CELEBRATE DAY OF THE SUN IN LAND OF THE KIM’S
Formed To Celebrate Day Of The Sun," screamed the headlines of Pyongyang
Times, distributed free on the Air Koryo flight. Something about nudism and the body-beautiful-cult making
headways in sunny North Korea?
have been set up in many countries worldwide including Russia, Belarus,
Mongolia, Austria, Egypt and Guinea and many other countries to celebrate the
Day of The Sun, 92nd birthday of Great Leader President Kim Il Sung," the
article continued. “Various
countries have broadcast special programs praising the feats he performed for
the Korean revolution and humankind's cause of independence… Famous art
troupes and artistes from scores of countries are putting on stage beautiful
songs and dances reflecting the unanimous reverence of the world progressive
people for the President.”
to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more commonly known
elsewhere as North Korea. Founded
in the Soviet occupied zone in the northern half of Korea in 1948, the DPRK was
led by President Kim Il Sung (known as “Great Leader”) until his death in
1994, and since then, by his son, Kim Jong Il (“Dear Leader”).
the DPRK, the Kim’s are worshipped as virtual Gods.
Everything that is good is attributable to the two leaders, and anything
bad to the “imperialist Americans and their south Korean puppets in Seoul”.
today, Kim Il Sung remains the “Eternal President” and “Sun” of DPRK,
which makes the country the only one in the world with a dead president.
His son, whom the official media proclaimed as “Sun of the 21st
Century”, is merely the Secretary of the ruling Korean Workers Party and
Chairman of the Central Defence Commission.
that fine spring day of Juche 93 (DPRK uses the “Juche” calendar that starts
counting from the year Kim Il Sung was born), we arrived in Pyongyang on a
rather bumpy Air Koryo flight which had caused more than a few passengers to
shed some tears of fear. Our
tourist card was duly stamped and we then met our guides, Mr. Roh and Ms. Park
the next week or so, we were to see this country with Mr. Roh and Ms. Park. Both were wonderful people who tried their best to show us
their country, albeit within the stiff constraints imposed by the nation’s
rulers. In this age and time, DPRK
remains one of the few countries that only allow visitors on guided package
are not allowed to wander about on his or her own unless accompanied by an
official tour guide. Indeed, we had
been told that one should request for the guide’s permission before taking
photos, something hardly heard of anywhere.
As it turned out, we could pretty much take any pictures we wanted,
although most of us did exercise a certain degree of discretion and restraint,
particularly at the beginning of the journey.
were driven to Pyongyang city, through the fresh green, fertile countryside of
Taedong River valley. The highway
was good and almost entirely empty. This
is a nation renowned for empty and clean streets.
Few people own cars, but the public transportation network has also
collapsed due to the shortage of fuel and foreign exchange to purchase fuel and
spare parts. Indeed we saw people
walking alongside highways in the middle of nowhere. Those who live in the suburbs of Pyongyang probably spend 2
to 3 hours walking to work everyday, each way!
wonder if that was in the spirit of Chollima (“qian-li-ma” in Chinese), the
legendary horse which was supposed to be able to run 1000 li (about 500 km) a
day. The Chollima was a political
campaign waged by Kim Il Sung in the 1960’s to hasten post-war reconstruction
and economic development – “Transform Korea at the speed of the Chollima,”
he urged nation.
has the power of mobilising manpower and resources for grandiose projects, due
to the low cost of labour and negligible economic rent.
Such power, however, often lead to even worse wastage and inefficient use
of resources that Karl Marx thought communism would resolve.
In North Korea, this cumulated in the great famine of 1996/7, in which as
many as 2 million people, or about 10% of the population, died. ----
Grand Monument of Kim Il Sung - by Peter Deegan
capital of the DPRK. At first
glance, this looks like a modern city of skyscrapers and massive monuments,
towering above the agricultural plains whose flatness gave the city its name
(Pyongyang literally means “flat”).
Once you are in the city, you would notice the rough, unpainted walls of
most of these ten-to-twenty-storey buildings.
Many flats have broken window planes, some boarded up, others taped up to
keep the glass in place.
the same kind of degradation, neglect and decay one sees everywhere in cities in
the Socialist and former Socialist world. Because
the buildings belong to the state and not the people who live in them, no one
takes care of them. The monolithic
state, which has too many things to look after with a limited budget, has not
set aside any funds for assets that have no tangible productive value.
Thus the decaying architecture in places such as Havana, Khabarovsk,
Murmansk, Odessa and Tirana
streets were clean, but had a cold, almost Spartan look.
Commentators often say that Pyongyang looks like a ghost town, with
nobody on the streets. This is an
unfair statement. If you are out
during the morning or evening rush hours when people commute to or leave work,
you will see crowds on the streets or waiting for buses in military-like
difference with the rest of the world is, people in Pyongyang go to work from
home, and back straight from work to home.
They do not get distracted by bright lights of new shops and fancy
advertising billboards, simply because in a total socialist system, there are no
shops, department stores or public advertising apart from functional state
outlets that distribute necessities that come without brands or frills.
And quite possibly, a society with no advertising executives unless you
count state propaganda functionaries and artists.
super-efficient state budget apparatus decides what everyone in the country need
in one year, whether shirts, underwear, tea, pork, toothpaste or pencil,
allocate funds for their production, and then distribute them via ration coupons
to the glorious working people. As
they say in the Communist world, miners and farmers get the most coupons, but as
we all know, it is those guys in the party HQ that get real dollars and spend
them on the most unrevolutionary goods from foreign imperialistic countries.
we speak, the system is fast evolving. It
has been more than a decade since the Soviet Union had fallen and Eastern Europe
is joining the European Union. China
is socialist only in name and perhaps more capitalistic than many countries
worldwide. North Korea, long
subsidised by the USSR and China, is now bankrupt.
Struck by famine and gross mismanagement, then by the failures of its
experimental special economic zones, the DPRK has now silently begun its
kiosks and carts selling simple merchandise such as sweets and cigarettes have
appeared on the streets of Pyongyang. There
aren’t many of them, but a casual observer would notice a few every kilometre
or so. Billboards advertising have
appeared in Pyongyang for cars (called Huiparam, or the “Whistle”) to be
assembled in North Korea with Fiat-manufactured parts – the very first in this
country. Maybe these are meant for
a new elite that have benefited from this tentative economic reform.
also say that new private markets have been set up though foreigners are
forbidden from visiting any, and a mobile network is being set-up by a joint
venture with a Thai company. And
deep in the countryside, local governments are allowed to set up import-export
companies and retain 70% of the earnings from such ventures.
These are interesting developments.
I wonder, when will we see the first MacDonald’s in DPRK?
the Island of Goat’s Head, lies in the middle of Taedong River which divides
Pyongyang into two. This was where
we were to stay in Pyongyang. One
of the three “deluxe” hotel in the country, the Yanggakdo Hotel’s height
and location provides a wonderful panoramic view of the city and its many huge
monuments. More importantly for the
authorities, its locality on an island means that the tourist cannot easily
wander off on his own.
bridges link the island to both sides of Pyongyang but tour programmes are
deliberately tight so that nobody has time to wander off during daytime.
During the night, however, the lack of street lights (or rather, the lack
of electricity supply) means that one does not want to risk getting knocked down
by a car. Besides, none of us
wanted our guides to get into trouble by breaking the rules.
so the authorities keeps the tourist preoccupied by having a Macau-run casino
with Mainland Chinese staff in the basement of the hotel.
Drop by and you will find plump, middle-age, cigar-smoking Chinese
gamblers and working ladies by their side – typical officials and businessmen
from Dongbei (i.e., Northeast China) in Pyongyang to launder cash.
there is a large “international cinema hall” nearby that is hardly ever
opened. Look out for the Pyongyang
International Film Festival every September, they say.
Perhaps, one could then look forward to Soviet oldies and blockbusters
from revolutionary studios in Cuba, Mozambique and Vietnam!
bought a book on what it calls “famous” North Korean films.
Here are excerpts on some of the country’s most exciting movies:
“The First Party Commissioner”
– The film delineates the struggle for founding the Party right after
liberation. Chol Jin, a former
anti-Japanese revolutionary fighter, is sent to a county with the assignment of
forming a Party organisation. The
state of affairs is very complex. The
anti-party factional elements and class enemies do various harms and even
conspire to kill Chol Jin. Chol Jin
crushes the subversive moves of the reactionaries and succeeds in organising the
first Party cell in the smelting works.
Problem of Our Family” – The feature film and its nine sequels criticise all
the outdated customs and modes of life and incorrect ideas on the glorious road
of revolutionising and working-classising the whole of society and show that
only when the families which constitute the cells of society are revolutionised
will the revolutionisation and working-classisation of the whole society be
Choe Hak Sins” – This film deals with the tragedy of the family of a
clerygyman who worships America like God. During
the temporary strategic retreat in the Fatherland Liberation War American
imperialist troops of aggression come to a town in north Korea.
Choe Hak Sin who has lived in the town as a minister for over 30 years
has an illusion that the Americans are as good as their noisy words about
“philanthropy” and “liberty” and expects them to act from a
“humanitarian” standpoint. But
the American imperialist aggressors arrest, jail and murder people without
Hak Sin loses his beloved wife, elder daughter and son at the hands of
the murderers. Only now he opens
his eyes and curses himself for having implanted the spirit of flunkeyism
towards and worship of America in the minds of his children and believers.
He earnestly calls for wiping away all the American imperialist
Story of a Nurse” – During the Fatherland Liberation War Nurse Kang Yon Ok
assigned to the medical post of a field unit is picked out for a casualty
evacuation team. She is deeply
impressed by the fight of the Party members on the height of the outer
perimeter… she finds herself in a difficult position… nevertheless she
pushes on looking up at the respected Supreme Commander… One day the hospital
is brutally bombed by enemy planes. She
saves a wounded soldier by shielding him with her own body.
She is seriously injured. Breathing
her last, she asks that her Party card and her Party fees be forwarded to the
Party Central Committee, and dies a heroic death.
Fate of Gum Hui and Un Hui” – Gum Hui and Hun Hui are twins born when the
country is liberated. On their
birth their mother dies. Their
father, too, dies soon later while heading for the north with the twins in his
arms…Gum Hui was picked up by painter Ok Hyon San who took her to the North,
while Un Hui by fisherman Han Byong Ho who took her to the South.
Gum Hui grows up to be a dancer under the blessed socialist system and
gives full play to her artistic talent. But
Un Hui taken to the south grows up suffering from poverty and hunger.
She becomes a singer in the bar. Scenes
of Un Hui’s hard life in south Korea make a strong appeal that Korea must be
reunified as early as possible.
One: The Grand Monument of Kim Il Sung. This
is an obligatory stop for every visitor to the DPRK.
Here, a twenty meters’ tall statue of the Man stood on a hill
overlooking Pyongyang, with his arm stretched forward pointing the way to Kim-ian
paradise. This was built in 1972 to
celebrate his 60th birthday. Here,
we participated for the first time a ritual of the quintessential North Korean
personality cult of the Kim’s. Following
instructions, we bought a bouquet of flowers at a unsocialist price of five
euros, walked to the front of the monument solemnly, formed a line and then
bowed to the Great Leader.
course, if you did not want to do that, nobody would point a pistol at you. But that would be most un-cool.
It would just upset the guides, and set a negative tone for the rest of
the trip. Fortunately, everyone on
the tour saw the whole thing in the spirit of fun and teamwork.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or
don’t bother to come at all!
military music blaring out loud, small crowds of people – men in formal suit
and tie and women in the bright traditional Korean gown - walked here in neat
files, up the hill and paid respects to the dead man who remains the president
of the country. The birthday of Kim
Il Sung was approaching and it was going to be 10 years since his death. “It’s a big occasion,” Ms Park said, “and so everyone
comes here on his or her own accord to mourn the Great Leader”.
sun set over Pyongyang as its citizens laid flowers at the gigantic feet of the
humongous statue of the “Sun of DPRK and All Humankind”, so huge that one
immediately sympathises with the minuscule men and women who live in this
socialist paradise. A paradise in
which the leaders are everything and everyone else mere sidekicks in the many
political murals that adorn the otherwise bare walls of this city.
meaning self-reliance, is the official ideology of North Korea.
Developed by Kim Il Sung, its main tenant says that man is the master of
his own destiny.
I asked Ms Park, whether many people in North Korea are believers of religions,
she said, “No, we don’t believe in anything superstitious.
We believe in the Juche idea, that man directs his own destiny and
decides what he wants to do. We do
not rely on others and it is through our efforts that we change nature as well
as the environment, and ultimately shape our own destiny.”
to DPRK official sources, people of more than 160 countries have set up study
groups and associations to promote the Juche idea, proclaimed in the official
press as “the most significant development in the history of philosophy and
ideology in human history.”
time! Our first dinner was at what
was supposed to be a “famous restaurant” in town, though one that merely
reads “Restaurant” on the signboard, which once again illustrates the
functionality of everything in this country.
There we had lots of wonderful traditional Korean dishes.
And so much that we could hardly finish. This was to be the trend for most of our meals in North
Korea. What famine? I guess that
was the message the regime wanted the world to get, and they would make sure the
tourist have more food than they ever wanted.
View of Pyongyang from Yanggakdo Hotel - by Adrain Tute
Day 2: Kaesong Needs The Light Of The Great Leader
Buy these books!
|Kim Jong-il : North Korea's Dear Leader (Michael Breen)||North Korea: The Bradt Travel Guide (Robert Willoughby)||Lonely Planet Korea (Korea, 5th Ed) (Robert Storey)|
Copyright - Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore, 2004