NO “wishi-washiness” says North Korea’s “Supreme Leader”

National Defense Commission PICKINGS.

Kim Jong Un vows NO CHANGE policy – the dynasty is promising "final victory"

North Korea issued two stamps after 14 days of mourning has ended

“We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us,” said the statement. “We will never deal with the traitor group of South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak.” The statement was carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the regime’s official mouthpiece to the outside world.

Hostile posture and typical bellicose attitude towards the outside world with a characteristically common threat to punish President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea for his “unforgivable sins” I read as a sign to rally its military and people behind the new leader KIM JONG UN who is believed to be in his late 20s.

“Don’t expect change from me!”was the slogan of the dynastic rulers. “The Eternal President” KIM IL SUNG used it, his son “My Dear Leader” KIM JONG IL ensured continuity with no change in policy and “The Great Successor” KIM JONG UN is promising “final victory” and presses North Koreans to remain faithful to the dynastic rule.
I register the confrontational behavior towards the external world as a tactic to extort large shipments of humanitarian aid from South Korea and USA.

Kim Jong Un during a memorial service for his father. On our extensive trip through North Korea, everybody I met or saw in the cities or in the countryside were slim, haggard or emaciated

KIM JONG UN inherits an extensive network of prison gulags. He faces a widespread food crisis, starvation,

an impoverished population and is confronted with an enormous fuel shortage and extensive daily powercuts all over the country, in tourist locations as well.

Traveling through North Korea, we met electricity shortages every day in the cities and in the countryside. Fuel shortage was visible everywhere, no gas stations along the highways or in the cities.

When our driver went to get gas in Pyongyang, we were dropped on the roadside at the outskirts together with our two guides and he disappeared for twenty minutes. My questions to our two “permanent guides”, why we could not stay in the car, were not answered.

Girl reading a book – she said hello

As Ursula stayed with our two guides talking to keep them busy I managed to cut myself loose and slipped away to the nearby river to see if  I could make contact with some people.  Away from my two guides I met this girl reading a book, she was a little shy but nevertheless she said hello to me.

PYONGYANG – “City under Water”

Revolutionary Wake-Up Call

balcony PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Pyongyang is a “No-Today” city, a city without “Gegenwart”.

The aura of The Eternal President" who died of a heart attack in 1994 shortly before a meeting with the president of South Korea, is engulfing North Korea

View from the balcony of the Grand People's Palace

The architecture of the buildings, the monuments, murals and the mental state of propaganda, dominated by the communist party, give the impression of a “City under Water”.

Lost in the abyss of Necropolis

The deeper I dive into this sunken amalgam mixer the more images and symbols appear of KIM IL SUNG’S ever-present personality cult.

The Juche Idea is based on a set of principles by KIM IL SUNG that “man is the master of everything and decides everything”. In fact this hands a blank check to the KIMS to do as they wish.

Grand People’s Palace – though it is called “Grand People’s Palace” – people cannot walk in without permission. They are chosen from their factory or workplace and sent to the Palace after passing ability tests. They have to conform to the strict ideological guidelines of the Communist Party of North Korea to be allowed to learn languages, join the library and read foreign books, specially chosen and translated for them.

From the balcony on the top floor of this huge building made of marble we have an excellent view over Pyongyang and the Central Place. The huge buildings and monuments – some the tallest in the world in size, volume and marble – leave pointless marks.

T

SWISS YODELING over Pyongyang

“Appenzöller”- PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

“If you act from the heart, you can’t make a mistake.” And DPRK is no exception.

Grand People's Palace – The Chinese enjoy KIM IL SUNG'S pet – The the largest selection of folk music in the world

Our guides didn’t like alcohol and went to bed early every night...

No easy task – Not for her and not for me...

Guides usually relax after some late nights with a lot of beer and wine but ours were different. They didn’t like alcohol and went to bed early every night. What was I going to do? How could I establish contact with “True Children of the Red Spirit”? How could I break the deadlock of professional suspicion without a lot of beer and wine?

Professional suspicion - Visiting the house of the local guide at the farm cooperative outside Wonsan, on the left: my "permanent" guide

Walking to the Lighthouse with my male "permanent guide

How could I avoid being made into a capitalist monster?

Film City – US corner – Capitalist Monster

Sometimes I felt like that when people reacted to me as if I had an infectious disease when our guides forbid me to make contact. Relating to someone looking at something not on the official itinerary was like spying for them. Our two permanent guides were true red spirit children of the the North Korean Communist Party.

I realized that Korean names were difficult to remember, I didn’t relate to the people by their name. So got myself to pronounce the name of my female guide – she was very surprised when I called her the first time by her name – it went some way but wasn’t quite enough.

Then, traveling through the North Korean Peninsula to the East Coast of Wonsan, walking from the port to the lighthouse, I bought a big bag of sea shells from divers on a rudimentary black market – not for her! but to make her mother a present. My spontaneous act turned out to be a useful gesture. Over her mother I could relate personally to her, she told me the next morning that her mother never got such beautiful shells before, that she would prepare them and the whole family would get together – but it was no ice-braker either.

Some time later we visited the Grand People’s Palace, the National Library. This enormous marble palace, a reading and learning center of North Korea, also had a audio department containing the largest collection of folk music from all over the world – KIM IL SUNG’S favorite pet project. The audio room was filled with dozens of desks and radio sets. From the vast selection of  Swiss songs we chose the yodel “Min Vatr isch en Appezöller…”.

Grand People's Palace – audio department

Ursula – surprised to hear Swiss folk music – immediately started to yodel too. Her voice was so catching that our female guide began to yodel too. This finally turned the page – Tung Hui was still yodeling the next day… . Swiss yodel finally broke the ice.

How to remove the sting of being a spy?

It didn’t mean that from this day on I could do what I wanted but it removed the dangerous sting of being a spy, a snake in the grass. Something in the emotional fabric had changed for the better as I found out when we departed from Pyongyang airport.

MUSHROOMS and OASIS

springtime PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Ryugyong Hotel, Construction start 1987, still vacant – Unfinished Mushroom

Monuments, statues, monoliths, murals to the KIMS, the North Korean military and the Juche Idea are sprouting like mushrooms in Pyongyang.

Relaxing after the relentless propaganda I take a few free, unobserved minutes to follow a mother and her child in a nearby park as they cross a bridge over a little pond.

37th floor

“facade” PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Pyongyang is a FACADE city. The Yanggakdo Hotel where we stay, is built to impress – like much of Pyongyang’s architecture. Oversize constructions in DPRK are a sign of quality while the inside of the monumental buildings is often less striking.

Our room is on 37th floor, facing the Taedong river with the city panorama. On my elevator rides I realize that a couple of the lower floors have the corridor lights turned off day and night. I find out that on these floors only “insiders” live like Russian circus artists, gymnasts, tourist guides (they always have to stay in the same hotel like their foreign guests). To my big surprise the button for the 5th floor is missing in the elevator. I try to stop and enter the 5th floor but I can’t.

No button for the 5th floor

Breakfast is very convenient to exchange information with fellow travelers. I’m told that the 5th floor is occupied by the secret service monitoring the hotel. My question, why I can only get Chinese CCTV channels and NHK international from Japan in our room but not one North Korean TV program which I would like to watch, nobody can answer. Even our guides seem to be puzzled because they get North Korean channels but no NHK international in their rooms. It turns out that tourist floors are assigned different channels than “insider” floors…

It doesn’t matter where we stay, we cannot leave the hotel on our own. Tourist Travel DPRK has no program for “Strolling, Walking, Hiking unattended”. Travelers who stayed at the Koryo Hotel in the center of Pyongyang were not allowed to leave the lobby on their own. When they tried, the receptionist immediately called their guide who came down from his room and stopped them.

The Yanggakdo Hotel is on a little island. We couldn’t cross the bridge on our own to go downtown or to the nearby railway station. To keep us from doing that our guide told us the following story: Not long ago a Chinese visitor had crossed the bridge, gone to the railway station and taken the train. He ended up in the province, hopelessly lost because he couldn’t communicate with the locals. As he didn’t find his way back he panicked. The travel agency had to pick up the completely confused Chinese tourist.

It was quite obvious that the story was imaginary. Restrictions are so rigorous that not even a Chinese can leave the Yanggakdo Hotel, cross the bridge and go downtown on his own. To enter the railway station without a guide and ticket in hand is even more impossible. To buy a ticket – no tourist can get Won, the North Korean currency – is a mission impossible without the DPRK travel agency’s permission. Nevertheless if that Chinese would have overcome these insurmountable obstacles the conductor on the train would have definitely called the police and had arrested him.

HOT SPRING – soviet-style POMP

“quality” PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Entering the resort – Lonely as the lamp post...

The Ryonggang Hot Spring is located 40 km outside of Nampho. The compound consists of 12 houses. There are no other hotels between Pyongyang and Kaesong.

DDR-style design – We live on the ground floor – Our two “permanent" guides are in the background

The Ryonggang Hot Spring resort looks like DDR-design. It is guarded by soldiers with machine guns around the clock. It is closed off to the outside world as well as to those who are inside. Nobody can enter, nobody can leave without permission and guide.

It has been a famous spa of the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. The vacation compound in the woods offered complete seclusion where Communist Party Members of the former Soviet Empire, from Ukraine to Kazakhstan, from Poland to Cuba, could enjoy themselves in total privacy.

It has special services like floor heating in the bedroom, a bathtub with hot water from the hot spring  for three hours in the afternoon and two hours in the morning…

Reception area

The reception area was huge, well, that was my impression when I entered the main building. But soon I had to adjust my perception of space in this “otherworldly“ environment.

Billiard room

After dinner we went to the billiard room – it looked like the first class waiting room of a  small town railway station. One could still feel the activity of decades ago.

Going to the bar, another  – abandoned – enormous empty space brings up the fantasy – I can’t resist it – that, year by year, train loads of vodka and kaviar must have passed through this exclusive resort which served former communist apparatchiks from all over the world.

Pomp in the UDSSR has always been expressed by size.

Pomp in the UDSSR has always been expressed in size and kilos. Oversized constructions carried the nimbus of “Excellence“ and “Quality“.

Dining room

In that respect, our dining room was of “very high quality“. It was super huge and  only the two of us were experiencing the remote and odd luxury in the woods of this once exclusive resort.

Bedroom with floor heating from the hot spring

Times have changed? I guess they have – in some respect. Nowadays, modern communists expect more comfort.

The game is over. Now we tourists pay for the upkeep.

Hot water for three hours in the afternoon and from 0600-0800 in the morning

Now the tourist pay for the upkeep

OVERLAND in DPRK

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

“entering DPRK” by rail from China was still very much on my mind when I pressed my movie camera to the car window trying to find a stable position for shooting. Traveling from Beijing to Pyongyang by train had made a lasting impression on me. But moving overland by car through DPRK was different. Though my guides wouldn’t allow our driver to stop or even to slow down when I asked for, I still got in closer in contact to land, buildings and people.

On the Panmunjom – Pyongyang highway I got the permission from my two guides to shoot through the window. This highway is the direct access road to South Korea.

Like other highways we have passed, this one looked like an airstrip or a tank corridor too.

Fire wood - The man following on the side, the woman pulling...

Though the road was in poor condition, the car windows dirty and the circumstances very shaky, I was elated to get that chance. No cars were in sight. Sometimes people were walking on the highway.

Female farmworker

As it always happened day after day, the two guides discussed every move of us over lunch and talked daily to the main travel office in Pyongyang to get instruction.

tête-à-tête

After arrival in Pyongyang that evening, they must have discussed the filming with their superior because next day all shooting from the car window was forbidden…