learn from BIG BROTHER

chinese PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

It pays off to walk behind a Chinese. This invaluable lesson I learned in DPRK. Chinese in groups are a friendly bunch, they laugh, are loud, say hello and often ask to make a photo with you. They care less about restrictions, take pictures we are told not to make and walk around more freely. Moving behind a Chinese or a Chinese group of travelers is like moving your boat behind an icebreaker in the Arctic Zone. Chinese seem to be “naturally“ hearing impaired, easy-going and not responsive to every whim of their guides.

I quickly understood that if I wanted to make contact with local North Koreans I had to hang behind my guides at least 20m – and behave like a Chinese.

“KINGDOM of KIM“

red star PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Film City – "rea"l street cleaners

The film sites have a 1930’s Chinese street, a Japanese street, a US corner, a South Korean quarter and a bizarre selection of European architecture. They have three focuses: against the American Aggressor, the anti-Japanese struggle and the fight against the occupied capitalist and decadent South Korea. Watch out for signs of Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots’ decadence.

KIM IL SUNG visited Cinema City about 20 times in his lifetime to give on-the-spot advice to North Korean filmmakers. KIM JONG IL has a passion for cinema, thanks to his lifelong interest, the film industry is well financed. He dropped in over 600 times to give direction to the film studios.

Film City – American street corner, against the US-aggressor

But the North Korean filmmakers could not satisfy his vision. When their performance did not improve, KIM JONG IL didn’t hesitate to take other steps, orchestrated by himself.

Film City – Lactogen – Prepared in Austr...

Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots' decadence

Choe Eun-hui, a South Korean movie actress, was the first being kidnapped in HongKong by KIM JONG IL’S secret agents in 1978. Her husband, the South Korean film director Shin Sang-kowho flew immediately from Seoul to Hongkong to look for his wife, was soon after kidnapped and brought to Pyongyang too. The fanatic movie buff KIM JONG IL, who likes Rambo and James Bond movies, wanted the South Korean film director to make “good“ movies for North Korea. After almost five years in the Gulag for trying to escape twice, Shin Sang-ko made several movies. One of them is probably the most famous North Korean film called “Pulgasari“, a socialist version of “Godzilla“, though the North Koreans deny that he was involved.

In 1986, the couple were given the permission to travel for the first time abroad. They went to a film festival in Vienna and though they were followed by North Korean secret agents they managed to enter the US embassy and asked for asylum eight years after having been abducted.

Film City – Bizarre selection of European architecture

trekking in the hills of Mt Myohyang

sweat bead PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

There is no trekking on your own like: “We will be back in 4 hours“. We need a permit and a guide for everything.

...no trekking on your own in DPRK

Jürg is contemplating...

Ursula walking on granite

The hills of Mt Myoyang are steep rugged rocks and if we wander from the path it’s wilderness all around us. Deep ravines cut into huge elephant type rock formations we cross the deep ravines on small swing bridges.

The Hyangsan hotel is nearby

The Hyangsan, a 15-storey hotel with a fake waterfall and plastic deer in the lobby is for tourists and special guests who visit the gift shrine-temple-like warehouses of KIM IL SUNG and his son KIM YONG IL. On the top floor, it has a revolving restaurant, a North Korean hotel tradition.

Ursula, a very successful woman

Ursula reaching the top

Guide is waiting...

Deep ravine

On the way up

Snow in the hills

Snow in the hills

“over the rainbow“ – International Friendship Exhibition Shrine of KIM IL SUNG in the hills of Mt Myohyang

waxwork-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

KIM IL SUNG'S spectacular warehouse of gifts of fellow communist dictators

The International Friendship Exhibition Shrine IFE of The Eternal President KIM IL SUNG is a vast traditional building without windows, containing 120 rooms with over 100’000 gifts presented to him by fraternal foreign leaders from many parts of the world.

The hills of Mt Myohyang are quite beautiful

The pompous building is located in a idyllic landscape in the hills of Mt Myohyang. Before we enter the vast shrine we have to put on plastic shoe covers and are asked to show reverential attitude. We have to pass a metal detector inside and to hand over all photo and video cameras.  Taking pictures is strictly forbidden. My iPhone was already sealed.

Ursula was “honored“ to open the huge doors that led us inside the temple like monument after she put on ceremonial gloves to protect the golden shine of the door knob. Beside our “permanent” guide we were joined by a local guide who took us – thankfully – only through some dozen of the 120 enormous gift rooms. KIM IL SUNG’s gifts are like Tales from a Crypt, especially the steel armoured train carrier by his mentor and protector Mao Zedong and the three limousine cars by his close friend Joseph Stalin are noteworthy (sorry no photo).

The presentation of the local guide is almost religious, the atmosphere in the windowless temple-like monument is sombre as we walk the over-polished corridors, our shoes in plastic covers. Suddenly, the tone of our local guide gets very serious and emotional. She opens the door to the most surreal of all rooms, to the final room of the exhibit. The over-life-sized waxwork of  “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – a gift from the Chinese leadership – is standing in a bucolic 3D landscape with birdsong and shopping center music. We are asked to bow our heads respectfully before leaving the room. Our local guide is moved to tears. Steps to make “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG into a divine figure were highly obvious analogous to the Egyptian Pharao.

At the end of the tour through the windowless temple-like Palace, up on the terrace, we have a fabulous view of the surrounding hills of Mt Myohyang.

Below shot of the warehouse roof

Up on the terrace...

We are asked to talk about our experience with “The Eternal President“ and write down our feelings which Ursula dutifully did.

Our “permanent“ guide translates Ursula's feelings into Korean to be published in the eternal guestbook

Our “permanent“ guide translated Ursula’s handwriting for the “eternal“ guestbook of KIM IL SUNG’S International Friendship Exhibition Shrine.

On the other side of KIM IL SUNG’S “warehouse of gifts“ is a similarly pompous warehouse where KIM YONG IL’S gifts are stored.

We chose to have lunch

Lunch at Myohyangsan

We choose to have lunch at the government restaurant close by instead of visiting KIM YONG IL’S shrine of gifts. Sitting all alone in a huge building without electricity in a cold eating hall, being served by two waitresses and surrounded by a grand idyllic wall painting, I regret not having visited the second warehouse-temple-like building of KIM IL SUNG’S son KIM YONG IL.

They say that parts of the exhibit show row after row of wide-screen televisions and stereo equipment donated to “My Dear Leader“ by industrialists of foreign countries. Like KIM IL SUNG’S warehouse-temple , KIM YONG IL’S ends with his statue (which I also missed unfortunately).

Grand idyllic wall paintings are in many public buildings

The taste of the past was remarkably odd.

a Step FORWARD – this time it might be different

key-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Coming by train from Beijing on April 10, having experienced the enormous building boom, industrial development, highway building and the extension of the superspeed train right up to the DPRK border town, my guess was that “Big Brother“ would tell the last Stalinist dictatorship of “My Dear Leader” KIM YONG IL, that time had come. When I sat foot in the DPRK, I was under the impression that only China had the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And so it was a reinforcement of my thinking how things would develop when Lukas, my son in law, sent me from Shanghai CHINA DAILY’s article on

Foreign and Military Affairs

China, DPRK to develop two economic zones

North Korea is indeed FRAGILE

Loggers loading stems on carburator truck

“deja vu“ PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Childhood memories appear from behind the couch. Korea takes me back to the 1950s. While for me it evokes nostalgic feelings, for North Koreans it represents decades of retardation ending in horrific poverty of today. To them it is a real tragedy.

The military has wooden carburator trucks too

It was in the spring of 1950 – I spent so many months of my childhood in the hills of South Germany that I became almost a native, speaking the local dialect – I was kneeling beside Franz who was fixing the wooden carburator of his tractor at the farmhouse, waiting to go to the forest with him and his brother Hans… .

Sixty-one years later in April 2011, hiking in the woods of Mt Myohyang 150 km

Loggers in Mt Myohyang

north of Pyongyang, I was taking photos of “deja vu“, six forest workers, uploading stems when back in 1950, there were two men who did the job and an infant watching… .

I came across many wood carburators on the highways we traveled, giving weight to my observation that North Korea suffers a severe transportation problem and energy shortage. The “Holzvergaser“ trucks

A mysterious fragrance contrasted by a dreadful reality

dating to the 1950s and 1960s of the former USSR often broke down on the highway.

I did not see gas stations in the cities nor on the highways. When our driver got gasoline, he dropped us together with one guide on the roadside and left for 15 minutes to fill up his tank. We were not allowed to be present at government gas stations, neither in Pyongyang nor in any other city.

“Holzvergaser“ truck on a side road we have no access

Gasoline shortage was clearly evident where ever we traveled on the East and West Coast. Transportation means for the lower level of the population are in a precarious state, 1950s UDSSR-made vehicles.

Wooden carburator, military truck

The SNAKE in the GRASS

tricky PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

It’s NOT a lie! No, I don’t say they lie at me. It is a different frame of mind, sometimes it is an anxious state of mind that dictates them and their actions, other times it looks like utter confusion or just paranoia in hiding.

It is the dictum of “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – the only statesman on earth who remains President even  after his death in 1994 that is of utmost importance.

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

KIM IL SUNG – The Eternal President

He and his son KIM JONG IL, called “My Dear Leader“, are telling Right from Wrong, Good from Bad. They decide what is real and what has to be banned, who is sent to the university or to the work camp, to the labor camp or to the gulag. KIM IL SUNG and KIM JONG IL have a six-decade grip on power.

KIM IL SUNG with local guide in the entrance of the Grand People's Study House

All in the Family - KIM IL SUNG “The Eternal President" and his son KIM YONG IL, called “My Dear Leader"

Our two “permanent“ guides work under the spell of this government-mind-set, they tell me that the local shops are closed when they are open, that people don’t like to make contact with a foreigner when in fact they wish just that. They change our itinerary every day but if we want to make an additional stop, it’s impossible.

This gentle local guide liked my questions, Agricultural University, Wonsan area

They make me feel like a disobedient child who doesn’t quite get it when I keep asking questions or like a snake in the grass when I make photos of simple life events.

Fear is guiding the system. The world of DPRK is under a delusion.

The hinge joint is the personality cult.

My guess is that “Big Brother“ will tell them. China holds the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.