“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.

NORTH KOREAN CUSTOMS at DONGAN

End of China - we cross over the river to DPRK - attraction point for the Chinese

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

FOUR AND A HALF HOURS it took us to pass customs control from China to North Korea.

DPRK customs official comes to railcar Nr.12

It was not a pain in the neck, not at all, it just took time.

As we entered Dongan border station, there was a load of Chinese business men flooding our two railcars each with a mountain of luggage. We got two brothers into our compartment, both double my weight (I’m 95 kilos). They filled every corner with packages of all sizes.

Railway station in DPRK with portrait of KIM IL SUNG - Military hardware on a rail car

Then the maneuvering of our two rail cars took about 30 minutes, I counted 17 times back and forth till they were positioned on the right tracks to attach them to the North Korean train and move the train to the North Korean Customs.

iPhone wrapped in brown envelope and sealed with transparent tape by Dongan Customs, North Korea. Text by Customs official: GPS 2011.4.21

A Korean war photo in the "Korea Handbuch" aroused the suspicion of our French speaking customs official much more than than my professional video camera, my three photo cameras or my computer

The Chinese business guys had kind of a “Schlepper“ who immediately made contact with the customs officials but for the two brothers in our compartment it didn’t help much, because, as we soon found out, the customs official wanted to practise his french with Ursula. “Brosse à dent“, “nécessaire de toilette“ etc, she had to repeat every item in French.

He finally got to my iPhone, which really perplexed him. Several times he made a sign with his hand to the sky, meaning “something“ could descend from the clouds at any time and reveal top North Korean nuclear secrets. He wanted to learn all sorts of things about this hellish machine till his superior came and told him to finish, so he wrapped my iPhone in an envelope, wrote GPS on it and sealed it about ten times with transparent tape and gave it back to me.

In between French conversation he cut open the small, medium and large packages of our two Chinese businessmen with a Swiss! “Victorinox“ army knife, a present from a Swiss traveler.

The four hour long check was rather superficial, it was all more about the curiosity of our customs official to learn as much as possible about the items we carried he had not seen before and brushing up his French. Computer, 3 cameras, Sony professional video did not arouse much interest. But a historical photo or two from the Korean war in a travel book aroused his suspicion and made him turn the book leaf by leaf for a full hour and also got his superior involved.