China and DPRK: Day 4 Part 2: Pyongyang

(Last time we spoke, I had left you in the carpark at the Pyongyang marathon.)

It was definitely time for lunch, so after we swung back past the hotel and left Wally there to have a sleep, we grabbed a huge lunch at a restaurant, then went off to the Munsoo Water Park. I didn’t take many photos here, because if you’ve seen one Water Park you’ve seen them all and this one was just like Waves or GSAC in most respects… but I DID have to take a sneaky shot of the hairdressing salon that you can see in the above photo. It’s something straight out of the 50’s.

The most eye-catching part of the decor was the larger-than-life plaster statue of Kim Jong Il that was waiting for us in the foyer as we entered. We weren’t allowed to take a photo but OMG I wanted to. This photo was lifted from a Washington Post article. He was dressed in his jacket that he used to always wear and he beams in welcome. He was standing on a beach, with the sea and sky behind him and golden sand under his well-shod feet. I was beginning to suspect that the Kim family would be popping up in all sorts of unexpected places.

The pools had lots of water slides and a small wave pool. Most of us elected to swim, but for me? It has to be at least 40C/104F before I’ll go into the water, so I decided to have a massage instead. $30 for an hour… not bad value.

I was escorted to the massage section by one of the pool staff. When I went in I was ushered straight to a table in a side room. I disrobed, lay face down on the table and waited for her to come back in. I didn’t look up… probably should have.

My masseuse came back into the room and the massage went pretty much the same as usual. I relaxed and enjoyed it – after all, I’d walked and skipped a whole 5KM! Then, just as I breathed out in utter relaxation, she started galloping around all over my back. THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. For such a tiny woman she was packing a lot of weight in those little feet. I couldn’t draw a breath. I’m shallow breathing while she continued to parade all over me, all the while thinking, “I’m going to die right here on this table in the middle of North Korea. I can’t breathe…”

After a while, she got down and she finished with a quick chiropractic session, neck cracking etc, then I got off the table. I thanked her and then turned around to start putting my clothes on. She helpfully did up my bra for me… now that was an unexpected service! When she left the room I glanced at the ceiling and nodded. If I’d noticed those bars on the roof earlier I would’ve been prepared for the back-walking.

Afterwards, I took a little wander through the complex.

(Photo taken by Pierre. If you’re on Instagram, look up pierredepont . You’ll be glad you did.)

I noticed at Tullamarine airport in the shops there that one-piece bathing suits with modesty skirts are apparently back in fashion. In North Korea they never went out. Every single set of bathers in the gift shop was a one-piece with a skirt. Same with the women in the pool. Absolutely no bikinis, except on the Westerners.

My massage finished sooner than the time we had been allotted, so I sat down in the foyer (away from the creepy statue) to fill in time writing in my yellow book. But fortunately, lots of people from our tour kept walking in and so the time passed really pleasantly. I was chatting for a little while with Pierre, who said, “You know that the people here are the really privileged. The entry fees would cost far more what the average family could save in a year.” Thinking back to the people we saw in the countryside on the way here, I didn’t find it hard to believe him.

Next stop was a Microbrewery. Here’s Walter, back from his sleep. Actually, by this time he’d stopped being “Walter’ and was now “Wally”. On the train on the way in when we were all introducing ourselves, Walter’s roommate turned out to be an extremely tall and lovely German man called Oliver. ‘Wally and Olly!” I exclaimed, and over the next couple of days the nicknames spread through to the rest of the group. To hear Oliver talk about “Wally and Olly” in his accent was a scream.

We arrived at about 5Pm and the place was packed with both locals and a couple of other tour groups. We settled at a couple of tables and the terrible truth emerged… any wine that could be ordered was by FAR too expensive to contemplate. It was all beer. Horrible beer. Everyone else happily ordered pints of whichever designer beer they wanted and they all settled in. I was sitting next to James, the Irishman, and opposite Wally. After a lot of convincing, they got me to sample some of James’ rice beer.

OMG. This country has changed me in ways no one would ever have expected. I ordered a pint glass of the stuff and finished it all. Apparently to real beer drinkers, it tastes a bit like water but that’s fine with me. No revolting yeasty aftertaste.

Dinnertime! The interior decorating taste in this country is a tad more flamboyant than I’m used to. What with the ‘Last Supper’ table at the end of the room with the floral arrangement, the disco floor and the bright seats, it was certainly eye-catching.

The arch over the door was very bridal. Almost put me off my dinner… #foreveralone

Mmm. A fine vintage! (For a glorified wine cask.) Pierre saw this and clearly thought it was an abomination. He went hunting and came back with a fine bottle of French Bordeaux.

After dinner, we had an awards ceremony where we received our certificates. I skipped up the disco road to the stage, seeing as how that’s pretty much how I did the marathon. Our waitresses then performed several songs for us, some quite traditional and others more modern. It was an early night. The people who did the full and half marathons were starting to hurt.

I got the librarians at school to laminate this. It’s the only evidence that exists of me being sporty once in my life. It’s a precious memory…

One thought on “China and DPRK: Day 4 Part 2: Pyongyang

  1. Pingback: North Korea trip. | Burning Desire for FIRE

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