Posts tagged “History

Return of the Pyongyang Traffic Girls – Picture Post

Brought back from their Sept. 2010 retirement, these April 2012 photos posted below show Pyongyang traffic girls performing their classic signal direction routine photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

From a previous post:  To our delight, the traffic girls of Pyongyang were brought out of retirement to help deal with the massive traffic congestion, and perhaps to add a little more color to the city for ’Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations.

On my first visit (summer 2011) we had been saddened to learn that the girls had been replaced by a modern traffic light system. They could still be seen on occasion, running roadside signal lamp switches, working road construction sights, or directing traffic during the frequent power outages, but we missed their famous directing routines performed at the main city intersections. I’m happy to report that this April they were back directing traffic throughout Pyongyang, and although I have no idea how long this will last, I got some great pics during this special opportunity and will be sure to have a follow-up post sharing the best of them! 

This is the follow-up picture post with those promised photos posted below!

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Remaining photos show the Pyongyang traffic girls performing their normal post retirement duties: cross walk safety overloading and manual light phasing – all from April 2012.

Pyongyang, North Korea Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girls

Pyongyang Traffic Girls

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

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Countryside Propaganda Billboards and Murals Post #2

More from my collection of images showing North Korean propaganda billboards and murals from the Wonson and Hamhung countryside areas – check out post #1 here.

Wonson - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonson-Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonson-Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Hamhung-Wonson Road

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DSC09992


Pyongyang Traffic Girls Return!

Pyongyang, North Korea Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

To our delight, the traffic girls of Pyongyang were brought out of retirement to help deal with the massive traffic congestion, and perhaps to add a little more color to the city for ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations.

On my first visit (summer 2011) we had been saddened to learn that the girls had been replaced by a modern traffic light system. They could still be seen on occasion, running roadside signal lamp switches, working road construction sights, or directing traffic during the frequent power outages, but we missed their famous directing routines performed at the main city intersections. I’m happy to report that this April they were back directing traffic throughout Pyongyang, and although I have no idea how long this will last, I got some great pics during this special opportunity and will be sure to have a follow-up post sharing the best of them!


Back from the DPRK, North Korea!

Mangyongdae Children's Palace

Mangyongdae Children’s Palace Performance – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I just arrived back home after a 10 day trip to North Korea for the 100th year birthday celebrations for Kim Il Sung.  I’m happy to report that we had an amazing trip filled with wonderful interactions with charming locals, visits with old friends, and unparalleled access to the various major cities, countryside, and even industrial and heavy industry sites –  all made possible by the support of our fantastic North Korean guides!

I was genuinely surprised to have had over 10 people introduce themselves to me during the trip as fans of this blog.  I was truly delighted by the support, and as I sit here overwhelmed by the 8,000 plus photos I took during this last trip, I am motivated to get to work knowing that all my efforts are appreciated!

And I am certainly aware of the latest round of saber rattling currently coming out of the DPRK.  I have some on the ground observations, and while not an expert, I will work to get a post out ASAP sharing my thoughts on the present situation  in North Korea.

Much, much more to come!

 


Flight to Beijing and Pyongyang, North Korea

Mass Games

Chinese flag at the Arirang Mass Games – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I’m off to the airport for my flight to Beijing, China and will be flying to Pyongyang, North Korea on the 12th. See everyone on the the 25th of April – wish me luck!


Back to the DPRK!

My brothers over at The North Korea Blog and myself are are heading back to the DPRK next week for round two of some world-class totalitarian theatre. Empty highways, wet shooting ranges and disturbingly intimate conversations with locals are calling us back to the hermit kingdom.

Besides, this is the year that North Korea becomes a “strong and prosperous nation.” We couldn’t miss that, could we?

And how different it is this time around, just six months after our first trip.

Kim Jong Il is dead.

Kim Jong Un has assumed power……..continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

Taedong River View Pyongyang

Taedong River View, Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

The highlight of the trip will be the 100th year birthday celebrations of the ‘Eternal’ President Kim Il-sung.  This was no easy trip to make happen, over the winter we waited out the nationwide lockdown after the death of Kim Jong-il only to learn that it looked like there wouldn’t be rooms available to foreigners in Pyongyang during the Kim Il-sung birthday celebrations.  Dignitaries from the provinces would be flooding the capital during this time, but the good people over at Koryo Tours were finally able to scrape together some hotel rooms for us – not sure about the quality of the rooms but at least we have something guaranteed and the trip is confirmed!

Since I’m going to a birthday party I decided to bring a gift, and 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.  This is truly going to be a once in a lifetime trip!

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Soldiers at a Pyongyang park.

We want this to be a truly epic trip, birthday parties, rocket launches, and diplomatic gifts were not going to be enough, so I wrote up and submitted a custom itinerary that included North Korean sites never previously visited by western tourists.  Our tour will include the first ever visit to the Nampo  Chollima Steel Works, Tae’an Heavy Machine Tool Complex, Tae’an Glass Factory sites, and the Nampo Taekwondo School.  Another first ever visit will take us to Pujon, a town deep in the wild interior of the country where we will take mountain hikes and visit the infamous “slogan trees“.

Other exciting destinations we will visit (not on standard first time visitor tour program) include the Nampo West Sea Barrage, the Songdowon Schoolchildren’s Camp, Wonsan’s central square and piers, the Wonsan Agricultural University, the Tongbong Cooperative Farm, and the town of Hamhung and its beach scene.

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Man at a Pyonagyang park.

I have also planned a trip up to the Chinese/North Korean border town of Dandong for a little exploration and investigation.  Most foreigners visit Dandong as a trip extension on their stopover on departure from the DPRK by train, but Americans are required to fly both in and out, so my visit will be by train from Beijing after the North Korea trip is complete.  In Dandong my friend Jordan (from The North Korea Blog) and I will attempt to rub shoulders with North Korean spies, and learn the lowdown from the smuggles, refugees, and Christian missionaries that haunt the border region.  There is also some pretty wacky nightlife to check out, and there is no way I’m going to miss out on the opportunity to have rocks thrown at me as I attempt to take pictures of North Korean sailors and their boats on the river cruise.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Bubble gum in Pyongyang.

I hope all my dear readers will be excited for all the new and original material to come.  I have recently bought new lenses and  upgraded my camera kit from the Sony A55 to the new pro level Sony A77.  I just hope I can get this new camera into the county, I will be devastated if it is held at customs, so please send me some positive vibes and wish me good luck!


Kaesŏng Old Town

Photos from the Kaesŏng old town, DPRK, North Korea. We were not allowed to walk there, only take pictures from a viewpoint from high above.

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Old Town

Kaesŏng Roof Tiles


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


Koryo Dynasty Tombs

A visit to the Koryo Dynasty Tombs outside Kaesong, DPRK, North Korea.

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesŏng Tombs, North Korea


Favorite Moments in North Korea

Joshua Spodek helps rekindle memories from our trip to North Korea with the following posts:

Toward the end of our week in North Korea I asked all my travel group-mates what they considered their favorite moment of our trip and why.

Part 2, Part 3

My favorite moment was learning that the sailor who led the tour of the USS Pueblo was a member of the original boarding party of the ship. I felt he had communicated a message to take what we had learned there and use it to help promote peace, a different message than most of the government-promoted messages. Learning his role made the message feel more genuine – Joshua Spodek

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo given by an original crew member that participated in its capture – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Funny Old White Men in North Korea

Paintings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin in Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea.

Karl Marx in North Korea

Vladimir Lennon in North Korea


Our guide “love(s) American civilians!” at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

A required stop on any tour to North Korea is the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang. Here you will be ushered through room after room of displays showing off and explaining the great North Korean victory over American invaders during what we know as the Korean War (Forgotten War). What you see depends on your nationality, I have been told of three routes – perhaps there are more. North Korean visitors will see exhibits proclaiming the heroics of Kim Il-sung and the North Korean people and soldiers – little mention will be made of Chinese and Russian contributions. Separate exhibits for Chinese visitors celebrate their role in the war, while other exhibits for western foreigners focus on placing the blame for the conflict on the Americans and of telling of all the American war crimes and genocidal acts. 

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

We were shown war scene dioramas and 360 degree panoramas of Americans in defeat, DVD propaganda presentations, and led to a great basement warehouse housing captured tanks, wreaked airplanes, and all manner of  war trophies and captured memorabilia – but the most interesting thing about the War Museum was our guide.  We asked her who she thought had won the war, “we did of course because we defended our homeland against the great American invaders and forced a draw.”  Pretty good answer we thought, but then one of us asked what she thought would happen if there was another conflict, her eyes lit up and a diabolical smile spread across her face, “if we need to defend our homeland again we will take the opportunity to annihilate the Americans!”  WOW! – this was the first time on the trip we were exposed to such militaristic fanaticism – but I guess its pretty hard to get a job at the War Museum in North Korea if you are soft on Americans.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang

After being told of our impending annihilation we split our group between our trip guides and the local museum guide to fit into a small elevator to return to the museum entrance. Stuffed in the elevator between 5 big western men our guide asked us where we were from – Michigan, Maine, California, and so on.  The look on our guide’s face was priceless, she was stuck in an elevator with 5 arch enemy Americans just moments after she predicted our impending annihilation by North Korean troops. The look of shock on her face changed into a big smile as our guide declared “I love American civilians!” and together we all all broke out into laughter – one of the best moments of the trip!

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Our wonderful guide at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Defeated American Army in North Korea

A portion of the giant 360 degree American defeat panorama painting.

Defeated American Army in North Korea

Americans in defeat, painting at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Wreak of an American plane form the Korean War.

War Trophies at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Captured American tank from the Korean War.

War Trophies from the US Spy Ship Pueblo

War trophies from the sailors of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.

Pueblo US Spy Ship Incident

Exhibit on the capture of the captured USNS Pueblo – American spy ship.


Citizen Actors North Korea – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about North Korean citizen actors and how I didn’t really believe they were employed on the Pyongyang metro for the benefit of tourists, but there were some instances on our trip that we felt we had encountered citizen actors. Below two women play a board game on the Koryo Museum grounds in Kaesong. So engrossed in their game that they ignored our presence as we passed by, but just a short time later I backtracked to get a few more pics and they were gone.

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea in Blank and White

North Korea is officially an atheist state with all of the people’s attention and energy directed to the personalty cult of Kim II-sung and Kim Jong-il – that’s why I suspect the monk below is actually an actor working at the Pohyon Buddhist Temple, but I could be wrong.

Buddhist Monk in North Korea


Citizen Actors North Korea – Part 1

Urban legends and rumors abound that when on tour in North Korea the people you encounter will be government paid actors – this rumor mostly centers around the Pyongyang metro experience.

A map on the wall of the next station depicts a rather extensive subway network, with several stations scattered across Pyongyang. Several South Koreans I know are adamant that the entire thing is a sham, a Potemkin Village that consists of just two stations, and even those just for show. The “riders,” according to them, are all actors posing for tourists. They swear they have actually seen people get off one train and get right back on heading the opposite direction, in an infinite loop. From what I saw, I can’t say whether this is true or not, but it sounds a bit outlandish to me. It might well be true that there aren’t actually that many stops, and that the others stations aren’t anywhere near as fancy. But to run the whole thing just to impress foreigners … well, that would be pathetic, because it’s just not that impressive.

I agree with the above writer and feel that the metro was an authentic experience, but I also believe that just a few years back, when North Korea was first allowing in tourists and before the current construction boom, that it was possible that the metro might have had some citizen actors riding the trains for whatever reason the government felt that they needed them there.

The following is a collection of photos I took at various stations on the Pyongyang metro.  Could all this be an elaborate set and show for foreign visitors? I think not. Tomorrow I will post Part 2, a small photo collection of the people we encountered and suspected of actually being citizen actors.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal lady at the Pyongyang metro.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal ladies at the Pyongyang metro.

Pyongyang Metro

The long escalator down to a Pyongyang metro station.

Pyongyang Metro

Female soldier catching her train.

Pyongyang Metro

Metro train interior.

Pyongyang Metro

Signal lady and train.

Pyongyang Metro

Man waiting for his train.

Pyongyang Metro

Crowd offloading a metro train.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang metro signal lady at attention.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang metro signal lady at attention.

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North Korean school group at the metro.

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North Korean school group at the metro.

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North Korean school group at the metro.

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Waiting for the train at the Pyongyang metro.


North Korea – My Hopes and Fears

I have it from a contact that North Korea has instituted a total communications lock down – nothing in or out unless authorized by the highest levels of government leadership. Of course it was the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il that ushered in this latest crackdown. I really hope this current state of uneasiness, and the probable period of instability to come, will quickly pass. I have a trip planned for this April and I hope travel restrictions are lifted by then – but that’s a selfish reason. On my first trip I truly fell in love the North Korean people and I hope them the best – the average person there deserves better.

We shared amazing moments with the North Koreans we were lucky enough to meet – interactions I would never have believed possible. We were the great American enemy, but we laughed, danced, sang, joked, played games, held hands, and even shed a few tears.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Frisbee Diplomacy – doing our own little part to help American and North Korean relations and understanding at a grassroots level.  More on this to come!