 2016