Friday, 11 October 2013


3rd Sep 2013


Today was mainly about potatoes ( gahm-jah ). Daehongdan County is famous for them ( in N.Korea ). Quivering with anticipation we set off to visit a potato farm and processing plant about an hour's drive away. We were given a most instructive talk on how these were grown, and how the Great Leader had instigated the proliferation and improvement of the crops.

Right: A potato field being explained to us..

Then a tour of the processing plant at Tae Hungda. The large shed housing a big open tank which normally held potatoes to be fed into the crushing and munching machine to produce the mulch which made starch compound was empty right now. The potatoes were not due to be harvested until mid-October. However, potato starch was being processed for our perusal in various machines ( left ), some made in Holland, but others locally manufactured. Where did the starch come from? I forgot to ask. Maybe they hold a reserve supply.

It was interesting to note how many things were made here from the potato starch such as; noodles, biscuits, sweets ( rather good, like butterscotch ), bottled sweet stuff, potato chips ( gahm-jah-cheep ) and last, but not least, vodka. Maybe also potatoes?

Right: A hard working employee.

We had been issued with white coats and hygienic hats to wear, but only for the first 10 in. The rest remained unhygienic.

Of course, the manager, a most charming man who had run the place for 12 years, was very keen to show us the factory 'photo display'. This featured, as we were coming to expect, photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the occasions they had visited the factory. The processing plant/factory employed several hundred workers but not until the harvest was in. I think what we saw was the 'off-peak' workforce of about 20.

Finally the vodka. We were given unlimited opportunity to sample it, and buy it. It came in three strengths; 25%, 35% and 45% proof and I think the cost per bottle ranged from 3 to 10 Euros. Good value.
I am not a vodka expert, but it tasted pretty OK and I think several bottles were bought.

Right: The shop display.

Curiously, in retrospect, what we never saw was an actual potato!

Then on into the forest for a picnic lunch and a visit to the impressive Samjiyon Grand Monument. Another tribute to the heroic Korean People's Army in their struggle against the Japanese colonialists.... the measurements of which were explained in great detail and represented significant dates.

...and a site which included, surprise, a large bronze statue of Kim Il Sung ( right ). As normal, one of our group volunteered to present the flowers before we all bowed in unison.

Someone asked why he was often seen wearing jodhpurs. Not sure of the answer. Perhaps when Master of the Samjiyon Hunt? We did later see a portrait of him riding a grey horse.

Left: Presenting flowers.

Right: Our local guide. They were always very enthusiastic and well turned out.

She showed us around the area which included the pretty Lake Samji ( left ). Again, this is another much visited place by North Koreans ( mainly the military and Party faithful ). I am sure you are aware that it is not easy for locals to travel outside their home towns. To do so they need a good reason and permits. All towns are ringed by guard posts to check that those entering have them.

More patriotic monuments around the lake.

I think we were told there was a major battle here in the 1940s, or rather an ambush, where the Korean People's Army, under the inspired leadership of Kim Il Sung, killed over a thousand Japanese soldiers with the loss of only two of the home side.

Another memorial; to jolly times around the camp fire.....after zapping a few Japs.

Then another drive along the bumpy roads to a splendid waterfall, the Rimyongsu Falls ( left ). The water comes down the mountain underground and emerges through the rock into a lake.

Right and below: Views of the local countryside from the pavilion at the top of the falls.

The countryside up here is remarkably picturesque and pollution free. Indeed from what we have seen so far, North Korea in general is very pollution free; probably because there ain't much industry or petro-chemical waste to produce it.
The place should be a paradise for all those eco-warriors, green activists and climate change zealots, but I suspect none of them would wish to live here without their gas-guzzling transport and home comforts.

Left: One of the omni-present signs with an exclamation mark at the end which, for the life of me, I have forgotten what it says. Those of you who understand Korean will work it out. I suspect the words 'Great Leader' and 'Kim Il Sung' feature.

Right: A local trout stream.

On the way back to Samjiyon town we stopped at a local village for a short walk-about. Nothing remarkable to see and the locals seemed just normal happy people doing their thing, but it was here that our guide, Song Sim, told us an interesting bit of information. If a top level government official screwed up badly, he ( or she ) was removed from their post and sent to an open prison, a normal local house, in a village such as this. As you may be aware the term 'you' in many Asian languages has many distinctions depending on one's status ( ie Milord, Sir, Boss, Uncle, Mr, Man, Peasant, Oi-you-scum etc.). Here, the previously 'important' official would be referred to by the lowliest form of 'you' by the locals. He would live in shame and disgrace for a decreed length of time. Looking at some of the vastly over-paid public 'servants' in the UK with their gongs and titles who screw up badly and are then merely shifted sideways with no penalty and an enormous pay-off, I can't help but think the North Koreans have a more effective way of dealing with under-performing and self-important fat cats.

Back to the Begebong Hotel for another debauched evening. We learnt another Korean phrase: "ahn-nyuhng-hee-keh-sippsi-yo" for "goodnight". Try saying that after a gallon of beer.

Off on another short flight tomorrow......

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