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Day 2:  Kaesong Needs The Light Of The Great Leader

View from Juche Tower - by Adrian Tute

At 6am, we were woken up by revolutionary music calling the people to get up to work for the glory of the Nation.  Communist countries have an efficient way of dealing with alarms – they simply set a common alarm for everyone.  I remember being woken up by similar music in Chengdu, China, in 1995.  I believe that has disappeared in most of China now but I guess Pyongyang is a different world. 

We began the day on a “pilgrimage” to Mangyongdae, the birthplace of Kim Il Sung 12km from Pyongyang city centre.  Welcome to the Mecca of Kimilsungism!  

As our bus rolled along the highway towards Mangyongdae, we passed thousands of adults and school children, on the way to Mangyongdae as well.  They waved red flags and branches of pink and red flowers, the Kimilsungia and Kimjonlia respectively, walking to the “sacred” ground like pilgrims do, sometimes singing patriotic songs along the way.  Some saluted as we passed them.  It was amazing sight.  How many people have they mobilised to pay tribute to the Benevolent Sun and Sun of the 21st Century? 

Mangyongdae  - This group of thatched huts is one of the most sacred spots for the worshippers of the Kim’s.  According to official account, Kim Il Sung was born here in 1912, in a family so poor that his mother bought a huge damaged jar to hold water.  This pathetically punctured jar was a proof of the family’s poverty and yet, one might question how a poor family managed to have so many family photos taken in that era.   

The huts displayed photos of many members of Kim Il Sung and his extended family, most of whom, according to official accounts, were martyrs of the struggle against the Japanese occupation of Korea.  At the age of 13, he left home to fight the Japanese, and founded the forerunner organisation of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea at the age of 14.  He was a great guerrilla leader in the deep mountains by 24 and liberated the country from the Japanese in 1945, when he was 33!  What a child prodigy, master strategist and brilliant general!  That is, if you believe in all that. 

South Korean, American and Russian sources are less flattering.  They say he was a refugee in neighbouring Northeast China, later fled to Russia as the Japanese nearly wiped out the guerrillas.  It was in a Russian camp where his son, Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong Il) was born, although DPRK official accounts claim that Kim Jong Il was born on sacred Mt Paektu, the Korean mountain of the Gods, on the day a bright star and double rainbow appeared over the skies.


Crowds queuing to visit Mangyongdae


Photos of Kim Il Sung's family at Mangyongdae


The faithful at Mangyongdae, birthplace of Kim Il Sung


Children & teachers along the highway to Mangyongdae


The Pyongyang Metro


The Man again in the Metro


An average day in the Metro


You can't run away from them... even in the train carriage


Street scene


Juche Tower


The DPRK is a nation of political symbolism, as well as blatant propaganda.  The tourist will no doubt become familiar with the usual barrage of these symbols.  Here’re some of the most common ones apart from images of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il:

-          Flowers named after Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, Kimilsungia and Kimjonglia.

-          Mangyongdae, birthplace of Kim Il Sung.

-          Mt Paektu, tallest mountain of Korea

-          The Chollima horse. 

Political banners are everywhere, with slogans such as: “Long Live The Great Leader! “Long Live the Ideas of General Kim Il Sung!” “President Kim Il Sung Lives Eternally In Our Hearts!” “Long Live The Sun Of The 21st Century, General Kim Jong Il!” “Drive Out American Imperialists & Reunify The Country!” “Crush The Nuclear Provocations of the US Imperialists!”  


Back in Pyongyang, we visited the other gigantic monuments to the country’s leaders and ideology, such as the Juche Tower and Monument to the Party Foundation.  Pyongyang is a city of monuments.  Many of these tall, monuments were built in symmetrical patterns to also fit in with other grand public buildings with incredible straight-line views across the city.  It was as though the two Kim’s were also feng shui experts and urban planners in addition to other skills they are renowned for.  How I would love to have them rule the whole world! 

We also visited the Pyongyang Metro.  As one descended on the amazingly long escalators, loud military music and exclamations over the radio system called on the commuter to “work for our strong country under the guidance of the party and the ideals of Great Leader Kim Il Sung”.   

Inside, beautiful mosaic showing the Great Leader in various poses, in his long grey coat with the usual trinity of the worker, peasant and soldier, not to mention other standard DPRK icons such as Mangyongdae, the Chollima horse and Mt Paektu.  It was like time travel to Moscow during Stalinist days or Beijing under Mao Zedong. 

One grand structure that we saw was the pyramid-shaped 105 storeys’ Ryugong Hotel, which was never completed.  It was intended to be the world’s tallest hotel with five revolving restaurants on top (for unknown reasons, this country loves revolving restaurants!), though one wanders why they need all those rooms when DPRK gets so few visitors.  However, the Russians messed up the job and construction stopped in 1992.  It was said that the lift is now listing dangerously and could collapse any moment.   

More than a decade since construction was interrupted, the empty shell of the 330 meters’ structure has remained the most obvious landmark of the city, visible from anywhere in the city and suburbs, and most certainly, a symbol of the monumental “success” of the regime. 


Have you heard of this term “on-the-spot guidance”?  The Great Leader and Dear Leader are pioneers of this term, which basically means them as supreme leaders of the country and genius of humankind, giving advice and guidance on one and everything under the sun.  Such advice are duly documented and plaques or monuments put up on the spot to commemorate such guidance, which could range from anything from choice of water taps for public housing projects to fish farming and furniture design.  

This CNN report provides some interesting examples of the leaders’ on-the-spot guidance activities: 

Kim talks food and fashion

From Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy  

(CNN) --It is a safe bet that television viewers in North Korea will not hear much about upcoming talks in Beijing aimed at curbing the secretive nation's nuclear ambitions. 

That's because in his reclusive regime, prime time fare features only one character -- leader Kim Jong Il. 

For those lucky enough to have access to a television, on a recent evening part six of "The Legend of Blossoming Love for On The Spot Guidance" was screening. 

In this episode the mysterious Kim, who is otherwise known as the "Great General," the "Dear Leader," and the "Peerless Patriot," showed he was a man of the people. 

"From east to west, north to south, the Great General travels the country," the announcer intones.

"You warm us like the sun. Have you ever served a Great Leader like this?" 

The god-like Kim is also seen providing what the North Koreans call "on the spot guidance" to the armed forces. The message is clear enough -- the one-million-man army is Kim's main power base. 

In a country where most people go hungry, the Dear Leader - with a fondness for fast cars and fine dining - is seen giving advice on nutrition and inspecting mountains of food destined for the troops. 

According to the announcer, Kim tells the troops "there's nothing I wouldn't spare for my soldiers. Behind every great general is a great army." 

But Kim's wise words are not limited just to food. For the female soldier, the Great General provides a karaoke machine and tips on how to use it. 

'We're so lucky," the announcer says "to be loved by him." 

There's also some "on the spot guidance" in the fashion department from the man who is rarely ever photographed wearing anything but his grey-green suit. 

"All these uniforms," the announcer declares, "were made with the love of the Great Leader," who wants to be sure the colors match and the jackets are warm enough. 

And because Kim wants to keep his soldiers healthy, there's some guidance about how to brush your teeth. 

For their loyalty, there are free TV sets all around. The ecstatic troops dance in the snow, no doubt eager to tune in for part seven.


May 1 Stadium


The city


Grand People's Study House & Kim Il Sung Square


105 storeys’ Ryugong Hotel


The most obvious symbol of the system's failure


Juche Tower


Juche Tower


Monument of the Party Foundation


Carving at Monument of the Party Foundation


Monument of the Party Foundation

The Great Leader and Dear Leader are renowned geniuses hardly matched in world history.  The North Korean people as well as world civilisation have benefited from their great works in politics, history, philosophy, military-strategy, economics, nuclear science, aeronautics, electronics, culture, and film-making, among countless other topics.  North Korean undergraduates use textbooks written by the two leaders on mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, biology, geography and history.   

According to a KCNA report, “the respected Dear Leader is a genius well versed in the latest science and technology.  He gave on-site guidance to the Academy of Sciences and other scientific research institutes and gave clear-cut instructions on scientific and technological problems which even specialists could hardly understand.” 

The report continued, “When an institution developed a new world-level programming system, he personally operated a computer to learn its level, stated its shortcomings and clearly indicated the ways for overcoming them.” 

The two leaders are also authors to all-time best-selling literature works and winner of major literary awards.  In fact, Kim Jong Il was known to have written 1500 books during his university days, that is, more than one book per day.   

The Dear Leader is also said to be an accomplished rocker, singer and composer, although the only public recording of his voice any foreigner could find was made during a 1992 military parade, when he said, “Long Live the heroic Korean People’s Army!” 

According to the local press, “famous” actors, actresses, acrobatic troupes and artists from forty countries worldwide have arrived in Pyongyang to the “Spring Friendship Arts Festival to celebrate Day of the Sun”, Kim Il Sung’s birthday.  We have met some of these people in our hotel, including Mainland Chinese, Russians, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Finns, Indians, Japanese, Uzbeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Zimbabweans and even Korean-Americans.  “The whole world is celebrating the glories of Kim Il Sung and Ideas of Juche,” the North Korean press noted. 


Monument of the Party Foundation



Monument of the Party Foundation


International Red Cross aid vehicle


Royal Tomb at Kaesong


Tomb of the First King of Koryo Dynasty, Kaesong


We drove south to Kaesong, capital of the Koryo dynasty (932 – 1389 A.D.), across flat agricultural plains and rolling hills.  This was a straight highway with hardly any vehicle.  We took three hours to reach Kaesong, a provincial capital with more than 300,000 people.  Here, Panmunjom on the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was only 8km away.   

Kaesong is the site of a special economic zone that is being developed with Hyundai Corporation of South Korea.  Here, Hyundai and other South Korean companies will set up factories employing cheap labour from North Korea.  This is a major step towards cooperation between the two Korean states, and one that would help the South Koreans to compete effectively with the growing economic prowess of China. 

Tourists come to Kaesong for two things – the ancient relics of the Koryo dynasty and Panmunjom.  Upon arrival, we headed for the royal tombs of King Wan Kon, the first king of Koryo.  Koryo, according to DPRK, was the first unified Korean dynasty.  King Wang Kon had united the remnants of the Koguryo (spelled Goguryeo in the South) kingdom with the much-weakened Silla kingdom of the south.   

South Korean and international historians, however, say that Silla was the first unified dynasty of Korea.  Based in the South Korean city of Gyeongju, Silla united the country after the defeat of Koguryo and Paekche.  Modern political considerations often affect the interpretation of history.  The North Koreans often emphasised the importance of Koguryo and Koryo because their capitals were in the north, whereas the South Koreans emphasised Silla and Ri Dynasty because their capitals were in the south. 

As with the royal tombs of Silla at Gyeongju, the tomb of Wang Kon was a huge round mound surrounded by carvings of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals as well as sculptures of officials and generals.  Looking at how “new” the sculptures were, it seemed that the North Koreans had completely reconstructed the tomb complex after its destruction during the Korean War.   


Royal Tomb


Kaesong Folk Hotel


Friendly staff at the Kaesong Folk Hotel


Dinner time!

We drove back to town where we put up at the Kaesong Folk Hotel.  This comprises of traditional Korean houses and courtyards converted into a hotel complex in the middle of Kaesong’s wonderfully preserved old town of narrow alleys, square compounds and quaint old houses.   

To protect honoured tourists from the harassment and dangers of excessive interaction with residents of the old town, our beloved Dear Leader has turned entire area of the old town into the Folk Hotel, where tourists can stay in the traditional old houses and wander on a few short alleys within the walled confines of the hotel along a picturesque stream, without ever stepping onto the open streets of Kaesong.   

Dear Leader further pampered us with a wonderful traditional Korean dinner specially prepared in the traditional fashion, and we were asked to join the fun, such as crushing soya beans, milling the flour, etc.  It was a wonderful evening, where we indulged in lots of fun and laughter with the hospitable staff of the Folk Hotel.

We walked back to our room after the dinner.  It was pitch dark as the country faced serious power shortages.  The only source of brightness, however, was the brightly lit golden statue of Kim Il Sung overlooking the city.  Yes, give me the light of the Great Leader!

Day 3: In Panmunjom, They Say The Americans Started The Korean War!

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Copyright - Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore, 2004