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

22 responses

  1. t.on.air

    Thank you for this post. I always feel like what we get to see from the mass media about NK is not enough. It’s good to read some personal insights!

    February 29, 2012 at 8:50 am

  2. How amazing that you get to visit the Friendship expedition. It will be interesting to read about your thoughts from your April trip.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:47 am

    • Thanks! I’m sure I will have tons to write and tons of pictures to post after this spring trip, my first trip kept me busy and writing and posting non stop for 4 months.

      February 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm

  3. Jenny Black

    To be fair, you do actually sum up what an sadly stereotypical American in DPRK is – a sanctimonious prick!

    Playing all the Cold War and “they’re a bit weird to hyper-commercialized Yanks” cards, you do play to the lowest common denominator. Laugh your ass off – 50 years ago you’d also be using every racist slur under the sun like what you were doing to the USA black population. That you haven’t nuked them yet is a small miracle, like General Macarthur had been planning to mass murder in China, and actually did in Japan.

    In short, you are a complete and utter wanker. Not for holding negative views about the DPRK – that is your right, and I may share some criticisms of the set up there. But you abuse their open hospitality and make a mockery of them online, like the coward you are, then expect a round of applause for your low behaviour.

    If you are representative of your country, you deserve to be hated by the North koreans who hitherto have shown you nothing but kindness.

    Although I have nothing whatsoever to do with the DPRK nor its government, I shall look into exposing you to them for the lowlife you are. Hopefully they will film you at the border being denied entry, but filming you ram the “Stoneware Baby Seal Sculpture by Andersen Studio of Maine.” and the accompanying letter up your arse where they belong – to demonstrate what dumb stupid Americans who would sell their soul to the devil for 5 minutes of internet fame, look like. The North Koreans wouldn’t watch it however – they are a thousand times more human than you and what you represent.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:23 am

    • I’m going to burn incense and pray for you at the Chinese temple tomorrow – you are very disturbed and I hope you find peace in your life – Joseph

      March 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

  4. Hi Joseph, Thanks for the very good post. Talking with my partner, we surely get a higher and higher interest about visiting this very enigmatic but fascinating country.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    • Thanks! I would highly suggest a trip there, its an amazing country.

      March 2, 2012 at 2:06 am

  5. Jenny Black

    I would suggest that at your temple you reflect inwardly and deeply on what your motivation is in sneering at the DPRK and abusing their amazing kindness to you as an American. This is as Jews showing kindness to a Nazi, then the Nazi making a blog pulling the piss out of that kindness and the Jews in general.

    You poke fun like these noble people are zoo animals for your amusement – much like you Yanks did with blacks and native Indians before you “liberated” them. The Koreans remember what barbaric animals you people were when you literally flattened their country from the sky, and still you can piss on their amazing hospitality like a coward online.

    Maybe in your heart you are dumb enough to think “if only these people could live like us Americans”? Thankfully a growing number of people realise that if this world is to have a future, the American Empire and its selfish consumerist Imperialist philosophy must pass into history like the imperialist British Empire. The meek will inherit the earth.

    I doubt that much if any of this will concern you at your temple. All the incense in the world wouldn’t change your sneering inhumanity and mockery of these fine people, it wouldn’t do you any good. You will still bring dishonour to your own admittedly moronic country, making fun of people who are much better than you, who work harder than you, who deserve to be left alone in peace and honoured for it.

    March 2, 2012 at 1:22 am

    • You actually call me a “nazi” but leave a non-valid email – you are a coward. But I believe I found you on facebook, are you the goth freak from Manchester that likes to play zombie dress up? What a bore. Anyway, I’m off for vacation in the Philippines on Sunday, so I guess our play time will have to end – I have better things to do, and no, I will not be running around the PI on a sex vacation as you would expect from your average American imperialist running around in the old ex-colony, I will be diving on the Japanese WWII ship wreaks in Subic and in Palawan with my GF, but just for you I will be sure to apologize to the Japanese for the USA for winning the war.

      Anyway, my Taiwanese girlfriends says you are typical of most Brits, mean and nasty – I would add crazy and ugly too.

      You do know that Kim II-sung initiated the unprovoked attack from the North against the South, despite Mao’s and Stalin’s recommendation against it, to start the Korean war? Well for all Americans, I apologize for us being in his way.

      Love to stay here longer, but have to run, and just to be a “sanctimonious pr**k” and “hypocrite”- I’m going to continue to burn incense and pray for you while I also tell you to F*** OFF you ****!

      March 2, 2012 at 2:45 am

  6. Jenny Black,

    I don’t see the mockery you seem to find on this blog. I think Mr.Ferris paints a quite real picture of what one can expect from a trip there. Even if it might be what you’re allowed to see and not the fields where people are starving, Mr.Ferris is able to show some real faces of real humans.

    All you see here on western media (for me a Swedish citizen) is the horrid state people are living in, and the machine-state faces that the North Korean government likes to depict it’s people in. The documentaries and articles about North Korea usually shows a people, without a face, all acting as one communist machine, marching blindly behind the iron grip of the state.

    But Mr.Ferris has been able to show the small things, that I think is really interesting. Like the wonderful picture of the ‘pout’ a young Korean girl is doing on an earlier post. It’s not much at first glance but it displays a human emotion. Something that’s almost impossible to see or find from that country in our western media.

    There is no mockery, just a fair human display of how we all would show emotion and act in that very different culture to our own.

    During a business trip to South Korea, I took a quick trip up to the border. One could not see much, but it was something. North Korea fascinates me. Much has to do with human actions and emotions and the way our race handles itself and adapts to particular situations. I had a hard time believing that a people would stand for that type of oppression that they live in. But the faces and people in this blog shows me something else, it shows me real humans, with real emotions – and that’s far from what you, Jenny, believe. You might not get to travel as much as Mr.Ferris, And I don’t know, but I think even I travel more than you do. I am an investment banker so I usually show up in massive mega cities of wealthy nations, but still. You should respect that type of real experiences and have a more humble view on what you read and see than to quote every single activist blog you can find in your quest of teenage rebellion.


    March 2, 2012 at 7:57 am

  7. Thank you Carl for your comment,

    I was going to take down all her comments and proceed to ignore her, but they do expose how ridiculous she is, so they stay up – although I will edit down the expletives on my reply, foul language is not the image I want to portray here.

    I have had overwhelming support for what I have been doing here, with the only other negative comment coming form the opposite polar spectrum – some American suggesting that I should have killed North Korean sailors while I had the chance.

    Most people get it, I’m not writing to criticize, or on the other hand to support the DPRK government, but to show a glimpse of life in and a look at the culture of this isolated country, and I enjoy doing this the best with the portraits of the people – most people get this!

    “The Pout” is a wonderful photo, I didn’t know how to post it but I kept on going back to it in my files, that expression is just too mysterious. I might be over stretching but I think of her as my Mona Lisa – could there perhaps be just a tiny tiny hint of a smile there?

    Carl, there are many many more photos on this blog, perhaps you have checked them out already, but please let me point out a couple more post you might enjoy. Here are several posts from what I call Frisbee diplomacy – when we broke away from the control of our government minders and had direct and unscripted interactions with local North Koreans:




    So……while I would love to spend more time messing around with Ms Jenny Black from the UK, I actually have much more constructive things to do. While she is busy tearing me down, I have multiple contacts I am helping with research on the DPRK for their dissertations, University papers, and even grade school projects.

    And Ms Jenny Black, you should learn a little respect, this “sanctimonious pr**ck” holds the US Coast Guard’s Master’s Unlimited License – normally people address me as Sir or Chief.

    March 2, 2012 at 10:53 am

  8. and Ms. Jenny Black, good luck with your sabotage of my trip, I have a good relation with the North Korean authorities. Not only have I been on North Korean television, but the DPRK state officials have used my photos in their promotional materials.

    March 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

  9. Yeah, the pout was sure a fantastic shot. 🙂 But the links you sent there was fantastic! I enjoyed the frisbee tournament quite a lot. But I found a new favorite :

    Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

    It felt very real! One does not see many real things from that country in general media. So thanks for those photos.

    I have been looking into the North Korean travel agency we’ve got here in Stockholm, out in the suburb Bromma. I’ve been in contact with them, and I am planning to go on the group trips that they offer there. Some of their 2013 group trips is the plan.

    If you’ve got the time, I would love to see a post on what one packs for a NK trip. I was not even sure if I would dare to bring my BlackBerry and digital camera. Pen, note-book, oldstyle camera with film in it is what I was thinking, just to be on the safe side.

    Also, traveling to the United States, with a “I’ve visted North Korea” -stamp, in the passport, do you think that might cause problems? Especially since I am not american going there (I go there a lot in my business).

    March 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm

  10. I would contact Koryo Tours and see what they have to offer, they do great trips and open up new and original routes every year. They have handled my last custom tour and set up my custom trip going in this April. You can find them linked on this blog or just Google search – and ask for Hannah, she is awesome!

    Don’t worry about the DPRK stamp – there is none! The visa is a hand carried paper that is surrendered at the end of the trip, no evidence is left in the passport. It still should not matter anyhow, there is nothing illegal about travel to North Korea, Pres. Bush lifted travel restrictions for Americans.

    Your idea for a post about what to pack for a North Korea trip is great – I’m going to get working on that tomorrow!

    March 2, 2012 at 3:52 pm

  11. Kevin

    Hey Joseph, just happened to stumble upon your blog and noticed that you’re heading back to the DPRK next month over Kim il-Sung’s 100th birthday bash. Me too! I’m signed up for Koryo’s Option A trip, and can’t wait. Look forward to meeting you and hearing about some of your other travels.

    March 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    • Hi Kevin – you will have a blast! Hope you are super excited for it. I’m on a custom trip going in, and will enter a few days before the other trips, but I’m sure our tour groups will pass at certain points, ask Hannah to point me out for you and we can get a beer some night.

      March 5, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      • Kevin

        Where are you headed on your custom trip? Considering that you’ve already been there, a custom trip is probably the smart thing to do for subsequent trips — I’ll keep that in mind if (or when) I go back.
        We’ll definitely have to have a few beers if we cross paths. If we don’t, have a great time, and I’ll look forward to seeing your posts here on your blog (and thanks for what you’ve posted already — it’s good info and really making me excited for my trip).

        March 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      • here is a write up on my itinerary – note that there will be no Mass Games.


        March 6, 2012 at 11:53 pm

  12. Do you know what foods they are planning to serve for the festivities? Of course I am going to do a Kim Il Sung 100 Feast for my blog, but I don’t know what to make. It’s every North Korean food blogger’s dliemma!

    March 6, 2012 at 2:14 am

    • I have no idea, and actually was not thinking we would be treated to anything other than the normal food offered on any tour.

      March 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

  13. Pingback: The Wonderful Contradictions of North Korea - The North Korea Blog | The North Korea Blog

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