Mr. Solo Dolo Goes Koryo
November 8, 2009


Note: Parts or all of this blog post have been censored by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
I left my laptop in Beijing while traveling into the DRPK. Since I couldn’t blog on the computer I wrote about the experience down on hotel stationary. I will present them exactly the way I wrote them.

Day 1 10/8/09
I woke up around 9 in beautiful Beijing, where I’ve learned how to comfortably navigate by now. Checked out of the hostel and went to Yashow Shopping building. The center is about 5 stories and has all sorts of clothes for men, women, and children. I came back to buy a memory card for my new camera and bargained it down to ¥55 from ¥220. Koryo Tours office is very near the shopping center so I just walked over there after I finished some business at Yashow. I also went to the ATM and have to get Victor a nice souvenir from DPRK. I joined the group of 9 or 10 Americans also in the same tour. We all took the bus to the Beijing airport and on the way got to meet other. Anyway, the departure gate was nothing like the gate that I arrived in. That is, there was no McDonald’s or any commercialized fast food chains around. The first experience with North Korea was actually before I got to DRPK even. They were the Korean flight attendants, who were very cute. Fore some reason I didn’t think there would be any cute girls in North Korea, but there are actually heaps of them. I saw a bunch on the street as our bus was taking us to the Mass Games. So, the airplane food on Air Koryo was pretty bad. It was three pieces of meat and some eggs. We all got two pastry desserts though so that was pretty cool. We landed to a huge portrait of Kim Il Sung smiling. It is the smallest international airport I’ve ever passed through. The “Arrivals” listed only three arrivals for the day, the one from Beijing that I was on, another from more inland DPRK, and a flight from Russia. Only three. There were no scheduled departures today.
We were bussed to see the Arc du Triumph lookalike that DPRK has. It’s almost as huge as the one in Paris. The place is very plain. There are no ads anywhere in the city. Black soviet style shirts were worn by all men of importance and farmers clothes were drab as well. Some women, however, wore brightly colored dressed that look amazing. It was a holiday today, so people were in the square dancing with their nice clothes on. After some snaps were taken at the Arc de Triumph lookalike, we headed straight to the Mass Games. At the stadium, there were people everywhere trying to get where they needed to be. Rows of military crossed a rows of children. Schoolgirls making their way in the opposite direction in a single file line. I bought a third class seat to the show and was the only person to do that. The rest of the group got at least second class, so the guide Mr. Oh sat along with me. It was nice and turned out better because he explained to me directly what was going on. Arrirang is basically a retelling of the modern (1905-present) history of North Korea. The themes deal with Japanese invasion, textile revolution, and the final wish of Kim Il Sung for the reunification of the two Koreas. And the whole story is told through the performance of 100,000 people. The show was ¥800 but its nothing I’ve ever seen or will ever see again in my life. Everything was done with such precision. And when dealing with that many people, the precision was amazing. Best thing was girl on unicycle while jumping rope. And performers getting slingshotted 200-300 feet into the air, and landing into a safety net. Thousands of girls in so any colors and so much choreography was in the event, it was MIND BLOWING. At one point, it became too much to handle. It was definitely a visual orgy.
After the show we stopped for some hotpot which was delicious given the cold weather outside. I was able to eat a lot it was pretty high quality food. Something I wasn’t expected from North Korea. I had to keep in mind that this wasn’t a typical meal for a North Korean, though. The amount of food and beer that was brought out made me think that there wasn’t a famine going on, in the rest of the country. As dinner ended the power went out for about 15 minutes. Again, cute waitresses I wanted to take home with me were serving us.
As I write now, I’m sitting in a 47 story hotel I believe we are the only inhabitants of this whole place. Such an eerie place to be in. I’m not allowed to leave the hotel grounds. A quick trip to the bookstore really warped my mind with all of the Party’s propaganda written in English. I’m pretty sure my room is bugged. I’ve yet to find the microphone.

Day 2
The day started early at around seven in the morning, but everything was cloudy until we got to our destination. Breakfast included slices of bread with crust cut off already, cucumber, some breakfast meats. Rice. At eight sharp we got on our bus and headed towards the DMZ. The bus ride took 3 hours with a small break in the middle. The break was a tea break, with very friendly ladies serving us tea or coffee. On our way back, all the fanfare of the morning stop was all gone. Anyway, the road leading to the DMZ have massive boulders on the sides, just in case war breaks out, the huge stones are triggered to fall to prevent tanks from rolling towards Pyongyang freely. On a side note, I get the feeling that Koreans have a lot of pride. They really pride themselves for their self determination and developments. We didn’t get to see any South Koreans at the DMZ, the boarder was guarded by cameras on that side. At the DMZ, we didn’t have to be told how to dress or weren’t told we couldn’t point or make gestures to the other side. Certainly that would be different on the South Korean side visit. After the DMZ we made a stop at Kaesong, a nice town that was sparred from heavy bombing during the war. Simon told us that the soldiers only were on guard because we were there as tourists. Which, I think, is an ongoing trend. Everywhere we go, people are set up just to greet us. At the museum in Kaesong, I had the feeling that the souvenir sales people only arrived couple of minutes prior to open just for us. I think this is because we were the only tour group to see the museum that day.
We then trekked to a mausoleum of old kings and snapped some pictures. At night there was a huge fireworks show to celebrate the 3rd year of the successful nuclear bomb test. Korea DPRK is very much like a college campus. Like, there are patches of people together walking somewhere, people hanging out in groups. Lots of bikes not a lot of cars. We saw the unification statue which is my favorite piece of art in Pyongyang. Not sure if I’ll enjoy tomorrow, but seeing Kim Il Sung’s body Sunday night might be the best.

Day 3
I’m finally in a hotel room that allows smoking inside! And I had to go all the way to North Korea to be in it. We had a hurried breakfast this morning and I enjoyed rice and bean cake. We took a two hour bus ride north to see the gifts that were given to Great Leader Kim Il Sung and Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Kim Il Sung has received over 233,000 gifts on display in a museum. Even the United States has given him stuff. Madeleine Albright has some stuff on display. CNN also gives a lot of stuff to the DPRK to display. The interesting exhibits to me are the ones from Vietnam, which is a communist country as well. So in some weird sense they’re allies, at least in ideology. It’s just that they both have to work so hard to even survive as a nation to have any normal country to country relations like we do with other countries. The museum is huge and we had to put covers on our feet to walk through it. Dear Leader Kim Il Sung has received many different types of gifts including live animals like giraffes and porcupines. The most surreal moment was the wax figure of Dear Leader Kim Il Sung, and we had to smarten up our attire a little before going into that room. We entered the room and bowed slowly to the figure, which was an eerie thing to do. It felt like being in a Disneyland ride or something. A fan blew the tree leaves in the background. It created a strange non-real effect. Why would there be wind inside? Weird stuff. A smaller building housed gifts to the current Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. We didn’t see a wax figure of him, but I did see a basketball signed by Michael Jordan.
After that we rode the bus all the way back to Pyongyang just in time for a dance at the public square. People were dressed very nicely and we even got to join in! The steps are easy. There’s only three dances to learn and they’re not complicated at all. It was mostly comprised of young students. I never seen so many hot korean girls in my life. Girls were dressed in traditional dress looking fine as hell. Everyone knew the steps and it was fun to get into the mix. It was such a great experience. We were told if asked, to say we were Canadian. I wasn’t asked.

Day 4
Today we dressed up really nice and went to see the body of Dear Leader Kim Il Sung. Everyone looked nice. The place has an creepy feeling to it and we weren’t allowed to bring our cameras in. People from rural farming areas get to get bussed in for free and it’s a very special occasion. You could tell the the farmers were farmers even though they were dressed in their nice clothes. You can tell by their worn faces and raggedy cloth shoes. As we entered there was a bottom of the shoe cleaner. After relinquishing our cameras, we were handed small Sony voice recorders that played back a tour guide-like recording of the inner area of the building. There was a giant mural of Kim Il Sung and on the sides were huge statues of citizens and children super crying. It was said that news broke out of his death sent shockwaves through DPRK society. We then went through a chamber that blew all the dust off of us. Kim Il Sung lies under a glass coffin. His body is covered by a red sheet except for his face, which is exposed. The mood was exactly like funeral. Everyday is a funeral at the mausoleum. Mr. Oh was nice enough to let me borrow one of his ties. You have to wear a tie to the mausoleum. It takes about 10 minutes on a moving walkway to get there. People on the way out, some were crying. And as they’re crying they’re looking at me, probably filled with hatred towards us Americans. Ever been in a room where everyone hates you? It’s like that. Afterwards, we took a break after lunch at the rotating restaurant on top of our hotel. Me and Alec sat by two korean fishermen as we were out exploring outside the hotel. I offered them smokes. They were kind enough to let us hang around and watch them catch fish. It’s funny how smokes can show a certain kindness or friendliness towards people.
After that, I hit a couple golfballs into the river by the hotel. 50 balls cost about 2€ and I hit a couple good ones into the water. There was a mural of Great Leader Kim Il Sung on the other side of the river, but it’s so far away I only think Tiger Woods would be able to hit it. Didn’t stop me from trying.
One of my favorite part of this trip was going to the park. In the park on Sunday we got to interact with real North Koreans. Old people were dancing and playing the drums and singing. Families were hanging out and drinking. A man waved me over and him and his wife offered me some homemade soju and also a piece of really good fish. This experience was remarkable because I was able to go off the beaten path of the tour. I could have got into a lot of trouble if I wasn’t seen following the group through the park. In the middle of the park were lots of people dancing and tons of loaded people as well. Alec payed an impromptu game with the Koreans. You had one leg up like a chicken and try to fight to see who could knock each other down or let go of their foot first. Great fun game I’m going to have to bring back home. The game is called Judose. As soon as the game was done everyone drunkenly cheered and a nice old lady played the accordion to some old soviet style tune. Continuing to walk through the park we saw many groups of people and families enjoying the park. Some were singing songs of praise to Kim Jong Il and many were heavily plastered. Its funny what a bit of alcohol can do to break down international tension. The Juche Tower was next and it gave us a great view of Pyongyang because its so high up. It cost 5€ to go up. I bought a book dealing with youth and socialism. I bought a bottle of fur seal penis booze. It was a full day, we also visited a cemetery that has busts of important soldiers who died fighting against the japanese. Great leader Kim Il Sung bronze status was HUGE. People left flowers at the base of the statue. I imagine they just take the flowers and resell them the next day.
The Pueblo Incident was interesting. Its an American ship that was captured by the North Koreans. They sat us down and showed us propaganda videos about the event and how it was all our fault in the whole matter. The tour guide was cute and I got to take a picture of all the cool old electrical equipment that was used onboard. So, I got to geek out at all the electrical doodads that were on the naval spy ship.
In closing, I had a lot of fun on this trip. And even though I didn’t go clubbing or meet any girls I could continue talking with, it was still an amazing tour of a society that has always been so closed. It has truly changed my mind about what North Korea is like and probably changed my life and outlook altogether. What an awesome experience!