Our first stop after lunch was The Monument of the Party Foundation. It was HUGE, with a massive expanse of paving around it, which I assume could be used for massed dancing and things like that.
It looms over us – with a hammer and sickle symbolising workers and farmers and a calligraphy pen symbolising the students… all 3 groups which are the foundations of any half-decent revolution.
We stood around for a bit and saw some massed dancing ladies come in, but we left before they started and went to the Cultural Exhibition Hall. Frankly, this place was pretty dull. All it had was heaps of photos of the leaders meeting with dignitaries from around the world, lots of books and a few examples of traditional Korean dress. I mainly remember the stairs… lots of stairs. Niall, Walter and the rest who ran the marathon yesterday were really suffering – even me.
I bought some books though… couldn’t resist these rivetting titles. I was more excited at being in the gift shop on the ground floor – I bought my North Korean Christmas Tree decorations here. Can’t wait to unveil them in December!
Then off we went to the Juche Tower. We had a memorable time here.
Juche is the philosophy espoused by Kim Il Sung and can be basically described as ‘self-reliance’. I don’t know a lot about it yet, but it sounds like the perfect base to run a country which is cut off from the world by its hermit-like inclinations and sanctions. It says that man is at the apex of creation and has total control of his destiny and that only by following one strong leader and remaining self-reliant and strong can a country (ie: Korea) achieve true socialism. It also seems to me to be the perfect vehicle for isolating a population and keeping them only focussed inward. Anyway, I bought a few books while I was here, so I’ll no doubt find out more once I crack the covers open and start reading.
When we arrived there were people in a yard opposite, practising the massed dancing. Their music was loud and jolly and it matched our mood as we went up the steps, some of us more slowly than others. Those stairs were really hurting the marathon guys. On the doorway outside were all these plaques from Juche fans from all over the world. We all started looking for our own countries.
Nice to see Australia was studying this back in the day.
We took the elevator to the 8th floor and emerged to see these views. It was pretty impressive. Whoever thought of painting these concrete buildings was an absolute genius! Imagine how ugly this view would be if it was all a uniform grey?
Here’s a shot of the Ryugyong Hotel, unfinished from when it began construction in 1987. Local gossip confirms that it will soon be open for business, with an Egyptian mobile phone company tipping in money to get it finished, in exchange for being allowed to put a mobile phone tower on the top of it to service Pyongyang. There was great excitement when we were driving along later that night and we saw the new lights on it, which were only switched on a week before we got there.
Beautiful, isn’t it? Photo by Pierre, who can be found on Instagram @pierredepont.
Back to the Juche Tower views. This is a shot of the hotel that we’d soon be moving to. It’s situated on an island. The wind was in our ears and it was so quiet and peaceful.
Another pretty picture. On this side of the tower we could faintly hear the music that was playing when we drove up – it teased our ears as it mixed in with the breeze and made the whole view seem like something out of a movie with its own soundtrack.
There was one thing that we were beginning to notice – the lack of traffic. It was about 3:30PM on a weekday and this is a capital city. The streets were noticeably clear of cars. Most vehicles on the roads in Pyongyang are government, military and diplomatic. They each have different coloured number plates, so that’s how we could tell. It takes a very wealthy person to have a private car. I think we only saw 2 when we were there.
When I got downstairs Niall and Walter approached me.
“Frogdancer, do you want to have a drink at the café here?”
I was unsuspicious until Wally looked at Niall and said, “Will we tell her?”
Snake soju. It was already clear this early into the trip that I’m not afraid of an alcoholic beverage, (except beer), so I was ok to give it a go. But as I looked at the bottle, I felt a twinge of misgiving. The bottle looked old. The snake looked crusty. The soju was a yellow colour… I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy a whole cup.
I took the cup that was poured for me and raised it to my lips. I brought it down again.
“This STINKS!” I said. It smelled like old fish and used socks.
“Don’t smell it… just drink it!!” Niall helpfully said. So I did.
The burning is unlike anything I’ve experienced. It didn’t wait until the soju hit the stomach – it attacked right at the back of the throat and burned a path all the way down.
Then it sat malevolently in our stomachs for the next couple of hours. It didn’t make us sick, but we were definitely conscious that we’d drunk it. I was SO glad I shared mine with James. I’m not so sure he was though… just picture a Dubliner taking a sip and then saying, “Oh Christ!” Wally apparently had 2 – Hungarians have stamina!
We went outside to keep on going with our sightseeing and saw Helen and Rick dancing a waltz outside to the sound of the music that was still playing. Helen was a bit savage that she wasn’t around to try snake soju, but she was ‘lucky’… this wasn’t the last time that snake soju surfaced on this trip.
And still our day wasn’t over – we were then on to the next sights in Pyongyang, where I revisited my profession…