Wednesday, April 10, 2013

North Korea Day 2 - AM (4/5/2013)

This is the 2nd part to my 3-post series on my recent trip to North Korea, covering the morning of Friday, April 5th, 2013 in Pyongyang.  As Friday was by far our busiest day, there was just too much to cover in a single blog post.  Hope this helps organize things a bit more.  Below are links to Parts 1 & 3.

1/3: North Korea Day 1 (4/4/2013)

3/3: North Korea Day 2 - PM (4/5/2013)

Day 2 was an early start for me, as I had stayed up until about 4am drinking and meeting the guides and other travelers, while enjoying local North Korean draft beers.  After a nice buffet style breakfast of fried fish, beef curd, rice, and orange juice we were on the bus for a full day of touring.

Our Japanese tour bus
Our first stop was the Mansudae Fountain Park, which was running when we visited.  From what we were told by Koryo, this was quite rare, although our Korean guides said it is usually running.  Either way, it was a very nice park area.  Here, Koryo Tours guide, Amanda, bought flowers for the group to lay at the next stop, the Mansudae Grand Monuments. 

Buying flowers

Interesting mural
The Mansudae Grand Monuments were just a short drive up the road.  There are perhaps what most foreigners think of as the most famous North Korean monuments.  Personally, this was the stop I had looked forward to the most before coming to North Korea.  My first thoughts when I saw them were they were bigger than I expected.  I also didn't expect so many other monuments to surround them, I thought they were in a plaza by themselves.  Either way, it was a strange stop to say the least.  As a group, we did have to bow, which I didn't enjoy.  But it was a necessity if I wanted to go on the tour, so I guess it is what it is.  It was interesting, however, watching groups of Koreans, most very emotional, coming up together to bow and pay their respects. 

Chollima Statue
Although this was a strange stop, I did have a very cool experience.  When posing for pictures, I asked Korean guide Mr. Lim to pose for a picture with me.  Like many similar requests, he responded with, "Why not?" and came towards me.  He then took my hand and said, "Friends forever", as another person snapped our photo.  These words helped put things into perspective for me on a human level.  No matter where I stand in terms of political viewpoints, I will always remember that there are good and bad people everywhere in the world.  Mr. Lim fits into the first option. 
Mr. Lim & I
After the Mansudae Grand Monuments, our group made its way to the Foreign Languages Bookshop, where a variety of books, posters, and souvenirs were for sale. 
Kim Il Sung & Kim Jong Il Biographies
Assorted works by Kim Il Sung & Kim Jong Il
After purchasing a poster and a few books, we waited on the rest of the group outside and enjoyed some quality people watching.  It was strange seeing the traffic guard across from us work so hard, even though there were few cars on the street.  She would often salute the nicer cars (Mercedes, Audi) because of who may have been riding in them.  Then, every few minutes, an old bus packed to the brim with people drove by.

When everyone was content with their purchases, we walked over to Viennese Coffee Shop, next to Kim Il Sung Square, to get our caffeine fix.  I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason I didn't get any pictures of inside the shop.  I wasn't feeling like a hot beverage, so I grabbed a Sunkist and walked back out to Kim Il Sung Square, where there were more kids rollerblading.  I had a bit more interaction this time, and was able to speak broken English to some of the children.  This was a cool experience for me, because they reminded me of my own students in China.  When we were interacting and taking pictures, which I then showed them on my camera screen (they loved seeing themselves in pictures!), there truly were no worries.  We could have been anywhere in the world and would have been enjoying the moment just the same.

She was trying so hard :)
Next up was more shopping at the Pyongyang Stamp shop, located next to the Koryo Hotel.   This had a great variety of cool stamps and postcards for purchase.  I wished I hadn't sent all of my postcards the night before, because the selection here was much better, and the fact that you could choose the stamp made it even cooler.  While in the waiting area of the shop, many Koreans were watching Workers Party propaganda on the television and looked very serious.  I think it is noteworthy that the propaganda was seen in many aspects of their daily life, including walking, driving, reading, and shopping. 

After the stamp shop, we popped into the Koryo Hotel for a quick peek at where Dennis Rodman stayed just a few weeks prior.  It is the other "foreigners hotel" in Pyongyang, and is outfitted with luxury services like Yanggakdo, although a bit older.
Finally, we ventured over to Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery, our last stop before lunch.  It was about a 20 minute drive out of town, so there was much to see on the way.  First, we went by Pyongyang Rail Station.  This was a strange feeling for me, as I have read Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, which discussed this location in detail.  I had an image of it in my mind, but seeing the real thing in person was just weird.
Pyongyang Railway Station
Crowds in a corner plaza
Mayday Stadium, where Mass Games are held

Once we arrived to the cemetery entrance, it quickly became clear how big of a deal this area was to the DPRK.  Below are the stairs just to reach the second part of the cemetery (luckily, our bus driver drove us to the top).
That's a lot of stairs!
Me from the top of the stairs
The second tier of the cemetery included statues of many famous martyrs who helped fend off the Japanese invasion of the DPRK. 

Mr. Lim approaching the cemetery
Anti-Japanese Martyrs
A lone traffic guard
After a long morning, it was time to head for lunch.  The next blog post will feature the activities of Friday afternoon.  I should have it ready sometime over the weekend.  Thanks for reading!

Looking out into the country


  1. I love how you explain what you were thinking at the time and how at times your thoughts are much different than you would have ever imagined. I very much like what you said about different political views not changing the fact that there are good and bad people everywhere. So true!

  2. Hi Patrick! I came across your blog and thought I'd leave a comment. Very interesting to read/see all the stuff you've been doing, especially the North Korea part. I'll be keeping an eye on this blog :)

  3. I went to NK in February and put up my version of a trip report at It looks like we had the same female guide but a different male guide, and some different stops to boot. What a trip!