China and the DPRK: Day 8 – Mangyongdae Children’s Palace and a spot of kleptomania.

We headed straight back into Pyongyang without wasting any time, however just as we were setting off from the hotel after lunch a guy came running up to the bus, flagging us down. Helen had left her reading glasses in the room. I have to say, the DPRKers are really honest.

We had to be back in Pyongyang to take a tour and see a performance at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace. Do you remember when I went to see the primary school I wrote about how the talented children in Pyongyang go to classes outside school hours? Well, here is where they come.

There was a real flurry of activity when we got here. Lots of other tour buses and groups of proud parents making their way inside for the performance. We got to have a small tour of the facility before the show.

The decor was a little more vivid than what I was expecting. It was like a Disney princess hooking up with Willy Wonka and this is their love child.

The Children’s Palace runs all sorts of classes, ranging from sport, dance, music, languages, Maths and sciences. Kids stay here until about 6PM on weeknights.

Here is the foyer leading into the academic classrooms, particularly the Science ones. See the ceiling decorations, along with the missile bottom left?

A closer look. The people are all SO proud of the nuclear missile program. It was brought up a fair few times while we were there.

If a business, school or farm has ever been visited by any of the Great leaders, they have massive commemorative photos put up in the foyer. This place had quite a few of them. It appears that this place might be a pet project for Kim Jong Un. Here he is instructing the teachers the correct way to taekwondo.

Or something. (As if I’d know!!)

These kids are obviously considered to be the best of the best. Unlike the other school we went to in the regional city, this place is bright, airy and no expense has been spared.

This was a light fitting in one of the foyers. I think the drop-down bit in the middle is meant to represent the double helix.

This class was doing the most amazing embroidery. It was double-sided. I have no idea how they could do it. This little girl, however, was clearly uncomfortable at being made to sit right in front of the doorway near all of us. She rarely made eye contact and she doggedly kept on sticking that needle into the cloth. She has pretty socks, though.

Remember the teacher at the primary school who was accompanying the singing girls and boy on the piano accordion? This was a big class – the photo only shows a slice – and I wonder if they might be future teachers in the making?

A gayageum class. They were playing a quick song and they were all belting it out with gusto. All girls in this class.

A fellow chalkie at work.

After our tour of the classrooms we were ushered into the Theatre to see the performance. On our way into the Palace we were able to buy bouquets of flowers to give to the performers after the show. I was starting to be slightly concerned about how quickly my cash was disappearing, especially when I factored in leaving a ton of Euros for the guides, so I declined. However, James, Walter, Oliver, Pierre, Helen and probably a couple of other people wanted to do it.

I have a pearler of a video of the performance, but unfortunately WordPress won’t let me put it on. So I’ve found this one for you. Most of it is cutesie performances by singing and dancing kids, but start watching at an hour and two minutes in. The last part of the concert is decidedly NOT what we usually expect to see when we go to a school concert. It’s well worth the watch, especially when you consider that these kids are all below 16 years of age. If we did a music concert like this, our parents would FREAK. (And so would the kids…)

As the performance goes on it just keeps escalating. OMG.

We had a similar experience, but it wasn’t quite so full-on. We just had what seemed like a hundred kids on stage singing a song about Kim Jong Un, while soldiers were marching on the screen behind. Nice and wholesome, in other words.

This thing was huge. The logistics of wrangling that many school kids would be enough to do my head in. Once it was over the people with flowers came up on stage and presented them to various kids.

Then we took a walk in downtown Pyongyang, on the way to do a spot of shopping.

These buildings were in the Teachers’ District. Secondary and Tertiary teachers have apartments here.

I can’t remember if I’ve posted a photo yet of the people replanting the grass. If not, it’ll be coming. This is a little hint to stay on the footpath.

Pyongyang has a Miniso shop! For those who haven’t been to China and Japan, it’s like an ultra-cheap Priceline. Helen was mad for it and we spent up big in Beijing before coming here. I was browsing the shelves when I came across this little beauty. How could I walk past? Particularly as we have Handcream Friday in our staff room every week and I knew Brock, the teacher who buys the handcream and shares the love, would be appalled and delighted in equal measure. Only in North Korea…!

For the record, it’s actually really nice. The perfume is lovely and it makes your hands feel great. The vegans and vegetarians in the staff room wouldn’t have a bar of it!

We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the shop, though. It was far smaller than the one we went to in Beijing, but I suppose there isn’t meant to be any such thing in Pyongyang, due to the sanctions.

Dinner time! By this stage I was starting to get used to the gaudiness of the North Korean restaurants. We were up on the third floor, with what seemed to be a wedding reception on the floor below. See the opulent flower arrangements on the front table?

We were halfway through dinner when there was a power blackout. Before I came on this trip I did a lot of reading and blackouts were mentioned as being not uncommon, even in the heart of Pyongyang. One Tripadvisor review mentioned that someone on their tour was stuck in a lift for a while when one struck. When we were in the Foreign Language bookstore a few days ago in the late afternoon there were no lights, but this was somehow different. It was pitch black.

So we dined by the romantic light from our mobile phone flashlights. After about half an hour the lights came back on and we all cheered.

Then, before we left we took a group photo at the head table. (@pierredepont)

Bloody James! As we were getting up from the table he grabbed one of the flowers, shoved it into my hand and said, “I dare you to take it!” and then ran out of the room and down the stairs, laughing like a crazy man. Yeah, like this is just the country where you want to be stealing things.

However, this photo was taken at home, after I got back to Australia. Frogdancer is up for a risk every now and then.

Still, in all honesty I have to say that I made it down those 3 flights of stairs and onto the bus in record time, before anyone noticed a small gap in the flowers…  I could have killed him!

Ahh, but who can stay mad at the Irish for long? Especially when he offers a soju on the bus. We arrived at our new hotel and then James said that he was off to the hairdressing salon to get a Kim Jong Un haircut. Now this I had to see…

This is halfway through. The rest of the photos are pretty blurry – I was laughing too much. No doubt you’ll see James sporting his new haircut on future posts.

Then it was karaoke, then bed, for another action-packed day tomorrow!

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2 Responses to China and the DPRK: Day 8 – Mangyongdae Children’s Palace and a spot of kleptomania.

  1. Andrew says:

    I used to think Kim Jong Un’s hair was weird, but I have kind of gotten used to it. It did not look at all bad when he met Trumpet, in fact much better than Trumpet’s.

  2. Frogdancer says:

    I haven’t really thought about it, but yeah, you’re right. Kim’s face would look funny f he suddenly starting sporting a moptop.

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