Monday, 14 October 2013


4th Sep 2013

Antonov 24 flight deck

Back to the airport for another short flight to Orang, a military airfield on the north-east coast. Same detail for the flight; no hassle or major security paranoia and just a quick walk onto the aircraft ( same Antonov 24 ) and an entirely relaxed regime as before. I was shown onto the flight deck. The Captain, a charming man of about my age, explained ( via Song Sim ) that he had been flying the same route, Pyongyang, Samjiyon, Orang, Hamhung, Pyongyang ( or vice-versa ) for 40 years. He must know it well by now.

After landing at Orang we passed a row of four ( ancient ) MiG15 military jets. After de-planing we were treated to a small air display by two of these MiGs doing circuits and bumps. They were two-seaters and presumably training aircraft. Interestingly they never retracted their landing-gear. I suspect that this demo accounted for most of their annual fuel allocation. Was it done just for us?

En-route to Chongjin, near Orbat, we stopped at the village of Kyongsong. Firstly to visit another 'Revolutionary Museum'. This was in fact just a small house in which Kim Il Sung and family stayed for a week in the 1940s, or maybe 50s. Our local guide ( left, in the blue traditional dress ) waxed lyrical about what was on show which, to the untrained eye, was a couple of renovated rooms with some furniture in and a portrait of you know who on the wall. We were told a fascinating story of how the young Kim Jong Il enjoyed looking after the hens and wondered why they kept nodding their heads. He made the remarkable discovery that they could not use their tongues to swallow water and therefore had to keep nodding to achieve this. You learn something new every day. I expect this piece of wisdom features in Kim Jong Il's many books on 'Sound Revolutionary Advice And Knowledge To All Heroic Workers Of the Democratic Peoples Republic In Furtherence Of The Socialist Aim'.

Right: One of the rooms. We could hardly contain ourselves.

Then to lunch in the same village at a very pleasant ivy covered restaurant ( left ).

As always, the food was superb and included whole crabs, snails and plenty of seafood for which this coastal area is renowned. I seem to recall that we were the only diners. They really were pushing the boat out for us.

Onwards north to Chongjin. Chongjin, pop. 800,000 and the country's 3rd biggest city, was the industrial power-house of the country when under Japanese rule. It boasted much steel production and other heavy industry in those days. It was, until recently, a 'closed' city but now admits a few tourists. We were told, however, that it was a very sensitive area and we would be seriously limited as to what we could photograph. Don't ask why. We passed many ox-carts on the hilly roads on the way. These were the first ox-carts that we had seen anywhere. On one particularly steep stretch an ox-cart was scewed across the road with the ox lying, looking rather deceased, flat out in front. A total engine failure. The driver was reading the QRH check-list.

Of course the first port of call was the main square where, as expected, we performed the flowers and bowing ritual ( F&BR for future reference) in front of the statue; the second tallest in the country after Pyongyang and lots of the measurements and significant dimensions were painstakingly described.  

Right: The city centre. I believe the place has been tarted up considerably in recent years.

Next a visit to the city 'Revolutionary Museum'. No photos allowed. We were shown into only two of the many rooms which, naturally, boasted many portraits and mementos of visits by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. One room featured, almost exclusively, the 'Slogan Trees'. In a forest near the city there were several trees ( about 20 ) which had patriotic slogans carved into their trunks by soldiers who had operated in this area during the 'liberation struggle'. Sometime after 'liberation' there was a major forest fire. The local firemen and several heroic citizens rushed out to save the 'slogan trees'. 13 were killed and there were 3 survivors, including a lady soldier. They are national heroes. The trees were badly burnt but sort of survived. They were subsequently cut down and are now preserved and housed in this museum ( all 20+ of them ) and you can view the slogans on the charred trunks. I don't recall what the 'slogans' say but I doubt 'Gazza luvs Chardonnay' or equivalent, features. Or maybe it does?

Then on to the city library. It had lots of books in it. Two of the large ground floor rooms were occupied by a selection of students, some quite young teenagers, who were working at dozens of computer terminals. On looking at what they were doing most seemed to be playing the same rather simple children's 'computer game'. It was interesting to note that these computers had a basic Microsoft programme ( no internet of course ) and keyboards using Roman script. I couldn't work out how the users transcribed these letters into Korean script which has a much larger alphabet than English. I did ask, and was told that they had a 'system' to enable it.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the Steelworker's Kindergarten. This place looked after pre-school 3 to 6 year olds. It was a very clean and well kept establishment catering for approx 300 children. We were shown into two immaculate classrooms; one of which was dedicated purely to teaching the history and achievements of Kim Il Sung. The other doing the same for Kim Jong Il. You can see how it works from an early age.

Left: The 'Kim Il Sung' classroom which contained a model of the local area showing where the Great Leader had visited or fought. His portrait ( as in every classroom ) is on the far wall and a picture of the place he was born in, or maybe it is the house we visited previously this morning.

Right: Some of the children in class

Left: A girl being given a piano lesson. The tune she was playing was quite a complex, and jolly, piece. She played it faultlessly. Impressive.

We were then treated to a full hour's worth of a song and dance performance. I don't know how they teach these children, but the standard of dancing, singing and playing of various musical instruments was unbelievably high. Maybe they are taught somewhat robotically, but they achieve a much greater standard at this age than any schoolchildren of whatever age that I have seen in UK. Their technique, choreography, discipline and musical talent was awesome.

I show below several photos of some of the acts.
Photos, especially mine, do not do them justice.

Sadly the video clips do not transpose onto this blogsite.

Excellent costumes.

The music they played was very complex and highly entertaining.

This girl on the piano was phenomenal.

As was this group on traditional harp-like instruments.

....and a bit of dancing

And violins......

The assembled company taking their bow...

Altogether quite amazing. We gave them some gifts at the end.

These North Koreans, of all ages, can certainly put on a good show ( culminating in things like the Arirang Massed Games ).

After this extravaganza it was on to the 'Foreign Sailors' Club, down near the harbour, for a sherbet or two. Interesting journey through the outskirts of the city where I counted 38 enormous industrial chimney stacks surrounding the general area. It was noticeable that smoke was only coming out of one of them; the power station, I was told. I suspect that most, if not all, of these industrial sites went on holiday after the Japs left.

The Foreign Sailors' Club has not seen any foreign sailors for many years. On this occasion, as often the case, we were the only customers. It is a very pleasant and homely bar, with a restaurant and shop attached. The beer is good and cheap ( 80 cents for a big bottle ) plus crisps and peanuts etc.
We stayed here for some time before checking in at the Chongjin Hotel back in the city centre; not a very prepossessing building and hot water was lacking. They supplied us with thermoses and a bowl of hot water in the morning. We were firmly told that we should not venture out of the hotel nor take any photos of the streets outside, even from out hotel windows. It would cause a big problem if anyone saw us....they would certainly report us and Song Sim and Mr Lee would reap the consequences.
They run a 'micro-brewery' in a hotel annex which was great value ( no bar, as such, in the hotel ) and later that night some locals played guitars and sang which, I was told the next morning, was well performed and highly amusing. I had gone to bed and missed it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment