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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The South Korean flagpole that started it all.
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.
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.
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.