“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.

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.

BREAKFAST at a SOVIET SANATORIUM

Our local guide and receptionist at a formerly Soviet spa

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

At lovely lake Si Jung, the sanatorium is tucked away...

We are located in a old Soviet-type sanatorium at lake Si Jung outside Wonsan which was built  in the early 1960s, when North Korea grew rapidly. During that time a chain of resorts were built all over the Soviet Empire for the Communist Partys’ leading members to visit and consult each other, relax and go hunting.

Built on an artificial lake, the sanatorium is tucked away behind the road but close enough to the sea with a view to the mountains we had just passed. It offered privacy to the communist party members of the Soviet Empire from Georgia to Kazakhstan, from Moscow to Kyrgyzstan. Tourists nowadays pay for their upkeep (since almost no communist party boss is left over “from the good old times“ and those from China and North Korea most likely prefer more comfort.).

From "Russia" to "Kyrgyzstan."

From the "Georgia" to "KAZAKHSTAN"

We stay at this famous spa with electricity for 3 hours in the evening, almost no running water and a special fango-pack  treatment that was cold because of a power cut.

We are the only guests and retire early to do some talking and writing. Unexpectedly at 10pm, the light goes off and we sit in the dark not quite remembering where the toilet was… .

From nowhere we jump awake at 5am next morning realising that we forgot to switch off the light… . Suddenly the electricity was back on… .

Waitress at the bar

Breakfast is at 8am. We are very well received by our waitress behind the bar which serves us a full meal under a big painting of a mountain scene close to the Chinese-North Korean border.

Oh! KIM IL SUNG!!... Oh! KIM JONG IL!!... Oh! Communist Party!

When TOILETS are SOLEMN PLACES…

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

FAR MORE I resented the political system of the KIMS for having effectively established a paranoid, all encompassing power structure with the purpose  to dehumanise contact and treat emotional exchange and empathy as forbidden acts. This state of mind obliged our guides to twist contact making and enforce restrictions on us.

Toilets were solemn places...

Whenever this got to me and threatened my well-being and my mood turned dark, I asked for the toilet.

Toilet at Mount Kuhol...space to myself...

Not so much because I wanted to vomit but for the sake of  having space to myself. Though the stench often was unbearable  the reality of the system was far worse.

...the reality outside was far worse...

Under circumstances like  these toilets were solemn places and offered a rest for my agitated and angry mind in turmoil.

A NO! NO! made possible…!

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

I would have to lie if I pretend it took me no courage to sit down to them.

Getting the soldiers in line...

...some confusion...

...I took my chance...Military photoshooting with Jürg

 … had my chance because it was the 99th birthday of THE ETERNAL PRESIDENT KIM IL SUNG.

KIMILSUNGIA – CURIOSITY NEVER DIES

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

WHEREVER we move, the system tries to infect relations with the virus of distrust. Our two guides, who have the job to separate us from any spontaneous contact with people, are especially under pressure in the capital Pyongyang where the state travel agency is located and they feel under observation.

DPRK army soldiers pose with Ursula for a fellow army soldier

But people are not molecules. Whenever I manage to have more than 15 to 20 meters between me and our two guides I manage to establish spoken contact. Three girls on a park bench giggle when I pass by. “How do you do?“ they ask me and we exchange a few words till the guide is back on my side. I make this experience many times, a laugh, an eye contact…curiosity never dies.

Three children want a photo with Ursula

Two female soldiers take Ursula in their midst

KIMILSUNGIA – Flower of Reverence. In 1965, President Sukarno of Indonesia offered this Orchid to President Kim Il Sung as a present and proposed the name "KIMILSUNGIA".

At the National Flower Exhibition for the 99th birthday of KIM IL SUNG, The Eternal President, emotional contacts are flooding us. Control and separation tactics don’t work any more and we mix freely with children, couples, military personnel. We make photos and they ask us to make photos with them: soldiers, children, couples.

Ursula with Chinese student studying North Korean for 9 months in the capital Pyongyang

“Our North Korean teachers are very strict with us“

They look like from a different star...

We also meet a group of Chinese students, they study Korean at the local university for 9 months. They look like a bunch of extraterrestrials from a different star: well dressed, laughing and joking, talking to us as if we were sisters and brothers, taking us into their midst. My questions: “And how is life in Pyongyang?“ they answer with: “Living conditions are very poor.“ I follow up with: „How are your teachers?“ Their mood darkens: “They are very hard on us, the professors are very strict.“ (Imagine what it takes till a Chinese student complains about “discipline“ after all the exams she or he had to pass in his hometown to get selected by the Chinese government for studying abroad).

The Chinese student said: "Living conditions at the University in Pyongyang are very poor"

TOUCH of HEART

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

WE VISIT the PALACE of the CHILDREN called MANGYONGDAE. Everywhere we go, a local guide is waiting for us. This time it is a 13 year old schoolgirl who is leading us through the Palace of the Children, stretching over 300’000 square meters of marble on six floors.

We start with the:I want to stay longer and enjoy the “Lightness of Being Young“ so beautifully performed with the greatest ease.  But we move to:

The piano practice studio is next with 10 pianos being played by girls and boys at the same time with works from different composers – it sounds like cat-cries in the dead of night – but if you listen and watch carefully each child is playing exactly his own piece, the discipline is amazing:

Then we enter the DRAWING ROOM and I experience a flash: 52! years back I was sitting on my desk in the drawing room at the “Humanistische Gymnasium” nervously chewing on my pencil because the perspective of my flower-still-life was false… .In a cloud of dust old memories appear… The drawing experience at the “Children’s Palace“ in Pyongyang, North Korea, is truly refreshing.

Back in 1953, my desk neighbour in primary school was a big accordion talent. I tried it too, took two classes but had no talent. Though it was half a century later, visiting an accordion class in North Korea at the other end of the Eurasian continent feels like back home in the Palace of my Childhood.

The DRAMA VOICES give me an uneasy chill-down-the-spine feeling like high winds blowing over mountain ranges make me feel to be in haunted places. This traditional female voice training contains an eerie mastery of timeless female suffering passion.

The CONCERT ZITHER, a plucked musical instrument of folk music origin is next. As I work my camera into what begins to look like an orchestra of spyderwebs, I get fascinated by the fingers dance and how the are stringing beads of sound.

The GIRL’S CHOIR is practising a full anthem with reference to the Eternal President Kim Il Sung.

TRADITIONAL DANCE is the last class we visit at the Children’s Palace in Pyongyang.

Amazing flute player

Then we listened to the amazing wooden flute player accompanied by 12 mandolines. Leaving the practise area, we were led to the orchestra hall for a performance of all studios: a  seven year old boy played the drums like a whirling dervish…

At the end of the show in the orchestra hall the girl who was guiding us is waiting at the aisle. She takes Ursula’s arm into hers and walks with her to the exit. She doesn’t let go even as her teacher, waiting outside, is giving her clear signs she should return. The girl says “no“ she wants to bring Ursula to the car. There she hugs her several times and shakes hands with us. As we are driving away, she stays glued to the ground waiving, she stays put, waves with both hands, she doesn’t move. Tears don’t come easily to me, but here in Pyongyang, the Capital of North Korea,  under circumstances hard to describe, I’m deeply moved.