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, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, 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
London | Perth | Sydney | Melbourne
Seatguru - Most Comfy Seats On Any Airline
pprune.org - Pilot's rumour network
Kangaroo with a Sweet Tooth
Kronicles of Kris
The Adventures of Alle Malice
Joel's trek across Asia/Europe in a Hilux
Phil's Wine Site
I Can Has Cheezburger
The Flying Pinto
Girl on Raw
Things Bogans Like
Bobby at Up, Up and a Gay
Straight Guy in the Queer Skies
Skin by Falter
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Well as the floods had hit DPRK about 10 days before my trip, there were a few attractions on the itinerary that were affected. So since the original journey to Mt Myohyang was not possible, the road trip to Kaesong was the only real road trip of the tour. I was very much looking forward to the day, especially since I was one of the few in my group who had seen the DMZ from the South Korean side. It was a good 2 1/2 hour drive to the border on really rough roads - I thought that maybe I or someone else from the group would suffer from motion sickness, so I told myself to bear with the roads, full of cracks and uneven bitumen (which was similar to the airport runway) for an hour, and I'd be okay after then. I was craving for a tunnel though - it was nice and smooth under those.
Yes the drive was long, but it was quite nice to see the 'proper' DPRK outside Pyongyang. There was a lot of farming that we could see, mainly corn and rice fields. At one point we passed a village that had a bridge collapse due to the flooding, which must have happened overnight as there were villagers who were trying to clear debris and everyone standing around who looked like they needed to cross the river.
We were also given an informative talk by one of our guides, Mr Lee, who was really new to the whole 'tour guide' business. He was very sweet but needed a few months just to get the information flowing a bit better during the tour. One of the classic Mr Lee quotes was...But he took the long drive to Kaesong as a chance to tell us a bit about DPRK life, such as
"Always ask before taking photos as don't take photos of the militarily or your camera will be constipated."
Propaganda posters at Kaesong
General layout of the DMZ and the buffer zones.
Kim Il Sung Signature Memorial
Once we were taken to the Joint Security Area of the DMZ we saw the Armistice building where the peace talks are held, and on the right was the location of the DPRK flagpole that I saw 4 to 5 years earlier, however for some reason things appeared different, location wise. We also saw no South Korean soldiers nor tourists, despite being told we were close to the border. The Joint Security Area is apparently the only point in the DMZ where North and South soldiers stand face to face.
Everyone listening to the soldier guide in the Armistice building
This microphone is supposed to represent the divide between North and South
North Korean guard keeping watch. He was on the south side of the microphone at this point.
The blue UN Armistice buildings, aka Conference Row, with the South Korean Home of Freedom in view behind.
The DPRK soldiers are standing on the gravel, whereas the concrete separator is the border on the 38th parrallel where North and South meet.
Kijŏng-dong with the notorious flagpole in the distance, and believe it or not I could see it more clearly from the South Side.
Our military guide giving a speech inside the North Korea Peace Museum
Of course, there has to be a photo of the Supreme Leader, Kim Il Sung.
Korean Armistice Agreement, signed by the North; and signed by the United Nations Command
Old clippings and photos from the agreement era, plus there was a special section for the "Axe Murder Incident" of the 70's.
Map of the Koryo Museum
Apparently this was a chart showing how much a person was worth. A woman was worth 120 won, a man 100, elderly and kids worth 60 won, but the Ox was worth a staggering 400 won!
Gorgeous murals and paintings at the Koryo museum.
Replica of the Tomb of King Kongmin
Jorge trying to blend in.
The actual tomb of King Kongmin
So after a day of coping with reasonably heavy rain, we had one last stop to go - the Arch of Reunification.
Base of the Arch
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Since I saw the documentary "A State of Mind" it has been a life goal of mine to watch the Arirang mass games in person, so when I booked the tour I made sure to include it in the itinerary. At the pre-tour briefing in Beijing, our tour leader Simon said to us "You will forget your children's names before you forget the Mass Games." and now that I have seen it with my very own eyes I am inclined to believe him. In total honesty, seeing the Mass Games was one of the best 90 minutes of my life. If you haven't seen this documentary I highly encourage you to do so as whilst the Games footage is beautiful to look at it is the interviews with the performers that are the most fascinating.
The skill level of the performers is absolutely jaw dropping. Considering the London Opening Ceremony was on about 1.5 weeks before I left for Beijing/Pyongyang, then seeing kids as young as 5 doing all sorts of tumbling, skipping, human pyramid stacking, plus seeing those performing the card stunt change to every scene without a (noticeable) mistake, it made the Olympics look completely amateur. Apparently there's 100,000 performers in the Mass Games, training since February, and there's 30,000 performers responsible for the card stunt alone.
I'm going to have to apologise in advance, this is going to be a very photo heavy post.
The Rŭngrado May Day Stadium, where the games are held. This is also apparently the largest stadium in the world, by capacity.
When we arrived at the May Day Stadium, the performers were just finishing off their rehearsals. Aside from the performance itself, I will certainly never forget the thrill of hearing the 'war cry' the performers shouted every time the cards changed scene, which was very audible from outside the stadium. No one could wipe the smile from our faces at that point - we knew we were about to see something spectacular, something we were never going to see outside this country ever again.
Throughout the show there were sky blue flags being held up - these were used to 'shield' the acts waiting for the scene to begin or end from the audience.
I am still absolutely dumbfounded as to how they managed to create the scenes, particularly the 'sunset' with the sun illuminated. I don't think they had light up cards.
Patriotism well and truly on show...
The magnolia, meant to represent Kim Il Sung.
These kids were super cute - they ran onto the field and waved at us with the adorable laughs of 5000-odd 5 year olds. Then they start doing tumbles and flips of superhuman skills and you're just left with your jaw on the floor.
Even Air Koryo made it into the Mass Games
This was pretty confusing to me. I think it was to celebrate hydroelectric power, or a dam, or I could be completely wrong.
This was clearly a celebration of the produce trade that the DPRK are known for. Pretty much every meal I ate there ended with a dessert of sliced apples.
Loving the cow and sheep heads here.
The freakiest sheep's head you've ever seen.
Bunnies and chicks? If I didn't know better I'd say they were celebrating Easter. But surely that isn't the case...
So seeing these kids perform the stunts they did just made the recent Olympics look totally amateur.
Taekwando in the mass games? Of course!!!
This cabin scene and the sunset scene were my two favorites of the night.
There were also some pretty decent air stunts. Cirque du Soleil eat your heat out.
The Mass Games were a perfect opportunity to reinforce the reunification message.
And what better way to promote China-DPRK relations than to incorporate their friends into the Mass Games? Dragon dances and Panda costumes included, just in case the message was a bit lost.
Coming up to the finale...
And no good performance can end unless there's fireworks!
Labels: Holidays4 comments