1st Sep 2013
|The Mausoleum. Kumsusan Palace|
Today, Sunday, we had to dress smartly; we were off to pay our respects to the preserved bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the Mausoleum. This building, the Kumsusan Palace, set in a large park to the west of Kim Il Sung Square, was originally The Great Leader's lavish official residence and place where he entertained foreign dignitaries. I thought wearing my regimental tie and cloth cap should suffice.
As with all these mausoleums displaying stuffed ex-leaders, security was intense. Cameras and any other metallic object or device had to be handed in. I think we could keep our wallets and small change, but that was about it. Definitely no chance of taking photos. It involved other 'security' measures such as having the soles of your shoes automatically cleaned and passing through doorways which, alarmingly, blasted you with air; to remove dust I was told. All this occurred while you passed down miles of moving sheltered walkway. Drill and discipline, at which our party was not notably adept, was paramount. We had to form up on the walkway in pairs. On eventually reaching the inner sanctum we were briefed on the correct procedure. We were required to stand in ranks of 4 and when approaching, in line, the glass sided box in which The Great Leader, Kim Il Sung peacefully lay, bow at his feet, and either side, but not at his head. Of course several of our ill disciplined rabble got in a complete muddle with this and rather overdid the bowing, often in the wrong place and direction. On moving into an adjoining chamber we went through the same drill around the late Kim Jong Il. I hardly recognised him; he looked much fitter and younger than I remember.
As with the other taxidermically enhanced ex-leaders, one is always a bit suspicious that these stiffs are actually wax dummies. Why not? Nobody would know the difference, no upkeep required and they could have plenty of spares in a storeroom somewhere for all I know.
I have now done The Big Five; Uncle Ho, Mao, Lenin, and now Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il ( are there any more? ). I don't suppose there are many folk out there who can claim this distinction. I believe they were going to preserve the late, lamented, Hugo Chavez but his body either rotted or exploded before they could get to him.
We then entered a vast room which housed all the, literally, thousands of medals, honours and accolades showered ( often by himself or his People's Workers' Party ) on the Great Leader, plus all his uniforms and hats. Such awards as The Peoples Revolutionary Hero medal etc. ( by the hundred ), Freedom of the City of Umbalumbago ( and many similarly unheard of African locations ), the Order of the Polish Anti-Religion Association, several from kindred spirits such as Nikolae Ceausescu and Colonel Gadaffi, lots from Peru ( what was his connection with Peru I wondered ) and an unrecordable number of other weird and wonderful baubles, honours and certificates from many strange people and places.
Next into a hall which displayed his car, a rather ancient and tatty Merc I think, and personal train carriage. We all agreed that the decor in the dark green train carriage left a lot to be desired; all the seating was down the sides, facing inwards, and the colour scheme and furnishings were remarkably naff. There was also an illuminated world map showing all the places that he had visited in his lifetime. As mentioned before, the North Koreans are inordinately proud of where Kim Il Sung visited, especially if their town or factory features. Illuminated maps of his visits are a regular feature wherever you go.
Now we were subjected to an almost identical tour regarding the effects of the late Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. It was a bit like 'groundhog day'. Same type of room with thousands of similar uniforms, gongs and honours. One of the more extraordinary being a medal presented to him by Derbyshire County Council! I have yet to get to the bottom of that. Also a similar room with his car, another Merc I think, and his train carriage. This train carriage was the one in which he died of a stroke in 1994. The seats looked marginally more comfortable than those in his father's wagon. There was also a map display of where he had visited; notably fewer places than his father. Another room housed his personal 'Royal Yacht' equivalent; a converted smallish naval vessel in which he did all his local maritime visits.
It was all a bit surreal and a touch 'OTT'?.
"Everybody back on the bus" and off to the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery. This is on the top of a hill ( 300 steps up ) to the north-west of the city. It features 200 bronze busts ( in the distance of this poor photo ) where those 'heroes' who perished during N.Korea's struggle with the Japanese Colonialists are interred. In fact there are busts of many generals and favourites of Kim Il Sung from the Korean war, and of senior officers who just died of old age. Also a bust of Kim Il Sung's wife. We went through the usual ritual of presenting flowers and bowing.
Sombre music is piped around as these late 'heroes' look down on Pyongyang. In fact they get rather a good view looking east towards towards the Mayday Stadium in the distance ( right ). Another cemetery holding the remains of a further 400 of the DPRK's great and good is up towards the Sonan airport.
After changing back into scruff kit, and another good lunch at a 'barbeque lamb' restaurant we went on a walkabout up the main boulevard from Kim Il Sung Square ( probably called Kim Il Sung Street ) to the Grand Theatre. I was still fascinated by the apparent total lack of shopfronts or any form of advertising. In fact you can see some shops containing shelves of bottles, packets of food and racks of clothes, and many hairdressers for some reason, half hidden behind the darkened glass windows at street level. There did not seem to be anyone inside, but that may be because it was Sunday. There are so many large and impressive 'frontages' to many grandiose buildings in this city, but I began to wonder what, if anything, was behind them. There never seemed to be anyone going in or out. We never got the chance to explore this.
The Grand Theatre ( left ), was another impressive building. Sadly we did not get the chance to go inside. We were told that cultural ( revolutionary ) shows and music performances took place here several days a month. There was nothing to indicate what or when.
Right: Looking down the boulevard towards Kim Il Sung Square from the Grand Theatre. Look! I can see a tram ( there was an extensive tram service around town ) and four cars, one of which, the orange one, is a taxi. Yes, they do have quite a few taxis which you can use as long as you are accompanied by a guide.
We dropped in at the Foreign Language Bookshop which was advertised in our guide as offering 'the best selection of English language publications in the country'. On display were many books and small pamphlets with engaging titles such as; 'Juche Idea:Answers to Hundred Questions', 'Anecdotes of Kim Il Sung's Life' and 'On Bringing About A Revolutionary Turn In Land Administrations In Line With The Demands For Building A Thriving Socialist Country'. (This last was probably a best seller at the Labour Party Conference). They were indeed in English and many other languages. Also lots of colourful postcards showing US aggressors being crushed by the mighty and heroic North Korean People's Army.
On driving out of the city on Chollima Street we passed a series of sports halls. Impressive concrete venues housing, amongst other sports, basketball, volleyball, badminton ( shaped like a shuttlecock ), weightlifting, ping-pong ( at which the Koreans are masters ), and a very large ice-skating hall shaped, we were told, like an ice-skater's hat ( whatever that is ) plus several others. Some of these grandiose buildings looked as though they were in the process of being built or renovated. Again, not much sign of crowds flocking in and out.
Next stop was Moranbong Park in the north of the city. It is a very pleasant wooded park surrounding Moran Hill containing ponds, pavilions and food stalls along a series of picturesque pathways. There were lots of family groups having very jolly picnics and generally enjoying the sunny weather. At one point we were assailed by a most friendly gang of ladies dancing to music from a ghetto-blaster and were encouraged, no dragged, to join in.
Right; A view across the Taedong River from the top of the park. It was a most agreeable place and use was made by us of the stalls to buy cool drinks and ice-lollys. As with all the sites we were shown in the city it was remarkably clean and well kept.
Left: The TV Tower, from the park. It is possible to get a lift up the tower from which, as you can imagine, there are good views and another revolving restaurant, but this was not on our agenda. Talking of TV, North Korea broadcasts two channels for the locals. From what I saw, one tends to concentrate on sport and 'patriotic' films and the other on national news plus lots of stirring reports on parades, factories and the inspiring activities of the leadership ( both past and present ). Unlike in just about all other countries, neither Tom and Jerry nor Mr Bean feature. As mentioned earlier, in the big ( international ) hotels, of which I think there are at least three, international stations, either BBC 24, Russian RT, Al Jazeera or a Japanese station are available for foreign guests. CNN most definitely does not feature.
The last port of call for the day was advertised as a micro-brewery. In fact it turned out to be a rather pleasant wood-panelled upstairs 'pub'. As was often the case on such visits, we were the only customers. On sale was a selection of six locally brewed lagers. I forget the names, but I tried four of them ( one slightly coffee flavoured ), and they seemed pretty decent, but then I'm no expert.
Tomorrow we're off 'up country'. Stand-by.