Archive for February, 2012

100th Year Birthday of Kim Il-sung

An update on my upcoming trip: after some uncertainty about being allowed into the country due to all Pyongyang hotel space being reserved for North Korean delegations, it has been confirmed that the April trip to North Korea for Kim Il-sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations has been approved – they have a room for us!

Also, after a bit of diplomatic letter writing, I have been approved to present a gift to representatives for Kim Il-sung at the International Friendship Exhibition. I haven’t yet written about the International Friendship Exhibition on this blog, and as it is a North Korean holy space, I have to be extremely careful on the subject – after having been approved to present a gift there, any joking around on my part on this topic could single highhandedly shut down foreign tourism in the DPRK.

The International Friendship Exhibition is an elaborate mountainside bunker/ostentatious palace museum at Myohyang-san mountain.  Here, all gifts given by foreigners to Kim Il-sung (along with a separate but similar complex for all gifts given to and Kim Jong-il ) are kept on display. As a holy space it is 2nd only in importance to the mausoleum that houses and displays the body of Kim Il-sung.

You must surrender your cameras and cover your shoes with fabric booties when entering the International Friendship Exhibition, and after bowing to a wax statue of Kim il-sung, you will be shown the car gifted by Stalin, and then allowed to choose what continent’s gifts you want to view – there is just too much to see so you can only view gifts from the countries of two continents.  Western news sources report that there are a total of approximately 220,000 gifts shared between the two complexes.  In the main halls of each complex are digital displays showing the grand total of gifts. I remember seeing that Kim jong-il had about 60,000, while Kim il-sung had well over 100,000 gifts.

The International Friendship Exhibition is a cornerstone of North Korean propaganda.  Locals are taken on pilgrimages to the site where they are expected to be overwhelmed, not only with the opulence of the surroundings, but by the sheer number of gifts, which to them is explained as a tangible example of the respect, veneration, and love held for Kim il-sung by the rest of the world.

Among the most notable/notorious gifts on display (via Wikipedia) are:

  • A bear’s head from former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu
  • A metal horseman and ornate chess boards from former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi
  • A crocodile skin suitcase from former Cuban leader Fidel Castro
  • A gem-encrusted silver sword and a miniature mosque in mother of pearl, given by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
  • An antique gramophone from China’s first premier Zhou Enlai and an Armored Train car from chairman Mao Zedong (entire wings are dedicated to gifts from the country)
  • An ivory lion from Tanzania, gold cigarette case from Yugoslavia, bronze USSR tank from East Germany, silver chopsticks from Mongolia
  • A basketball signed by Michael Jordan given by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
  • A bullet-proof limousine from former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin

The following is an excerpt of the letter I will present, along with my gift, to representatives to Kim Il-sung at the International Friendship Exhibition during his 100th year birthday celebrations:

On this, my 2nd trip to the DPRK, and in appreciation of the wonderful cultural exchange I experienced on my first visit, and in the spirit of celebration for the 100th year birthday celebrations of the Eternal President Kim Il-sung, I am pleased to present the following gift to representatives for Kim Il Sung at the International Friendship Exhibition.

I am presenting The Stoneware Baby Seal Sculpture by Andersen Studio of Maine. This is a classic and very special piece of handmade art from my home state. With no two pieces being exactly alike, this baby seal statue represents my joy for learning about Korean culture through my visit to the DPRK, the wonderful experience of meeting friendly and truly wonderful North Korean people, and my happiness to share the important truths and help correct misconceptions about the DPRK on my return home.

The above letter is slightly modified from the letter of proposal and intent I had earlier sent, a letter that was highly praised by DPRK officials, with them going as far as suggesting that their western tour company partners could learn a few diplomatic lessons form me – ha ha!

Related Photos:

Girl with Flowers

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

North Korea

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

Girl with Flowers in Pyongyang

Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Pyongyang.

Kumsusan Mausoleum

Locals pose for pictures after viewing the body of Kim il-sung at the Kumsusan Mausoleum.

Group Photo with Colorful Korean Natives outside the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum

Locals invited us to pose for a picture with them at the Kumsusan Mausoleum – Photo by kinabalu

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The Pout

North Korean Girl Pouting

I just love the expression! This girl joined the convoy of groups and tour buses for the trip down to the DMZ on our first day, but after we never saw her again. How mysterious, just like her expression.


Pyongyang Architecture

Below is a series of photos detailing the architecture of buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea – not the grand monuments, gigantic government buildings, and strange hotels, but the ordinary buildings that make up the majority of the city.

Pyongyang Building

Pyongyang Building

Pyongyang Apartments

Pyongyang Skyline

Pyongyang, North Korea

Kim Il-sung and a Pyongyang Smoke Stack


Happy Valentine’s Day

Mass Games North Korea

Arirang Mass Games, Pyongyang, DPRK, North Korea.


Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Still actively commissioned today, the USNS Pueblo currently remains the only captured ship in the US fleet.  The incident occurred Jan. 23, 1968, but on this day in 2011 our guide was one of the North Korean sailors who boarded and helped capture the Pueblo. Attractive young ladies in military uniforms usually give this tour but our western guide informed us that we were lucky to have this man as our guide – he normally only gives tours to dignitaries and foreign leaders.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

I knew about the Pueblo incident before coming to the DPRK. I’m a Chief Mate of a US Navy ship (on long tern charter to UCSD), I know my history, and I did plenty of research pre-trip – so I was pretty amazed to learn that many people in my group were not even aware that North Korea holds a captured US ship.  But these guys were quick learners, and at the end of the trip many remarked that the visit to the Pueblo and interacting with our guide was the highlight of their trip.

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Young North Korean sailor on duty.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo

Small arms damage clearly marked out on interior bulkheads.

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Our North Korean Pueblo guide and myself – what a smile!