I usually write only scientific articles, but here, as the saying goes, could not take up the pen. I will try to objectively as possible describe the impressions of the trip to DPRK.
Before flying to North Korea, and I was there for the first time, I tried to find as much information as possible about this country. To summarize my search efforts, you get a fairly negative image, although there were also positive articles. Honestly, I initially did not believe in those horrors of North Korea, which internet full is, but nevertheless, my own impression was so strikingly different from Internet that I completely believed in the power of propaganda.
The first day of the trip. The 10th of April the delegation of our center arrived in Pyongyang at the invitation of the Korean Association of social Sciences (KAOSS). The plane landed at the airport and the first thing that struck me was the cleanness and completely different air. From the very first breath I immediately felt very small gas content. The air like this we have only in a suburban area.
The customs procedure took no more than a few minutes anyway, unlike our airport where I had to remove belt, shoes, etc. in Pyongyang I did not go through such a humiliating procedure.
At the airport Internet version that the DPRK take all video and photographic equipment immediately collapsed. My camera and cell phone were just registered and passed. Taking pictures of everything is allowed in the DPRK.
We were met by a guide-interpreter Hyun Eun OK and we walked to the van. Besides our delegation by the same flight delegations from St. Petersburg, Moscow, N-Novgorod, etc. cities have arrived. The guide-interpreter has been presented to each delegation.
And here we went from the airport to the city. On the way, we came across a large number of people riding bicycles on special paths. As it turned out it was a fairly common form of transportation in Korea. Along the way, everything was clean and tidy. Along the road were cultivated fields and carefully planted gardens. However, greenery was not enough. Next to the fields were small villages with predominantly two-three-storeyed houses.
At first I thought it was a sanatoriums or rest homes, only later I learned that this was an ordinary North Korean village, where mostly comfortable low-rise houses were situated. In a small country that actually provides the population with food, this type of settlement appeared to be most beneficial because it allowed you to focus on a small part of as many people as possible, and the remaining land was used for crops. Anyway, I think that farmers probably live nicer in decent homes. In any case, many of our villagers do not have a lot of fun carrying water from the well or column or going number 1 in a wooden outhouse. Anyway, in a Korean village I have seen nothing like this.
Upon arrival in Pyongyang we stayed at the hotel “Koryo” one of the best hotels of the capital. Everyone had a private room with two rooms – bedroom and living room. The room had a small fridge and TV, and disposable toiletries. I lived in a few hotels of our vast country, but I couldn’t afford hotel like this.
Then discussing with colleagues the possible price of the room, we came to the conclusion that in Russia it costs at least 10 thousand rubles per day. My friends that were in South Korea last year, in one voice said that the South Korean room in which they were living was much worse although they paid more. The dinner, which was given us in the restaurant, was excellent. It consisted of at least 7 dishes mainly European cuisine.
In the evening we together with our Hyun Eun-OK, went for a walk around the capital. It was the time of the return of the majority of Pyongyang people from work. On the street where we walked there were a lot of various stalls selling prepared food. I saw women were buying it obviously for dinner. Queues which were described by “eyewitnesses” I haven’t seen. Well, there were 4 – 5 people and that’s it. And because there were many of such stalls, it can be concluded that a sufficiently large number of Pyongyang people use public catering just like us.
The same night I tried the Pyongyang ice cream for the first time. It happened like this. I was talking to my friends that they should definitely eat ice cream because it’s known to be tasty. And then we saw our Hyun Eun OK went to the stall and bought something. Returned to us and bought us ice cream. We began to thank her; I asked how much she spent, adding that we would definitely refund the money. However, our guide said that all this was very cheap and she spend little money.
Later we made sure that everything there was very cheap . As it turned out the guide salary was 100 thousand won and public transport cost 5 won, bottle of beer (0.7L) – 60 won, payment for utility services in the two-bedroom apartment – 5 thousand won per month, a ticket to the water park -. 60 won. Unfortunately, exchanging of their money was impossible, because they didn’t exchange to any currency. This so-called people’s money and they were intended for the DPRK population only. Therefore, foreigners used dollars, euro and yuan. By the way, I tried to exchange our rubles and even specifically agreed with the Bank on this matter but, as it turned out, rubles are not accepted too.
At the Bank I saw a large number of people, including children who changed their currency. So to say that the DPRK currency transactions are prohibited for ordinary citizens is meaningless. As for wages, the highest is the salary of the workers and peasants, i.e., those who work in the real sector of the economy. As explained to us the representative of our Embassy, it is about 700 thousand won.
The second day of the trip. The beginning of my acquaintance with the city. This day we visited the monument to Soviet soldiers-liberators of Korea and the exhibition “Three revolutions” (Korean ENEA).
The beginning of our tour program was very symbolic. The monument was located on one of the hills of the capital – mount Moranbong. Then we climbed the steep steps. There was a green zone around the obelisk. Striking clean and tidy everywhere. Despite the fact that the monument was being renovated and updated, flowers always lay there. That was nice that Koreans remembered who helped them in the liberation of the Motherland. The guide told us that the monument was erected on the personal orders of Marshal Kim Il sung. For me, this moment was particularly exciting. My uncle Leonid died freeing Korea. However, he was buried not here, but in Primorye.
Journey through the streets of Pyongyang was very enjoyable. The city was constantly being updated. Almost everywhere was primarily a construction of residential buildings. They built houses out of concrete by formwork method and so they literally grew by leaps and bounds.
It was a Saturday. It’s a day off for the majority Pyongyang people so a lot of them on the streets. Residents were very friendly. I was struck by the openness and friendliness of the citizen. There wasn’t a single sullen or laid-back face. It was noticeable how they respected each other. So to say, I experienced a feeling of camaraderie. Breath of the nostalgia for the Soviet Union.
As a child I didn’t pay attention to the faces of passers-by. Then it seemed to me that the kindness and friendliness were the natural state of men. Now in capitalist Russia, where dog eats dog, such attitude of people to each other is a rarity.
There were a large number of different cafes in the city filled with tourists and Pyongyang people. And most importantly, no commercials. My eyes literally rest. You could admire the panorama of the city without stopping on billboards. But the city was full of various political and Patriotic posters and slogans, and of course portraits and monuments of leaders Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il. The city had many military men. Many officers traveled by bike. Anyway, I saw a senior Colonel and General. I couldn’t imagine our Colonel in uniform on a bike, that was not possible. At least he could ride an official car.
In general, the military is very interesting to watch. First of all, comradeship between officers and privates was shocking. This is noticable in the manner of their communication during the movement on the streets. Usually, you could see the following picture. There was a group of soldiers. The officer In the center and soldiers and sergeants around him. The officer was talking and others were listening. It reminded me the agit-poster of the Soviet Army “political Officer talks to soldiers.” Since I served in the Soviet Army myself and I know firsthand that such a phenomenon was uncommon, but in North Korea I have seen this more than once. In General, as I understood it, the educational work in the Korean people’s Army (kPa) was paid great attention.
However it had its own specifics too. Regular military service lasts 10 years (from 17 to 27) and probably because of creating such a warm family environment makes it easier to endure the hardships and privations of military service. Of course, there were those who used a deferment of military service or passed it in shortened form. For example, the University students. However, unlike our universities the average contest is from 20 to 30 people in the place. For comparison, according to the statement of the MGU rector, the real competition in the University in 2015 were 2 people in the place. Only here you really understand the true demand for higher education. And how it can be unpopular, if the industry works like a clock. No crisis, no layoffs, no unemployment.
Education in all schools is free of charge, hence the big competition. The student receives free room and Board, and this year at the direction of comrade Kim Jong-UN also free uniform. It includes: a suit (pants for boys and skirt for girls), shirts (blouses), shoes, girls tights. It looks very nice and most importantly not turning the school into a podium for demonstration of social inequality as we do.
Young professional at the end of the school receives a referral that warrants total social protection and lodging. Then, within 3 – 5 years he gets an apartment with no mortgage and free. If he was transferred to the new place he gets equal accommodation. And housing problem is practically solved because the scale of housing construction is impressive. In General, the country is one big construction site.
Economic reality of the DPRK can be judged by ENEA exhibits. The exhibition presented all the achievements of the Korean industry, science and culture. The most modern equipment, numerous layouts, companies, films etc. were presented. But what struck our delegation the most was those Korean cars. I’m not a motorist, but my fellow are, they were amazed by the energy efficiency of cars. Our Korean friends called them the magpies.
Our delegation was interested in the question whether such vehicles are imported to Russia. We were told that these cars are intended for internal use only. The task that TPK set is simple: to provide people with cheap vehicles. Here, Extreme care by comrade Kim Jong-UN is noticeable. Therefore, we will not see such cars in Russia.
By the way there is an interesting story about the name of the car. As we were said, according to Korean tradition, if a guy wanted to call a girl out, he screamed like a magpie, and she could not refuse him. So it is believed that if a girl will see the boy like this car, you also won’t refuse the date.
Anyway, I left the exhibition with full confidence that North Korea is a modern industrial power.
The day ended. We returned to the hotel and passing by one of the area saw a large group of dancing people. We asked to stop the bus, and went to take pictures. The music was playing. Men and women of completely different ages danced in the street. Moreover, they did it to some national melody.
That was an evening of the weekend and the population entertained. That was not raging dancing to a strange rock, making meaningless gestures, in a drunken or half-drunken stupor to the beat, no, they danced smoothly, like floating over the ground. Where can we see this in our country? Subsequently, I watched it many times and always felt great respect for Koreans, carefully keeping their national culture.
The second day ended. Pyongyang immersed in the darkness of the night. To the midnight ceased almost all movement and the city established new to me, silence. It was so quiet that we had only in the nights of my childhood. The city slept and only the clock on the station square broke the silence every hour with extremely smooth and the lulling melody that swept through the silent city. Ahead were a new day, new meetings and new impressions.
The third day of the trip. That day we went on an excursion to the Juche, tower of ideas. It was not a monument to some event or hero, but the idea and philosophy of the entire North Korean nation. The Grand monument stood on the embankment of the Taedong river. Here, as everywhere in the city was another reconstruction. The guide told us about the construction of the monument, sizes, etc. At the entrance to the tower were plaques which were sent from different countries, managers and organizations. There were from Russia. Huge multi-ton door opened easily, and we took the Elevator to the top. Pyongyang was seen from the observation deck. Only there you could see how beautiful the capital of North Korea was. Little fog was still stretching over the river. Near the pier was a handsome ship. The dredge worked on the river nearby.
The whole city was at a glance. It seemed to be composed of many small neighborhoods, and each had its own Playground. In general people in North Korea are a very healthy nation. This contributes, in my opinion, the concern of the leadership of the TPK physical education. The city had a huge number of various athletic fields and large sports facilities which were built on the personal instructions of Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il.
Additionally, North Korea had virtually all the basic food of local production and environmentally friendly. In any case, as a person who took care of his food, I could appreciate high quality of the Korean products. In ten days I gained a bit of weight and also I have absolutely completely eaten all the dishes that i could not afford it at home. Also, I didn’t swallow handfuls of pills like home. And yet, in the stores I have not seen inflated water and frozen ice meat and fish. So the Koreans do not pay for water and ice as we do. All products here are extremely tasty. This forgotten taste of Soviet childhood. In Russia, I was unaccustomed to the fact that the products in stores have natural smell and color.
But let’s get back to the sport. Almost all the sport facilities in Pyongyang were always busy. Youth played mostly sports games – football, basketball, volleyball, tennis. They were especially crowded with young people at the weekends, even there was a queue. That’s a very different Pyongyang from the major cities of Russia.
Eco friendly products plus sport. Maybe that’s why there were not obese people.
The city was full of youth and children. And there wasn’t smoking people on the streets at all. It worked even for foreigners. Anyway, I haven’t seen any of them with a cigarette. I asked our guide: “Men do not smoke here?” “No – she replied, smoke, but only at home or in designated places.” Question about Smoking women, I understand, generally not worth it. And they do not have any anti-Smoking advertising. Here you have the advantages of socialism. Cigarettes on every corner and on the street not a single cigarette butt. By the way, there wasn’t a single smoker or a smoking place near the public buildings too.
Noteworthy was the absence of beer drinking young people, although drinking alcoholic beverages was not prohibited anywhere. Maybe that’s why people don’t drink, because it’s not prohibited? During ten days I saw only two people drank on the street. Once in a cafe near the Park, and another time in Moranbong Park. In General, the people were busy, not having fun. By the way the city was full of pubs. People came, drank a little, grabbed a bite and left. So like this.
At weekends the citizens relaxed in the cafe, which there were plenty. It was interesting because recently on our TV there was a movie about North Korea. So there was this phrase that in order to sit in a cafe, you must keep three months ‘ salaries. So, based on my observations, it appeared that whether our correspondent was lying or Pyongyang people went there using queues and not more than once in three years which, of course, was ridiculous because I’ve seen a lot of these cafes and people there.
There was clean and tidy on the streets, each one, not just on the main streets like in Khabarovsk or Moscow. Garbage bins were neat and next to them wasn’t lying anything. Having stayed in the DPRK I have never cleaned shoes, i just brushed away the dust from them. And again. The city had no stray animals.
After lunch our group went to the memorial to the heroes of the Korean War. It was built on the personal instructions of Kim Il sung and represented the obelisk and the place of burial of the heroes of the DPRK. On the square were buried all the heroes. Thus, the veritable Pantheon has been created. I thought, why should we not create a Pantheon of heroes of the Soviet Union perished in the years of that terrible war? That would really be the memory.
In the evening we went for a walk in the evening city. Here I drew attention to the fact that the city had no police. Actually it did but only in the face of street cops (mostly very pretty girls) but after dark came they left their posts. The question of where the police were, aroused my genuine interest. I really used to the fact that police patrols the streets of Khabarovsk. And then, well, no police! The fact that the police existed I learned on the fourth day of our staying, when one of our delegates (Nizhni Novgorod) got to the station. Here is how it was. He went roller-skating and while doing it he was taking pictures of everyone. He took a picture of military which was not recommended. The military arrested and took him to the station. There he was drank by tea and then they called the guide, who confirmed his identity. By the way after this incident our guide, Hyun Eun OK asked us not to walk without her around the city.
So I found out that the police existed in Pyongyang. Only then it turned out that the DPRK was virtually crime free, and the whole Korea had only one prison. That’s why we could walk in the evening city calmly, being not afraid of our safety, even in the absence of police patrols. That was strange, but in a foreign country I felt more protected from crime than at home or in any capitalist country in the world. For example in Germany or the United States is unsafe for tourists to walk in the Turkish or the Negro neighborhoods. A walk in the evening city ended our third day.
The fourth day of the trip. That day we were going to visit the Museum of the Patriotic war. That’s the name of the war in North Korea which was in 1950 – 1953. This historic event was particularly close to me because it was closely related to my research interest. The Museum occupied a huge area. It was created by direct order of Marshal Kim Il sung like most cultural institutions of the city. The Museum had a large number of outdoor exhibits. They presented the trophy American technology, and even standing on the hitching American spy ship “Pueblo” captured off the coast of Korea. On this ship we were shown a film in Russian about how American spies were caught in the territorial waters of North Korea. After that, we went into the Museum. The show started with the exhibition of the film about how the Americans and South Koreans started the war.
In the DPRK, the question of who is the initiator of the war is not a problem. Once in the Soviet Union there was no doubt that the war was unleashed by the Syngman Rhee regime, coupled with the US imperialists. Now in our country the situation is different. Virtually all of the literature on this issue on the side of the American (war unleashed I.V. Stalin and Kim Il Sung) version of the war.
I am convinced that the South Korean regime began the war, and this has been well documented, but the documents confirming directly opposite are not presented, except for those documents which are publicly available. But they all are just exclusively passages from the fragments. Anyway, the case of the Stalinist Fund on this issue is still in secret custody. As a scientist I have a suspicion: if it’s hidden they have something to hide.
And one more thing. Since our pundits sided with the American version then please provide the proof. Especially in some research papers you are quoting, but they are in secret storage. The way the authors got access to them remains a mystery to me. During my work in the archives I have asked similar questions of its employees. They were so very indignant, and they even asked me to bring the output of research of such “authors”. I have done such a great selection for them of course, but there was no continuation of it. That’s because I have mentioned too well-known names, I guess.
But let’s get back to our tour. The halls of the Museum of the Patriotic war were always full of people. I have never seen such an influx of visitors in our historical museums. As we were reported, the war veterans worked here as guides. However due to advanced age, they certainly couldn’t stay there all day. I had no luck. Unfortunately, that time, I failed to meet them, because it would be very interesting for me. I hope that if I am invited again to visit the DPRK I will have more luck and I will be able to meet with participants of the war.
After the exhibition, I met a reporter for Korean radio, which I was recommended as a specialist in the Korean War. We had a pretty long talk. He was interested in the question: “How do I assess the role of Kim Il sung as the commander?” I was pleased to realize that at least in this country people realize the value of the head of state in such tragic events. I imagined the indignation of the citizens of the DPRK, if they were said that in this war they won “in spite of Kim Il-sung”, as we are talking about I. V. Stalin.
Anyway, the impression from the Museum was enormous. I could see clearly the courage and perseverance of the Korean people, inspired by the Juche idea. Actually right was I. V. Stalin, saying that the Americans can’t beat the Korean people.
After visiting the Museum returning to the hotel, I again admired the scenery of Pyongyang. But now its admiration was accompanied with deep respect before the work of the Korean people, who managed to recover and to decorate the city which was almost devastated by the US imperialists.
On the same day our delegation visited the Pyongyang University. Kim Jong Il graduated from this University. That was a usual study day. Our tour began with the University Museum. Then there was the outside tour. The University was equipped with the most modern equipment and it also had a beautiful auditorium and sports complex, electronic and conventional library. But perhaps the most important thing is the atmosphere. As I wrote before, the students received a single uniform that will surely discipline. The university prevails business atmosphere. From conversations with teachers I learnt that there was practically no problem with attendance. Classes skippers are expelled mercilessly. Students prepare for classes, having a constant electronic connection with both a library and teachers and also they have an opportunity to get advice. So it means that those problems that exist in most modern Russian universities do not exist here. And, probably, they can’t exist with free education and high competition. That’s the place where the truly competitive staff is prepared.
The fifth day of the trip. This day was dedicated to, so to say the cultural program. We visited the art Museum, the exhibition of flowers, a monument to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il and dental clinic.
The memorial complex which is dedicated to the great people of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il is situated on one of the hills of Pyongyang. This picturesque place was surrounded by park area just like many places in the city. There were two bronze monuments to the founders of the DPRK In the middle of the square. The square was always full of people. There were delegations of different organizations and institutions, pupils and students and a lot of small groups, probably families with children. The pedestal was just covered with flowers. That was a manifestation of the great love and respect of the population to their chiefs. Later I realized that love to Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il was really sincere.
Flower exhibition is also connected with the names of the two great leaders of the Korean people. Kim Il sung Hwa and Kim Jong Il Hwa flower was introduced specifically in honor of these great men. Exhibition hall in the form of a two-tiered amphitheater turned into many floral arrangements. Nearly every Korean organization was presented there. I have never been to such exhibitions and in general I was honestly indifferent to colors, but I really liked there. From each song I literally smelled people’s love for the chiefs. It was evident that their makers have invested all their respect and reverence to the memory of comrades Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il.
After visiting the exhibition we were taken to the dental clinic of the city. It was modern, equipped with high quality equipment from hospital. It was, as we say “elite”. There all the residents of Pyongyang could get free help. As we have explained, the main task of doctors was not so much a treatment as prevention of diseases.
We were showed both adult and children’s Department. Of course, I was struck not so much the equipment itself, although it did not differ from the European much, as not a very large influx of people. Though of course it was a weekday, but even for weekdays there were not many people. I have been visiting an ordinary local medical clinic and there are always long queues.
The Sixth day of the trip. The holiday. This day – April 15 is called in the DPRK, “Sun Day”. It is both the birthday of comrade. Kim Il sung and the beginning of the new year Juche. Festive Pyongyang was beautiful. There were crowds of people on the streets. It was very reminiscent of the Soviet May Day. The music was playing. This day, the population hurries to bow to their leaders. So we went to the mausoleum of comrade. Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il.
The mausoleum was located in the former suburban residence and it was a huge building in which comrade Kim Il Sung, The Sun Of The Nation, worked. The building was a covered gallery along the Park where the Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung loved to rest. At the gallery we moved on a special conveyor belt to the sounds of the funeral Korean music. I must say that the music sounds in the DPRK solely in Korean. Anyway, I never heard the other ones. Special melody was simply mesmerizing.
I was in this mausoleum for the first time and I realized the main difference between the North Koreans and representatives of other peoples. It was real love for their leaders. People of different ages and professions were crying. Hyun Eun OK’s eyes welled up with tears. Even children were crying.
Honestly, I didn’t know how to behave. My experience cannot be expressed by words. Once my deceased parents told me that they cried after Stalin’s death in the Soviet Union. And then they cried in the mausoleum on red Square near his grave. Perhaps, the people’s love for their Protector, and Father should be expressed like this.
There I understood why people do selfless work, why there is no crime, why do girls go to the army as volunteers, why young people are not lazy and do not do drugs and study and do sports and even why there are no drunks and smokers. Because the state, represented by their leaders cares deeply about people as if they are their children, and the children genuinely love them as their parents. This concern is manifested in everything. They have the free health care and education, the provision of housing and the provision of work, even gifts for the holiday. Yes, dear readers, each holiday the population receive gifts. Well, where in the world can you see anything similar?
There is a special room in the mausoleum in which all the rewards of the Great Leaders are stored. It presents both governmental and public awards. The number of awards and titles is shocking. In fact thus the most of the world, expressed their respect for the leaders of the DPRK.
Then we visited the house where comrade Kim Il Sung was born. A String of people was moving to the chief’s house. The house was situated at the foot of the hill. Of course, it was well restored but, nevertheless, it was clear that the family lived very poorly.
There is a lot of military among the visitors of the Museum. And there are a lot of girls in the ranks of soldiers. They also serve in the army, but voluntarily and by contract. The contract is for a term of 1 year and above. However, the notion of a contract has an entirely different meaning. Unlike our women who serve for money, girls in KPA serve on the same basis as men, i.e. under the terms of conscripts. They get the appropriate for the soldiers allowance and no salary. When I said it to my girl students they didn’t even understand at first and having figured it out for a long time, why the Korean girls need this. And this is the highest expression of patriotism and love for their socialist homeland. But after visiting the mausoleum I have not surprised. Confidence in the future and the belief that the country will do anything for you evoke a natural feeling inside of people selflessly help their country, if it needs.
In General, the population of the DPRK is very kind to it protector – the army. No wonder modern politics in the DPRK is called “Songun”. The essence of “Songun” idea is to accomplish the independence of the people, socialism, give priority to military Affairs, and put it to the fore and considering the army as the leading force, to implement the construction of a new society.
There are paramilitary organizations in the country and they are mainly youth. They have their uniform which is reminiscent of the military and they do military-applied sports. In Pyongyang and other cities young men and women can be found everywhere. We’ve even seen boys with dummy guns in the uniform which were obviously returning from the paramilitary game, just like the Soviet “Zarnitsa”. The city also has many street shooting galleries where young people and others spend their free time practicing shooting. And I noticed that the soldiers really enjoyed universal people’s respect and love and the military service is really honorable and voluntary and is not a “feeder” for the contractors or “wasted time” for conscripts as we have in our country. Here is the difference between the capitalist and socialist patriotism.
At the end of the day, I noted that, judging by the dramatic increase in vehicle traffic in Pyongyang, the event was visited by almost all the population of the DPRK. Then I learned that the state organizes special free delivery people to the city for a holiday.
The holiday ended with spectacular fireworks, and I was waiting for new experience.
The seventh day of the trip. The morning was cloudy and also it was raining. This day we went out of town. We went to the Western Sea on the waterworks. In fact, this giant hydraulic structure is situated at the mouth of the Taedong River. The fact that during high tides sea water up the river all the way to Pyongyang, flooding huge areas thereby bringing them out of economic turnover. Then, on the personal instructions of comrade Kim Il sung the decision was made to start the construction of the dam. It was built in a very short time, a huge hydraulic structure with its own tidal power plant.
After lunch the sun came out. We were taken to the Conservatory. I’m not a fan of classical music, but here the Koreans surprised me. We listened to Korean classical music. In my opinion, it was something average between folklore and March. The most fascinating piece of music was written by Kim Il Sung. Really if a person is talented, he is talented in many ways. After the concert, some members of the Moscow delegation expressed doubts about the authorship of the comrade Kim Il Sung in view of its workload, to which I said that there was no reason to doubt. At the same time I added that Comrade Stalin also wrote beautiful poetry, and they even published it under the tsarist regime.
The Eighth day of the trip. This day we were going to the mountains. In the gift Museum of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and dear Leader Kim Jong Il. The ride took two hours. A military patrol checked our documents on the outskirts of Pyongyang PPC.
There is a delusion in the Internet about DPRK citizens that can get to the capital only with special passes. I don’t know about passes, but only foreigners were checked. The usual citizens move freely in both directions. People are riding bicycles, walking, well, in General, as usual. There was a car ahead of us, and it was stopped.
In other matters, such precautions are probably not superfluous. The country is a besieged fortress. As far as I know, the DPRK has a lot of secure areas and it is always ready to repel an attack from the outside. The country is small and these security measures are more noticeable here than in any other country.
In fact during the trip we were crossing the country from South to North. It was an opportunity to observe the rural landscape. A large number of villages come across along the way. They were not large and as I mentioned above they were arranged compactly. The farmers mostly live in comfortable stone houses, although there were rows of one-storey houses. By the way the Internet has mostly pictures of old single-storey houses. There were actually such houses in Pyongyang. There live old people who don’t want to change their way of life.
The villages have a clear layout of the houses and it is clear that the development was conducted according to the plan. In the morning (we left at about 9 o’clock) there were not so many people on the sidelines. Another delusion was that farmers plowed the land with oxen. Yes, indeed I watched it. But again the Internet photo did not give a complete picture, but here it is. The DPRK is mainly mountainous country and traditionally it is happened that the North was industrial and the South was agricultural, hence the difference in number of population. The South has always been more populated. But since the DPRK is actually in an economic blockade, and food security is a matter for the Koreans. So they use every piece of land.
Indeed, in agriculture, Korea still uses oxen. But where? On very small areas not larger than 1 hectare, and even on the of the mountain slopes. Just as we used horses instead of tractors for the cultivation of vegetable gardens. In General they use oxen where using of tractors is uneconomical and technically difficult. But on flat and large fields they use tractors. At the same time in South Korea in General, many fields are cultivated by the farmers manually. That’s the whole truth.
Along the way we saw the rural population moving along the road. Of course, we who were accustomed to vehicles in the city found that abnormal. But, first, if you go to the Russian hinterland, and there you will see approximately the same pattern, and second, there a distance between the villages is not more than 2 km. Additionally, Korea has very clean and paved roads.
While driving we passed several hydroelectric power plants. Again, the surprise was how on such shallow rivers generally possible to construct something like them. But there was an entire cascade. I thought it was a pity that the DPRK nature didn’t give such a river as our Amur. Then they would have less problems with energy. And again I was surprised by labor heroism that the Korean people made and makes thanks to the wise leadership of their leaders.
Finally we arrived to the place. We turned towards the mountains and pass summer camp. Modern buildings located in a picturesque location, sports pitches, in General, all conditions for recreation of children. In General, Korea really brought to life the slogan “All best – to children”.
Further down the road we crossed a mountain river with clear water and drove up to the building of the Museum of gifts. We visited its branch in Pyongyang. Here we saw the whole complex. The Museum was always crowded. Halls with gifts were located in a building which was built in the Korean style. Each country had their rooms. There were a lot of gifts from the USSR. There was a room where there was a car donated by Kim Il sung to Stalin and there hanged a portrait of him. The guide reported that the portrait always caused live reaction of our compatriots. It was nice that there were countries on earth where people remembered this truly GREAT MAN. In General, the attitude to Stalin in Korea is very respectful. I wore on the lapel of the suit an icon with his image and so here, in North Korea, a lot of people recognized him.
Of course, we were not able to explore the entire exhibit. It was probably impossible to do for a few days because of the many gifts, but I would like to thank our Korean friends for such an opportunity and wish that this Museum will always work and never close despite all the winds of change.
Then there was the picnic. Nature in Korea is special. I’ve already talked about clean air. The purity of nature is striking too. On a picnic near a small waterfall rested several groups including the soldiers of the KPA. They were all in the same sportswear and arrived by bus. Obviously, they were taken to the nature because of dismissal. Again, it may be noted that, despite the duration of service, conscripts have the opportunity to fully relax.
So the environment was also not littered and striking in its purity. Note that alcohol is sold everywhere. A Habit to clean up after themselves is obviously in the blood of Koreans.
After this we visited one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the territory of Korea. The Abbot of the monastery told us about the history of its creation, about how it suffered in time of the U.S. bombing and that it was restored and saved on the personal orders of Kim Il sung. The attitude to religion in the DPRK is quite adequate. There is even an Association of Buddhists, which is represented in the North Korean Parliament with another party. Thus, the DPRK had a multiparty system.
We returned to Pyongyang in the evening, tired but happy. Again passing cultivated fields saw the work of Korean farmers. In General, their work does not differ from the work of Russian peasants, and no totalitarianism.
The ninth day of the trip. This day we went to the circus. Korean circus is totally different from ours. First, it consisted of an manege and the stage. Acrobats were performing on the manege and magicians and jugglers were performing on the stage. The program was also different from ours. There were no trained animals. It included acrobatics, juggling, magic and clowning. But I was as always astonished of people’s reaction. Probably, there was not a more appreciative audience.
The circus like all similar institutions in Pyongyang was full at the weekend. As near the entrance were several chartered buses I could concluded that the people came from other cities to see the performance. There was like probably everywhere a large number of children. But the most interesting for me was the reaction of the audience. It was completely absorbed by the performance. People’s faces glowed with such genuine joy and admiration that it seemed the entire manege was filled with that light. I watched our guide, Hyun Eun OK. Attention of this older woman was completely absorbed by the performance. I looked at the audience and I almost everywhere observed the same picture. And when the clown came out and started some kind of game with the audience, from those who want to take part in it, there was no end.
This striking contrast to the Korean audience from ours reminded me of the Soviet circus. When I was a child, i of course, did not pay attention to the reaction of the audience but now I see our jaded with entertainment and, in General, most indifferent audience. Recently I have watched the old TV program about the old Soviet circus. So that’s where the film perfectly captured the reaction of the audience, and I caught myself thinking that it was very similar to the one I saw in the Pyongyang circus. I saw the same joy in adults, the same bright face, the same absorption of performance.
The tenth day of the trip. It was the last day in Pyongyang. The morning was a bit cloudy. We were taken to an aqua park. It consisted of two parts – external and internal. External part hadn’t work yet. There were many adults and children in the Park. Women had Interesting bathing suits. They were all closed and with the skirts in retro style. It was clear that people came to relax and not to display their beauty. In General, modesty is a distinctive feature of Korean women. The water Park had a Barber shop and other women’s enjoyment, cafes and other catering items, in General, all that was necessary for normal rest.
After lunch we had a walk through the capital. We decided to visit Moranbong Park. This is one of the many parks in Pyongyang.
The capital is the city of parks. They were literally at every step. In addition there were lots of FREE children’s parks. There were a lot of various entertainment items: swings, roundabouts, trampolines, bungee and more. And of course there was a playground in every child’s Park. Children are probably the only privileged part of the population of the DPRK. Here the youth education is given great attention. First, they are constantly occupied with something: clubs, sports clubs, paramilitary games, and cultural events. From morning to evening they are on constant adult supervision and their elders. Little Pyongyang girls just like all children are extremely curious and friendly. Passing us on the street they said: “hello”. I said turning to the group “Why hello? Say Zdravstvuite”. And they began to greet us in Russian. Not once had i to observe, how streets were filled with a pioneer squad and the children sung marching, Patriotic song. I think the concern of the country about its younger generation this was one of the main reasons why the streets of Korea didn’t have drunken teenagers and in General, there were no beggars and homeless people, informal people, street crime and the girls of “easy behavior”.
Since childhood, Koreans are brought up in the spirit of patriotism and love to the leaders. Here was what I noticed. Girl was about five years’ old laying flowers to the monument to the Ki Il-sung, and next to her was obviously her father. No one forced these people to lay flowers; it was done at the behest of hearts. This was, in my opinion, the true patriotism and love of country.
You don’t need to go far to see the beauty of Pyongyang nature. Just walk to Moranbong Park, which is in the centre of the capital of the DPRK. Its name translated as the “Peony peak”. The beauty of this Park is indescribable and so Moranbong for centuries was the favorite pastime of Pyongyang people.
My colleagues assured me that you wouldn’t see such beauty in Seoul. You can walk and relax everywhere you want in the Park and anywhere you get comfortable on a picnic. We came across with such groups of people in the Park very often. There was a small group of women, spreading a blanket on the lawn and set an improvised picnic. Further a small group of men had a rest with all amenities.
At the entrance to the Park we met a group of students who, under the guidance of his teacher did sketches with a pencil.
There was music playing In the Park. And it played not only on a special dance floor occupied with young people. On a small cliff, two musicians played the flute, and under the cliff two girls dancing Korean dance. I have to admit that in front of the musicians there was no cap to collect money.
Generally national people’s tunes are very common in the DPRK. This is evident in clothing and in art. There were many women and young girls in gorgeous national dresses on the streets. I was greatly surprised, but as we have explained it was a deliberate policy of the state. Since women quite often dressed in traditional clothing comrade Kim Jong-UN made a proposal that men should wear national clothes. But I honestly didn’t see such men.
I noticed a tendency of Koreans to improve their cultural level. There were a lot of people near cinemas and theatres as always. This was very reminiscent of Soviet times.
Through the Park run a small river and there were waterfalls. There were kids near the water. Girls were collecting garbage and the boys were splashing in the water. In General, I saw scenes from our childhood. I immediately reminded Khabarovsk parks with wild music, pub, littered the shore, a drunken youth and sleeping on lawns homeless and our native policemen guarding the peace. And here you eat, drink, rest and no violations of law.
The most famous of Korean architecture in Marybone is an alcove of Ylmilde (in honor of the leader by the name of Ylmil). It stands on the brickwork at 11 meters high, from which we could see the stadium of Kimm Il Sung, TV Tower and Triumphal Arch.
Big mown meadow in front of the alcove looked like watchtower because of its location. It served as a platform for practicing Taekwondo.
The highest peak of the Park is called Chisinga. When we were there we literally drowned in the blooming rhododendron and azaleas, sheltered under the shade of pine trees.
There were a huge amount of alcoves and gates at Marybone. They attracted landscape painters. The old ladies loved to gather to sing and dance On Marybone. They were happy to do it under the “eye” of the cameras.
Farewell party in Pyongyang was unusually quiet. We came down from the mountain and went to the hotel on foot. I with a sad heart knew that I ended up with my Soviet past. I called it “visiting fairy tales” by the fact that it was really a fairyland, where all the people really needed appeared as if by magic, and present-day life reminded me of life “like in a fairy tale – more further and more terrible”.
The next morning we flew out of Pyongyang. I warmly said goodbye to my Korean comrades, and an hour later I was at the airport of Vladivostok. When I was out on the street, I immediately got my foot in the dirt. Hello Homeland!
Ten days in North Korea shook me to the core. I imagined how beautiful we could live in our country, if perestroika and Yeltsinism wouldn’t happen. We could live even better than in Korea because our country had much greater potential but, unfortunately, our Soviet leadership paid a lot of attention to the material side of life, not the spiritual.
What I saw in the DPRK, leads to the conclusion that Korean national social and political system with its inherent features finally formed there. In fact, this small area of the Globe formed a new civilization. It is a unique civilization, which is unique in the history of mankind. Such civilization has been neither in the past nor in the present. North Korean civilization, despite certain difficulties, is still a young system, quite viable and has potential for further progressive development. Established in the DPRK social and political system has mass support – most people are loyal to it. It was an incarnate ideal of socialism and the Juche idea, and most of the Korean government in the minds of millions of residents is perceived as a state of workers, peasants and working intellectuals. Therefore, Korean citizens in case of military danger, ready to defend not only their Homeland, their own state, but also the prevailing socio-political system, its social and political system.
Translated by Dmitry Krasnokutsky (APIR Center)