Sunday, 29 September 2013


29th Aug 2013

Heroes of the Korean War
It was pissing with rain as we left the hotel to visit the Fatherland Liberation War Museum. My Union Jack umbrella was put to good use. We arrived, in our bus, at the museum to find many cadres of military personnel and students formed up and waiting to visit outside the entry gates about 500 yards from the main building entrance.  Being tourists we were ushered through and dropped off ahead of the locals.

The new War Museum ( left ) has only recently been opened. It is indeed impressive. Sadly no photography is allowed inside ( not uncommon with many military museums ), so you will have to take my word for what we saw inside.            What was displayed was, technically and artistically most impressive. Indeed I have not seen  anything so elaborate and well displayed anywhere else. Very 'state of the art'. I asked who had designed all this and was told it was done by committee, instigated and approved by the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.
The main displays, almost exclusively, feature the 1950/53 Korean War. As you are no doubt aware,  and we were certainly made aware, this war was started by the Imperialist US Aggressors ( IUSA ), and their puppet regime in the South, who invaded the North in 1950. After being surprised by this unprovoked attack, the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, inspired and, with great military genius and bravery, led the heroic North Korean forces ( ably assisted, one of out party pointed out, by Shock Troops of the Frampton-on Severn WI ) against all odds and succeeded in pushing the invaders back to the 38th Parallel, the original demarcation line. There are some extremely realistic and clever dioramas displaying military scenes, battle positions and equipment. They include a magnificent 360˚ revolving panorama depicting a great, and victorious, battle against the IUSA south of Seoul, incorporating much 'son et lumiere et smoke' etc. Also displayed are many 'Top Secret' documents, proving the IUSA's intentions to invade, recovered from the US Embassy in Seoul when the DPRK forces captured it during their subsequent advance into the South ( before honourably withdrawing ). The documents did look genuine, I must say.

Sadly, there was not much indication of the involvement of other UN troops ( only one diorama featured a few flags from other nations ) and no mention of UK forces or even, curiously, the Chinese. I must have been misinformed previously.

Outside, and the rain had stopped by now, was a series of well reconstructed trenches leading to a large display of captured and destroyed US military hardware ( armour and aircraft ). Whatever your 'take' on the historical accuracy, this museum is visually quite brilliant.

Then a short walk to where they have re-located the captured Imperialist US ship, USS Pueblo. As you will recall this was a US spy ship captured by the DPRK naval forces off the east coast of North Korea ( near Wonsan ) in January 1968. The crew were held in captivity for a long time, having confessed to spying, and the ship, still on the US register, never returned. A fine trophy ( right ). I think the GER2 marking stands for their 'cover'; General Environmental Research, or some-such.

Left: The main instrument monitoring room in the ship. I don't know much about electronics but this array of screens, dials and switches certainly looks 'state of the art' for the 1960s.

...and a couple of bullet/shell holes through the bridge window. Lots of the personal clothing and kit left behind by the crew was on display.

We were escorted around the ship by a most enthusiastic lady soldier. She was only too happy to have her picture taken with us.

If nothing else, the DPRK military uniforms look a lot smarter than the Banana Republic camouflage outfits that UK forces are now required to wear. 

Right: Another view of the Fatherland Liberation War Museum. Following behind us there was a large number of military and student contingents being led into the museum to be inspired by the displays; and I'm sure they were.

We then visited the Koryo Hotel, the other smartest hotel in Pyonyang, where we could buy rations and other goodies before embarking on the next phase of our tour, a longish bus journey to Kaesong on the south-western border.

Talking of hotels, the one which dominates the Pyongyang city sky-line is this one ( left ), the Ryugyong Hotel, a vast pyramid ( shaped like Thunderbird 3 ) 105 stories high with 3000 rooms and with no less than 5 revolving restaurants on top. Truly impressive, or at least it would be if it was half-way finished. There is nothing much behind the outside concrete shell and shaded windows. This building was conceived in 1987, when an Egyptian company began construction, and it is, as yet, awaiting completion which will occur, we were told by our guide ( with barely concealed rolling eyes ) in 2014.

On by bus via the Reunification Highway ( right ) south towards Kaesong ( 90 miles distant ). We stopped for an excellent picnic ( great nosh and beer provided by the tour company ) in a 'service station' en-route. We were the only people in the service station and the picnic was laid out in an empty room ( with tables and chairs ). Another bus and one car was seen thus far. This road is a vast improvement on the M25, and no roadworks either. Or speed cameras. Or police. Or traffic.

Then on again and a detour to view some beautiful falls, the Pakyon Falls. These have great early (pre-history) Korean legendary significance. Lots of very ancient engravings and charming, if convoluted, stories concerning them which, unfortunately, I failed to note down. There was also a much appreciated bit of exercise; a 50 minute climb up to a fine Buddhist temple above them. Got a good sweat on but no pics of the temple.

On again, a further 40 mins, to Kaesong, a largish city which, we were told, had some light industry. It was noticeable that all N.Korean cities proved to be immaculately clean, but no sign of any overt shops or markets and absolutely no advertising signs. Very few motorised vehicles and most of the population travelled by bicycle ( very limited fuel is the problem ). They even have a few vehicles powered by burning wood; noticeable some miles off by the thick black smoke they produce. Not sure how they work.

Anyway, into the Janamsan Hotel where, we were reliably informed, there would be hot water and electricity. This proved partially correct even if the water was a rather interesting colour. One suspected it had not flowed for some time. It was a clean and friendly place with a good bar ( for us ) and good nosh. Even the lift worked, if only to get our luggage upstairs. Not many other guests, but the staff looked after us very well. In fact they were charming and, I felt, genuinely glad to see us. We learnt another Korean word "kahm-sa hah-mee-dah", "thank you".

More excitements to follow....stay tuned.

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