Friday, 18 October 2013


5th Sept 2013

Countryside between Orang and Hamhung

I was jolted awake at 7.00am by megawatt loudspeaker announcements from the street outside. It sounded as if the Imperialist US Aggressors had ( again ) launched an air attack and everyone was being urged to take immediate cover, 'balli balli'. It transpired that this was merely the local breakfast street news broadcast ( football results? ). Anyway, it was a good alarm call. Out of bed and discovered that a bowl of hot water had been placed outside my door. In carrying it into the room I tripped up, painfully stubbing my toe, and the floor was subsequently awash. No problem, a sort of ground-level towel wash-down ensued. Reminded me of the time I bought an ornate antique Victorian 'Teasmade' at a bargain price in Portobello market. It incorporated an electric light with a beautifully decorated shade, an elaborate alarm clock with a finely painted and embellished ormolu water container and spout under which you placed your eagerly awaiting teapot. First time out I set it for a civilised wake up with a nice cuppa for 8.00am. At, I think, 4.00am ( it was still very dark ) I was blasted awake by a bright flashing light, a loud hissing and crackling noise and a jet of boiling water hitting my face and upper body. Blinded and scalded I desperately grabbed at the thing to switch it off and was then stunned by a severe electric shock. I called in sick. Beware antique Victorian Teasmades.

'Chap Sida' ( lets go ) and back on the bus to Orang Airport. It is very attractive hilly country along the coast road to Orang. We stopped for a leg-stretch at a beach area with a long bouncy suspension bridge ( left ) out to a pavilion overlooking the rocky coast. It was here that Song Sim sang to us a word and tune perfect rendition of both 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' and 'Pack Up your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag' which she had obviously painstakingly written down and learnt from the bus journey several days before. Impressive!

Same lack of formalities and onto the old Antonov for a 45 minute flight to Hamhung. We flew over hills and rivers and the scenery was, well, scenic.

Right: On approach over the river Songchon to Hamhung airport. Hamhung is the second largest city in N.Korea and is a 'major' industrial hub.

After landing, and a fond farewell to our pilots ( I congratulated the skipper on a superb landing and gave him some B&H cigarettes ) we were back on the original bus which we last saw in Pyongyang. Same hard working and efficient driver whose name I continue to forget. On to book in at the Sinhunsang Hotel, quite pleasant, and a good lunch.

The afternoon's activities started with a visit to the reconstructed ( the original being destroyed, of course, by US bombing in the Korean War ) Hamhung Bongung palace ( left ), the residence of the emperors of the Ri dynasty. They were the ruling dynasty until the Japanese occupation in 1910. Hamhung was indeed the site of some major battles during the Korean War.

Our local guide ( left ), in traditional dress, gave us the spiel  including a  few risque stories of the emperor's little peccadillos. I won't bore you with them.

There is a very old tree there ( right ) which is a significant remnant from the dynasty days and has many legends attached. It seems to have been repaired and stuck back together.

Song Sim told us about Vinalon. This is a North Korean invented fabric, produced in Hamhung, and is made from Limestone! Don't ask how. It is a cheap but very durable synthetic material which is used in military and police field uniforms. I believe it is a bit uncomfortable to wear. We asked her to point out someone wearing it, but I don't think she ever did.

Then on to a local fertiliser factory; supposedly the largest in the country. Fertiliser is much needed.
Kim Il Sung on one of his 22 visits

This visit started with, as we had come to expect, a guided tour of the factory museum consisting of no less than 14 rooms! In each was predominantly a collection of photographs and mementos of visits by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to the factory, and photos of the hero managers and workers from bygone years. One prized exhibit was a wooden chair, in a glass case, which Kim Il Sung sat on when giving his invaluable advice ( "you must work hard to produce more fertiliser to further advance the Socialist Ideal" was one such gem ) to the workers on one of his 22 visits ( Kim Jong Il made 12 visits and so far Kim Jong Un has made only 1, slacker ). By room 10, and after well over an hour of being lectured by the charming local factory guide, our enthusiasm was beginning to pall. There was very little to demonstrate the manufacture of fertiliser. I suppose fertiliser has limited viewing potential.
After which we met a factory manager. We were told that the fertiliser was made from 'Water, air and electricity'. On further probing by one of our more scientifically minded group it eventually transpired, I think, that ammonia and sulphuric acid were processed to make ammonium sulphate.

Taken to a factory shed we observed, or rather heard, a single machine making a loud humming noise. The other machinery was silent and there were about half a dozen 'workers' present.
Apparently many thousand workers are employed here and they produce ( I forget how many thousand ) tons of fertiliser a week, but of them there was no sign. Today was an 'equipment testing day' and also a workers' holiday which usually occurs on Thursdays i.e today, we were informed.

Interestingly, it was noticed that there was no portrait of the Great Leader in this shed. Every other building in the land has a portrait. When we asked why not, the reason given should have been obvious; a portrait hung here would get dirty, and that would be disrespectful.

A most interesting and instructive visit. Curiously, what we did not see was any fertiliser. It probably gets shipped out very quickly.

Then back into the city to pay our respects to the statues of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on an artificial hill, the Donhung Hill ( left ). This is, at present, only the second erection of both leaders together. I expect there will be more Kim Jong Il add-ons in other cities sooner or later. The normal F&BR ensued. These statues  are surrounded by a large array of floodlights and sombre music is piped from hidden speakers in the undergrowth. It would be interesting to see if the floodlights actually worked. We would not be given the chance to find out.

Right: A view over the city. The river Songchon, out of shot to the right, used to flood badly during the Japanese colonialist days and annually swamped a large number of houses. It was then known as the 'Unhappy River'. Following the wise advice of Kim Il Sung flood defences ( a dyke ) were built and everything is fine. It is now known as the 'Happy River'.

On to the main Square over which the Grand Theatre towers ( left ). It does indeed look very Grand. School bands were practicing outside in preparation for the celebration of the 65th Anniversary of the DPRK on 9th September.
We were not permitted to go inside. This was due to a 'tourist incident' a couple of years ago when  a naughty tourist left his group and somehow, unauthorised, managed to get inside to see a performance ( of what, history doesn't relate ). Big umm was taken, and hence no tourists now allowed inside.

Right: The massed bands practicing outside the Grand Theatre.

Left: One of the junior band leaders.

One other point of interest, to me anyway; we saw very few birds ( or any other wild-life for that matter. Eaten? ) other than magpies. I always take my hat off to, or salute, a single magpie and wish him, his wife and children well. I am a little superstitious in this respect. I was therefore continually saluting much to the bemusement of our guides and everybody else. I saw absolutely no pigeons until we arrived here when I saw two of them sitting on an electricity wire. There are two possibilities; firstly, pigeons are good to eat whereas magpies are not and secondly, pigeons tend to sit and shit on statues. I cannot even begin to imagine the consequences if a pigeon ever had the temerity to do so on a statue of the Great Leader.

Back to the Sinhunsang Hotel and a night's stay before a long drive tomorrow. I think there was hot water and definitely some much appreciated beer.

1 comment:

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