China and the DPRK: Day 5 – Grand People’s Study House, Parks and the Mansudae Grand Monument

After we left the Juche Tower we jumped back in the bus, crossed the river and went to the Grand People’s Study House.  This is another of the ‘showpiece’ buildings that Pyongyang has, a huge library and resource for workers to do further study after leaving school. It’s built in a traditional Korean style, as you can see and it’s strategically positioned to be a backdrop for gatherings in the huge square in the centre of Pyongyang.

We walked into a foyer that was definitely built to impress. Marble everywhere. The ceilings were high and it was echoey.

Another picture of Kim Il Sung. This building was built to honour him on his 70th birthday, so I guess it makes sense that it’d be here. It, too, was built on a grand scale.

Here it is from another angle. Bright lights in the public area, nice shiny clock…

… but I have to say that I was surprised to see these bad boys. You don’t see card catalogues anymore. I’ll have to show this to the librarians at work.

A little bit further in, there was this photo of Kim Il Sung and his son, a young Kim Jong Il, presumably at the opening of the building out on the balcony. This sort of portrait was going to become very familiar over the next few days.

As we got closer to the stairs we eyed them with misgiving. There were a LOT of them and people like Niall and Wally were already walking awkwardly after the marathon. But thankfully, we passed by them and went off to a Reading Room on the right.

Look at the scale of this room. Marble columns, high ceilings, lots of desks available. Our two friends are smiling down from their places high on the wall – always the same pictures.

Our librarian guide showed us a special feature of the desks that she was very proud of. By turning the screw thing at the front of the desk like mad, it angles upwards “to suit every student.”

Here were titles strategically placed to show that the North Koreans are exposed to Western literature. Here are translations of Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe, The Diary of Anne Frank and something else second from the left that I can’t remember. If anyone has an idea, please put it in the comments.

Sadly, we couldn’t avoid those stairs. See Niall, (bottom left), awkwardly manoeuvring himself up all those steps? It was a shocker.

Upstairs was a room filled with books. This surprised me a bit, as downstairs the librarian told us that the library works by looking up a book on the library’s computer system, then requesting it from the librarians and then it will appear for you. It didn’t sound like there were books available for browsing. However, we were the only people in this room.

Look at me diligently studying a book written in Korean.

At the other end of the room were narrow shelves of books written in English.

Niall only picked this up for the pictures…

The upper floors were dark and cold. Electricity wasn’t wasted at all here.

We went in and watched an adult English class. The teacher sat up the front and projected work onto the screens suspended around the room. The students had workbooks that they wrote in. I went and sat next to a guy and he got me to fill in some of the answers for him.

I’m not too sure about the “I broke my car” thing, but at least it’s clear what they mean. The teacher was actually pretty good – she was making the lesson engaging by doing things like writing sentences about wives wanting expensive shoes, which made the students laugh.

Then she asked if any of us wanted to get up and run the lesson for a while. All eyes looked to me, as everyone in the tour knew by now that I was an English teacher. Not being shy of an audience, I leaped to my feet and raced to the front of the class. Photo by James McArdle.

God knows what I was talking about here when James took this photo!

I gave a bit of a preamble about myself and Australia, then I threw the floor open for questions. The students were really keen to know about my lifestyle, the working hours and conditions in Australia, what I did in my spare time and where else we’d been so far. It was a shame we’d only just started the tour, because all I could talk about was Pyongyang.

Here’s the view from the balcony. When we reached this level there was a small gift shop with a portable tv blaring propaganda of a military march at the entrance to the balcony. I had a quick look but nothing grabbed my interest so I went out with all the others and had a look.

The Juche Tower. They’re strategically placed, as the Grand People’s Study House is where people come to further their knowledge of the Juche principles and ideas that President Kim Il Sung laid down and which his son further developed.

I thought you’d be interested to see the massive portraits and the wildly elaborate landscaping in front of them. In every public space, there are the two dead leaders beaming out at the populace, either as pictures or sculptures.

I got bored after a little while and stepped back into the gift shop. When the ladies noticed me, they hastily turned the tv back on again.

Then we walked to a fountain park across the road. We were mingling with the locals who were also there enjoying the late afternoon sun after the snow of yesterday.

Nothing much to say about this one. It’s a fountain. With water.

I decided to take photos of the locals. I don’t know what was written on this sign, but it appeared to hold their interest for a while.

Older kids all seemed to wear school uniform, but little kids were dressed in whatever their parents fancied. Here’s one little guy out with his grandfather, I assume. I love the hat!

These little kiosks are dotted around all over the place. They sell fast food, such as fried meat balls, soup and noodles, as well as packaged crisps and things like that.

Here they are again. I noticed that people seem pleased when you want to take a photo of their kids.

This woman was one of the few women we saw in Pyongyang who was wearing trousers. Most women wear shirts – usually a black pencil skirt. They appear to take great pride in their shoes and their hair adornments – there’s often a little bling involved in these areas.


Kids doing what kids everywhere do – climb all over the rocks.

I think all of us took photos of this little girl sketching her brother. Helen says that she was holding her pencil incorrectly – that’s something only an art teacher would notice!

Blossom and a street scene. In both China and the DPRK the trees were painted white around their bases. I don’t know why.

We left the park and walked up the hill to the Mansudae Grand Monument to pay our respects. We were encouraged to buy flowers to leave at the feet of the statues, but I chose not to. In one of the books I read before I came, an escapee from North Korea said that she hated for foreigners to leave flowers and bow to the statues, as it simply reinforces the view that the North Koreans are told – namely that the whole world holds the DPRK leaders in the utmost respect.

We were told that we didn’t have to leave flowers, but it makes our guides happy. In the end, only 2 of us chose not to. We were led up to the statues, in rows. Those who bought flowers walked forward and lay them down, then they returned and we all bowed in unison.

This is what the statues are looking out over.

Here’s another tour group. I included this photo so you could see how we were expected to walk up to the monument. The globe of flowers was there to commemerate the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s appointment to something or other that I wrote about a couple of blog posts ago in the subway. 🙂

Do I look suitably respectful?

While we were there a wedding party came to pay their respects. Un Ha said that this is customary. She said that brides are expected to have 3 different dresses and they get changed throughout the day, though brides usually only buy one and borrow the other two.

Once our civic duty was done, we were back walking the streets of Pyongyang to pop in at the Foreign Language Bookshop. No photos here, because when we went in the power as out. It was pitch black in there.We were looking at the books, newspapers and stamps with the lights on our phones and the girls behind the counter were doing the same thing.

I was happy though – I bought my books, so that was another thing ticked off my list. I was waiting to get my propaganda posters from the DMZ, as that’s the best place to get them.

After dinner we drove back to the hotel, with a stop off to take shots of the newly-renovated pyramid hotel and this building – the Ice Hockey stadium.

After karaoke that night I surveyed my cash stash. Tomorrow is the DMZ – I need those euros for my propaganda posters to decorate the Man-Cave at home.

Onwards to ‘the most dangerous border on Earth’!

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4 Responses to China and the DPRK: Day 5 – Grand People’s Study House, Parks and the Mansudae Grand Monument

  1. Urspo says:

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry

  2. Kelly says:

    I’m guessing it’s Pinocchio
    I’m really enjoying your trip. Thanks for sharing

    • Frogdancer says:

      You know, I think you might be right! I know it was a story that was so well-known I didn’t bother to write it down because OF COURSE I’d remember it… ________________________________

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

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