Monday, September 22, 2008

"Arirang" games and more


The Hyangsan hotel:

After breakfast we visited the Pohyon temple. It is said to be one of the few remaining practising Buddhist temples left in North Korea. However, I can’t guarantee whether the monks are “real” or just for tourists...

Our guide at the museum:

We then drove to the „International Friendship exhibition“ – an exhibition, were all foreign presents received by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are shown.
The exhibition is located in two buildings, both are built deep into the mountains.
First we visited the building dedicated to Kim Il Sung. Taking photos inside is not allowed and everybody has to wear special cloth shoes over the normal shoes, to not contaminate the holy place...
We were guided from one room to another, and wandered along endless corridors together with our tour guides and a local guide. Each room was dedicated for presents from a specific country or region. There was no time to visit every room, but of course we were shown the rooms which contained presents from Austria and Switzerland. Most presents from Austria and Switzerland were typical tourist-souvenirs, usually received from various left-minded organizations (e.g. from the Austrian Communist Party, from the "Gewerkschaftlicher Linksblock" (Trade-union left block) and so on).
One room contained a life-size wax figure of Kim Il Sung, of course we had to bow in front of it. Most presents were of course from former socialist countries, but there were also many presents from Arabic and African countries.
The exhibition with the presents for Kim Jong Il was similar, but smaller (20.000 gifts instead of 70.000 gifts for Kim Il Sung).
There were many other visitors at the exhibitions, most of them were North Koreans. They are brought there to see how popular Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are in the outside world...
Two photos taken from the Kim-Jong-Il exhibition building:

Some other reports about the "International Friendship Exhibition":

After lunch at the hotel we drove back to Pyongyang. At about 15:30 we arrived at the "Korean War Museum". Of course it showed the North Korean view about the war, but it was a quite impressive museum, especially the detailed 3D-dioramas of some of the battles were interesting.

At the entry hall of the museum:

Our museum guide:

A North Korean MIG-15:

The North Koreans are especially proud about shot American figher aircrafts. The rest of them are shown at the museum:

One of the impressive dioramas:

It was not easy to see where the 3D-model ends and the 2D-background painting begins.

From the museum we drove to a school, to watch a childrens music performance. On the way we followed a tram route. During our stay in Pyongyang many tram routes were under reconstruction.
A photo takem from our car:

Another stretch of the tram-network was operational, here two photos of trams (also taken from the car while driving):

The school:

The performance:

The children were quite good. Most other visitors were tourists from China (and/or other Asian countries) and after the performance the children received some flowers and gifts and a photo-shooting with tourists took place on the stage:

The next item of the agenda was the dinner at a restaurant. When we arrived there, I could take another tramway photo:

North Korean tourist restaurants are a strange thing. Tourist buses are parking in front of it and everything is organized in advance. Usually we and our guides sat in a separate room with only one table. There were usually no windows to watch what is going on outside on the street. There were other rooms for bigger tourist groups. I don't know, whether such restaurants are accessible for ordinary North Koreans, but if so, I'm sure that there is a special room for them.
We have not found out, whether apart from those tourist restaurants other ordinary restaurants, cafes or bars exist in Pyongyang; it would be too interesting to visit such places...

In the evening we watched the "Arirang"-performance in the May-Day-Stadium. It is the largest stadium in world (up to 150.000 seats), see

Whereas it was already dark around (no street lights, only some light from inside the houses), the stadium was brightly illuminated.

The "Arirang"-performance is a brilliant gymnastic and artistic performance, shown daily during some weeks in autumn. The entry is not included in the tour-price, tickets for tourists are available from 40 EUR (payable to the guides). I absolutely recommend to watch the "Arirang"-performance! The show takes about 1,5 hours and consists of various sessions of about five minutes. Each is dedicated to s specific topic (e.g. happy children in the DPRK, re-unification of Korea, economic progress in the DPRK) and so on. Up to 100.000 artists create moving pictures connected to the topic. Of course it is accompanied by music and also laser-shows are part of the spectacle.
Some sessions contain very spectacular artistic performances, e.g. people floating through the stadium high above the ground fixed to an invisible rope and then jumping down...

Some impressions of the great show:

Each background picture is created by about 40.000 childrens holding tables containing pages with different pictures/colours. When they simultaneously turn over the pages, the background image changes.

Separation of the country…

A video of the last session of the great show:

Some more videos:



Eurasia 2005: ~35.000 km by train from Europe via Ukraine, Russia and Mongolia to China and back to Europe via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan:

Total solar eclipse 2008: Trip to the total solar eclipse in the Altay mountains (1st august 2008), including a 6-day trekking trip:


sp said...

AHHH! I'm jealous! You got to see Arirang! That is something I wanted to see and experience for years!
Was being in Pyongyang at this time planned beforehand or was it by accident?

Václav Mach said...

Great travelogue Helmut! Thanks for it. Do you plan to make some book or movie from your trips?

I recognised Czech (Czechoslovak) trams on your photos from Pyongyang. I knew, that we (CZ) delivered trams to many former communistic countries, but I am little bit surprised to see our trams also in NK.


Marián said...

Adding great plus for this travelouge Helmut!
I found it accidentely, but after starting i had to read it whole, from start to end and using Google Earth to track your journey :)

BTW like Vaclav, i was also suprised to see CZ trams. Older Tatra T3 where standart export, but "new" Tatra ČKD T6 are 1983 model and i was shocked when i discovered that 124 ps where exported to Pchjongjang :)

Richard Langford said...

I was in Pyongyang about a month before you and stayed at the same hotel. We were lucky to have a very clear view of the city from the hotel. I also was mesmerised by the 'Arirang'.

Richard Langford said...

At least you had a good look around the Natural Scenery near Mt Myohang.

When I went there 1 month earlier than you, I was most disappointed that we could only see the place where the 2 Kims display all the presents they received from other countries. 2 supposedly sacred communist places that are actually pointless exhibition halls in a very scenic area. One absurd thing was a new computer that ex-South Korean President Roh gave Kim Jong Il when he visited in 2000. Most ridiculously it was displayed in a glass showcase.

Unknown said...

For me, a south korean, it would be a thing that I can't ever see in my life... the closest but banned...