Saturday, 18 October 2014

Report of a Recent Visit to the DPRK

I arrived at Pyongyang airport on the 19th August of this year and immediately I could see that socialist construction was rapidly continuing as the new airport terminal was almost completed, along with a newly tarmac ked runway. Once the tour bus had arrived in central Pyongyang, the group stopped outside the station to collect members of the tour group who had travelled from Dandong. I noticed that there was a large group of people near to the station that were congregated together and they were all watching television on an extra large screen. My guide informed me that people in Pyongyang prefer to watch television together, as it fosters a sense of community spirit. Once all members of the tour had boarded the bus, it continued onto the Hotel where we stayed one night.
The group left this hotel at 7.00am the next day and on the drive to the airport I noticed that Pyongyang was a city of new build construction, with numerous buildings under different stages of completion. This shows the Korea under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un is prospering and peoples living standards continue to improve daily.
Arriving at the airport we boarded the 30 seat plane which took 1.5hours to arrive in Samjiyon airport where the group proceeded to board buses and embarked on the 2 hour drive to Mount Paektu.  Along the way we passed small villages with ornate Korean style bungalows. This shows that the DPRK has embedded traditional architectural techniques in building modern dwellings. So it is clear that the DPRK is preserving its rich culture by using traditional methods. This is in contrast with South Korea where many aspects of their cultural identity has been removed and replaced with American architecture and ideas. As our journey continued we drove on winding well maintained roads which were lined by strong lustrous pine trees. Arriving at the foot of mount Paektu I saw an impressive volcanic landscape with soaring mountain peaks, the tallest of which is mount Paektu. Once the bus arrived at the midpoint of mount Paektu, I boarded a cable car which took me near to the summit. This mountain is inscribed with the words “Sacred Mountain of the Revolution”, with Kim Jong Il’s signature underneath. This indicates that the Korean people hold mount Paektu close to their hearts as this was the place that President Kim Il Sung launched his campaign to liberate Korea. Upon arriving at the summit of Mount Paektu I was overwhelmed by sheer natural beauty of this vast dormant volcano and the stillness of Lake Chon, which was in cased by large rocky peaks. Lake Chon is the highest natural lake in the world and is the crater of the dormant volcano. The mountain is currently being studied by a British geological team lead bya Imperial College London researcher  who praised the Korean scientists already working there, by stating “their understanding is strong and their background is good. Arriving at seismic monitoring sites that were already built was a bit odd, but they were incredible - far better than anything I could have built." This shows the benefits of socialism in Korea as there is a keen interest placed in scientific development. The Koreans have set up better equipment than Imperial College London could have provided them with. So the DPRK is moving forward to become not just an economic power but a scientific power as well.
The next place that I visited after departing Mount Paektu was the Secret Camp which was nearby. At the entrance to the camp is a large mosaic featuring Kim Il Sung with Kim Jong Suk who is holding a young Kim Jong Il. The mosaic comprised of 160,000 pieces which has be precisely slotted together to form this amazing portrait. Above the camp is Jong il peak which is 1879 meters above sea level and both the head quarters and Kim Jong Ils birth place, are log cabins. Kim Il Sung’s Head Quarters was originally built in the 1930’s and has been lovingly preserved by the Korean people. The Head Quarters itself only contains the most basic of items including a large table where Kim Il Sung planned the battles ahead, an original map captured from the Japanese and the coat worn by Kim Il Sung in 1937. The handles of this building are all made out of animal hooves because steel would be too cold for the soldiers to touch in the bitter Korean winter. The building in which Kim Jong Il was born is a slightly smaller log cabin and is very bare except for a few reed mats for sitting on and a small table for meal times. This room had the original blanket used by Kim Jong Il as a child and the toys made for him by soldiers which were given on his first birthday. Although Kim Jong Il was born in a humble log cabin, he rose up to become the leader of the Korean people.
The group then moved on by tour bus to the Begabong Hotel where we stayed one night and in the morning departed to visit the Rimyongsu waterfall. This waterfall is 15m high and 27m wide. It was formed after being covered with the thick whinstone that erupted in the late third period, or the early fourth period of the cenozoic era. The underground water flows through the cracks of whinstone, comes out and reaches the rock face to become a waterfall. There are five main streams and between them are a number of smaller falls. This area is covered with azaleas in spring, green forests in summer and golden leaves in autumn.
Above the falls is a pavilion and nearby are camping sites where President Kim Il Sung stayed when he marched into Korea leading the main force of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army in May 1939.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the Chongbong camp. At the entrance to the site is a statue of Kim Il Sung who is seated and planning the battle ahead. There had been a statue of the great leader on this site since May 1969 but the present statue was completed under Kim Jong Ils direction in 2001. The camp is famous because it contained around 20 trees on which soldiers during the anti Japanese struggle had written revolutionary messages on. The slogans were originally written in 1939 and when the site was rediscovered in 1958, 10 of these trees were cut down and are now situated in the Korean Revolutionary Museum. The remaining trees have been preserved in glass cases so that future generations are able to read the slogans, which call on all of the Korean people to participate in the anti Japanese struggle. Five of the slogan trees on the site had been written on by Kim Jong Suk. It was only realized that these slogans had been written by Kim Jong Suk when leader Kim Jong Il visited the site in 1972 and recognized his mother’s hand writing. There were some also some trees with their bark peeled off and this bark was used for the soldiers to sleep on. One of the original chopping blocks used by the soldiers had also been preserved, as it demonstrated how the wood muffled the chopping noise.
After departing the Chongbong camp we stopped to observe the mosaic depicting Kim Il Sung leading the KPRA across the border from China to Korea. The mosaic is situated next to the original road used by Kim Il Sung and his guerrilla army. The road had been built by the Japanese to transport their troops from the South of the country to the North of the country should an insurrection occur. However, Kim Il Sung used this road to transport his troops quickly into Korea and defeated the Japanese in two battles over two weeks. The group then proceeded down the road which led to the Grand Monument. This statue of Kim Il Sung is the second tallest in Korea and shows him in full KPRA uniform. The statue is flanked on either side by statues depicting the jubilation of the Korean people after becoming liberated. The monument also depicts the anti Japanese guerillas helping the peasants and attaching the Japanese. Behind the statue of Kim Il Sung is a statue that has been placed in the lake and is entitled, the Water of the Motherland. The statues show soldiers who have just crossed the borders from China, touching the waters of Korea for the first time in many years. This grand monument has such a high level of artist skill and craftsmanship that it was awarded a peoples art prize in 1989. Whilst I was looking around the monument, a group of Korean students came marching past wearing the uniforms from the war and singing revolutionary songs. This is in stark contrast to the UK where many youths and young people spend more time abusing alcohol and committing acts of anti- social behavior rather than learning about their own history.  
Once the tour around the Grand monument had been completed I boarded the bus which drove me back to Samjiyon airport where an awaiting Air Koryo aircraft was parked on the tarmac. This aircraft took one hour to arrive in Orang airport, which is the smallest airport in the DPRK. A different bus then drove the 2 hour journey to Chongjin, which is the capital of DPRK’s North Hamgyong Province and the country's third largest city. It is sometimes called the City of Iron because the city is one of the DPRK’s most important steel and fibre industry centers. It has a shipyard, locomotive plant, and a rubber factory. Near the port area is the Chongjin Steel Co, Chemical Textile Co, May 10 Coal Mine Machinery Factory and the famous Kimchaek Iron & Steel, which was called formally called Nippon Steel during the Japanese occupation. It was renamed after the liberation of Korea and was nationalized. Chongjin also has a port, which has established itself as a crucial component of the busy international shipping trade, with neighboring parts of Northeast and Southeast Asia. Of DPRK's eight international shipping ports, Chongjin is thought to be one of the most economically important and serves as a base of trade to Russia and Japan.
The first place I visited in Chongjin was the seamen's club which serves to cater for foreign crews as well as a meeting base for Koreans and foreigners engaged in the shipping trade. The restaurant at the Seaman’s club was very busy, with locals enjoying food late into the night.  Our guide explained that the menu is several pages long, offering cheap dog, pork, chicken, beef, and seafood dishes. This demonstrates that western propaganda claiming that people in the DPRK are starving is totally false and nothing but infantile lies. In fact there is a wide variety of meat and fish based dishes available in all parts of the DPRK.
After our visit to the seamen’s club the group was driven to the Chongjin hotel for an overnight stay. As my room was next to the railway line I could see that the rail infrastructure in Chongjin is very well used, with freight trains passing by the hotel during the night carrying supplies to the local factories. This again counters claims by the CIA and NIS propagandists that the DPRK does not have a sophisticated infrastructure. In reality trains operate throughout the night carrying not just industrial supplies but people as well.
In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, the group visited Chongjin’s e-library. This facility is a large two storey building with the ground floor full of computers for public use. There are four computer suites and a different level of computer skills are taught in each suite. The lessons on the use of computers are free and available for everyone and are taught from beginner level to bachelor degree level. This clearly shows the benefits of Korea’s socialist society as the computer lessons are free and available to anyone who wishes to enroll. This is in stark contrast to the UK where computer lessons can be very expensive and the students are taught using out of date computers. In the UK only the elderly over 65 can access free computer lessons via Age UK and often the computers are several years old. In Chongjin’s e.library all of the computers are very new and regularly have the latest software updates installed on them. The second floor of the library is dedicated to books which are available to borrow free of charge for everyone. This floor also has more teaching space where the theoretical side of how computers work is taught.
After leaving the library we travelled to a kindergarten in Chongjin. We were invited to watch a children’s music performance which was truly excellent and inspiring. The ages of the children ranged from 4-7 years old and they demonstrated a very high level of skill and co-ordination. The performance included displays of Korean dancing, piano playing and singing. Each child was enthusiastic and very talented in their performing arts subject and the staff also participated by singing a very captivating Korean song. After the performance had ended the Headmistress invited us to look round the classrooms. Each classroom was staffed by a caring and affectionate teacher who showed a genuine desire for the children to succeed in their educational life. The classroom themselves were well equipped with the latest books and stationery. This kindergarten depicts the benefits of a socialist education system as the facilities were of a very high quality with skilled staff helping the children. The standard of education on offer to the younger children of Chongjin would only be available to children in the UK if their parents had enough money to afford private education.
We then continued our journey to the statue of Kim Il Sung where we paid our respects and then carried onto a restaurant outside of Chongjin where we were fed freshly caught fish, crabs and various sorts of meats. The final stop in Chongjing was a visit to the beach where the group witnessed the construction of a 5 star resort hotel. This portrays how both domestic and international tourism within the DPRK is thriving.   
After a refreshing trip to the sea-side we drove to Orang airport where we boarded an Antannov passenger aircraft which took 1 hour and a half to arrive in Pyongyang. My final evening in the DPRK was spent in the newly refurbished youth hotel in Pyongyang. In the morning we flew back to Beijing with Air Koryo.
My trip to the DPRK demonstrated that Korea, under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un, is a model for socialist development and the country is quickly moving forward to be an economic power. The past issues and problems created by the Arduous March have been solved and Korea is now prospering with the Juche Idea is its guiding ideology.       
Alexander Meads

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