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Name: Melissa

About Me

Countries Visited (not including Turnarounds): Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City

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Friday, October 19, 2012
Next up on the agenda was the city tour...

We were in for a treat as there were school students rehearsing for the Torch Festival to be held in a few weeks time. (Even though we were there for the 'Liberation Day,' we were told that there wasn't expected to be anything particularly grand in Kim Il Sung Square, and especially none of the military parades that the DPRK had become famous for.) The first stop on the tour was the Mansundae Grand Monument.

Bouquet with the Kimjongilia flower, named after the late Kim Jong Il.

Now in our briefing notes, the Mansundae Grand Monument was the only place where we were, I wouldn't say forced, but told that if we weren't prepared to bow at the monuments, to basically not bother turning up to the tour. To be honest, I cast any political feelings aside the second I signed up for the tour, so bowing at the Monument didn't bother me greatly, and if it meant that the North Korean guides could trust us and, in turn, perhaps mean that the guides were more lenient with our photo opportunities, then great!

About half of us bought flowers as well and we walked up numerous steps to see the Monument of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

In addition to bowing at the Monument, out of respect, every photo we took of the Great leader and the Dear leader must be complete - we couldn't cut off their legs, arms, head, torso - nothing. Any newspapers in the DPRK that had a photo of the Kims on the front page had to be folded in such a way that their bodies were not over the fold.

What was really amazing was the statue of Kim Jong Il was added only recently; up until December 2011 there was only the statue of Kim Il Sung, but since his death the construction of Kim Jong Il commenced and was finished by April 2012 - astonishingly fast!

And here I've accidentally chopped off Kim Il Sung's forearm :-S

In front of the monument, just to give you all an idea as to how massive this was. 

The detail here was insane. At the bottom you can see a US soldier's helmet. Anti-US iconography can be found in many of the monuments in the DPRK. 

So onto the Grand People's Study House... Which obtained the name after Kim Il Sung decided that calling a building a 'Library' would somehow make his people reluctant to go there. I think it was well attended when we went - it was certainly the nicest library I've ever seen, though if you knew what public libraries I had access to growing up in northern Perth you'd understand why.

Statue of Kim Il Sung.

Hallway of the Study House.

The lecture hall where we were encouraged to walk the stage and speak.

We also attended one of the English class being held.

The music room, where our guides played 'Yellow Submarine' and Madonna's version of 'American Pie'. Foreign books and music could only be borrowed by the locals only with special permission.

The best part of the building was the view. You could see the whole of Kim Il Sung Square and the Juche Tower in the distance. I felt like a sniper targeting a spy in a movie on this roof - sans gun.

The left and right views of Kim Il Sung Square.

Schoolchildren practising their formations ahead of the Torch Festival.

The next stop on the city tour was the Art Shop - however my budget didn't allow for much shopping here, especially being depleted of funds following 6 weeks off work with a broken ankle some months earlier.

In house artist at work...

A massive embroidery piece. The detail on this was exquisite.

Madame Tussauds, eat your heart out!

We also made a not-so-Kosher pit stop to an information centre, which just happened to be located in a great spot to take photos of the infamous Rungyong Hotel, the 105-story pyramidal hotel that had been under construction since 1987. Basically we had to make a dash for the Info Centre, take 1 to 2 shots of the hotel, pop into the convenience store, look around and feign interest (or in my case, go completely mental seeing a can of grape-flavoured Fanta) and then pop back on the bus.

On a side note, the guides from my tour group have since been inside.

Next up was the cabin of Kim Il Sung.

Now, you know how there's this perception in the West about the local people being somewhat robotic and brainwashed? Well up until this point I thought it was all BS, and ever since my arrival in North Korea everyone has been super friendly, relaxed, sweet, not strange at all. Then I met this guide.

She was very enthusiastic about how the Great Leader lived and was raised. Perhaps a little too passionate. I got a strange vibe from her, I guess.

On the left, a well that Kim Il Sung used to drink from (and most of the Chinese tourists who were there at the same time as us all made sure to drink from the same well), and one of the rooms in the cabin, with photos of Kim Il Sung and his parents.

Here is one of our guides, Mr Oh, finding great amusement out of an umbrella hat fellow Australians, Mark and Liz, purchased in Beijing. I guess he'd never seen such a thing before. 

The last stop of the day was to the Mangyongdae Children's Palace.

Murals on either side.

Statue outside the Children's Palace

Spaceship structure

Our guide inside the Children's Palace, who had the best posture out of anyone I've ever seen.

I actually like the concept of this place - somewhere central where children from all over the city get together and participate in purely extracurricular activities. It seems this is a purely Soviet concept - they have Pioneer Palaces in former USSR countries and a Children's Palace in China.

We were taken to an accordion class.

Calligraphy class

Embroidery class

And the tour of the Palace finished off with a performance in the auditorium. And so followed the second strange vibe of the day - the way these kids performed was exactly in the way in which the West had described to us - none of them looked relaxed at all, like robot children.

Girls choir. This uniform is also used in a lot of children's animation on North Korean television.

She has a jar on her head! And she's spinning!

Accordions are about as popular in North Korea as guitars are to adolescent teenage boys back in my country. By the time we saw the performance my batteries had died. The last few intensive days took their toll and halfway through the performance I nodded off to sleep.

That kid in the white tux then proceeded to play virtually every single instrument on stage. It was as if he was the North Korean Prince.

Believe it or not I was in an orchestra once. I played piano which is mainly accompanied material, hardly any solo material, which suited me and my skill level well as it was pretty easy chord work. But I also played with some violinists, who did have solos, and the sound that came from them was horrendous. No one could play a note which did not sound like nails against a blackboard. I own a violin myself and I'll be the first to admit that I sound exactly the same.

But this girl was very skilled. If that boy in the white tux was Prince, this girl was the North Korean Nigel Kennedy.

Also, if you're interested, I've finally put together my video of the Arirang Mass Games. I hope you all enjoy this :-)

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