2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition
Taking pictures of the military in the DPRK is officially forbidden, but never fear, during visits to special cultural/social events, and if lucky to be touring with one of the more relaxed North Korean guides, photography freedom with the men and woman of the North Korean military is likely to be allowed – one such place where we had freedom to mingle with the troops was the at the 2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition.
The Kimilsungia is a hybrid cultivar of orchid originally created in Indonesia. Official North Korean accounts tell of how Kim Il-sung admired the orchid during a botanical garden tour while on a state visit to Indonesia. Upon his inquiries about the flower President Sukarno promptly informed Kim Il-sung that it was as of yet unnamed, but due to his already performed great exploits for the benefit of mankind, it was apparent the flower must be named the Kimilsungia.
The flower exhibition is highlighted by the many elaborate arrangements created by and gifted from the foreign embassies based in Pyongyang, as well as the numerous North Korean military units and domestic social institutions. The huge arrangements gifted from the armed forces are adorned with statues of guns, swords, tanks, and missiles. Other arrangements often highlight the history of Kim Il-sung with models of his birthplace or other important historical sites associated with his life.
I had relatively low expectations for the flower exhibition but ended up delighted by the many military arrangements on display, especially the ones with models of the controversial test missile, and most of my group agreed that having shared our visit with large numbers of military personnel made the Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition a highlight of the trip – It’s the randomness in which you get to mingle with the armed forces that makes a visit to North Korea so much fun, perhaps if we had made the visit the following day the exhibition would have been empty and the experience much less special.
There is a separate Kimjongilia flower festival held each February during the birthday celebrations for Kim Jong-il. Neither the Kimjongilia or the Kimilsungia is the national flower of North Korea, that honor goes to the magnolia.
Someone in my group asked why the Kimilsungia was a smaller flower than the Kimjongilia, our North Korean guide simply said that that was not a wise question to ask……