Friday, May 11, 2007

DPRK, Day 4

Day 4 - May Day! Fountain Park, Statue of Kim Il Sung, parks, Juche Tower.

May Day. We knew there would be celebrations but we didn't really know what to expect. Fountain Park was the first stop after breakfast. The park didn't really grab me at all. The big building behind is the Grand People's Study House.

We kept wondering where the people were while we walked from the Fountain Park to Kim's statue.

You can see Kim's statue from a long way away.

And finally, the Mansudae Grand Monument (Statue of Kim Il Sung). This is where we had to line up, bow, and present flowers to the statue, while Leisure Suit Larry the cameraman dutifully filmed on. The bronze statue was built in 1972 on Kim's 60th birthday. Behind him is a mosaic mural of Mt. Paekdu.

The large copper memorials on both sides of Kim's statue symbolize the history of the Korean people's revolutionary struggle.

Once we got the bowing and flower thing over and done with, the celebration began. We headed towards the Taesong Pleasant Ground next to the zoo and there were already thousands of people hanging around the metro station outside the park. Our bus wiggled its way through the crowd and got us a little closer to the entrance.

When we got there we were just in time to catch one of the many games people were playing on the park's ground. This particular game involved blindfolded contestants kicking or beating the crap out of the cardboard figures.
When we saw the cardboard figures we then understood why the onlookers were so hyped about this otherwise pretty lame game.
Take that you US imperialist aggressor!
We later got to participate in a tug-o-war game with some 30 Korean men. We'd like to think that we let them win because of (as C puts it)world diplomacy, but man those guys were strong!
After the tug-o-war we decided it was time to just sit back and chill. The mass dancing was kind of fascinating, and people were actually dancing to the Kim Jong Il song!

Perhaps we looked way too interested in the dance before we knew it we all got dragged into the dancing crowd. We had fun humuliating ourselves with our moves.

At last the people dancing with us were tired of our clumpsy moves and we got to sit down and do more people watching. Check out this cute little girl!

As we were enjoying the sunshine and the people our guide H gave us the "shall we go" march. We reluctantly made our way back to the bus. We ran into a group of old ladies outside the park, and there was more singing and dancing to the Kim Jong Il song! I filmed this before we got dragged in to join the dance:

At last we broke free from the old ladies and we were told that we would go to the river front to do some rowing before lunch. It was actually quite pleasant! We liked the safety device (one limb life saver between the 2 of us).
On the shore people were chilling out and having picnics and BBQs. They seemed to be very cheery and friendly.

These people could sing too:
Finally after the boat ride we got to have some lunch at a local restaurant (even though we had to sit separated from the locals). Click here to find out about the excellent food!

After lunch we went to Moran Hill, which is another park in downtown Pyongyang. Again the place was packed with people singing, dancing, and picnicking.
Everybody seemed to be having a good time there.

Inevitably we got dragged into the dances. At last we had to hide from the crowd to be able to move.

Next to the Moran Hill park is the Kaeson Youth Park, where we were told we could get on the rides. Woohoo!

The park was completed in 1984 and the conditions of the rides certainly reflect it. In any case we decided to get on the Wheel of Death, which involves spinning at an angle and no seat belts. Loved it!
Next we went for the small roller coaster. I had never worried about travel insurance before and this ride got me thinking.

I decided to skip the hamster cage, after some dude fell out of his seat and split his head open when the seat belt slipped. Guess what he was promptly taken away and the ride carried on as usual.

A number of people in our group braved the ferris wheel, aka rust bucket, and reported back that it was the most terrifying moment of their lives.

Another monument after the park. We were told that Kim Il Sung personally added the pen (the one in the middle) to the hammer and sickle logo. At which point our teammate P commented "gee...these f**king dictators have to do everything themselves!" . We almost died laughing.

Finally the Juche Tower, Pyongyang's most famous landmark. At 170 meters high, construction finished in 1982. The flame at the top, which lights up and flickers at night, stands 20 meters tall.
View of Pyongyang from the top.

After the long day we started going on about our gin and tonic fantasy. Our guide H was nice enough to have taken us to the Foreign Diplomatic Club for pre-dinner cocktails! Although they didn't have gin there we manged to find vodka by the bottle and orange juice - we weren't going to be picky. We happily sipped our screwdrivers while we admired the 70s (or 60s even?) set up of the room.

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