China and the DPRK: Day 9 – Mayday Stadium and Kim Il Sung’s birthplace.

I forgot to mention! The hipster café was next door to what looks suspiciously like a tenpin bowling alley.

We then headed off to view the Mayday Stadium/Rungrado Stadium, which is the biggest stadium in the world. Who knew that Pyongyang could lay claim to this?

(Click on the link and scroll down to the ‘History’ section. There’s a sentence there that’ll make your blood run cold… ) That’s something else I didn’t know about…

If we wanted to go in and gallop around we had to pay for a tour. At first I wasn’t going to go but then I thought Tom26 would kill me. He’s a soccer nut and I thought he might be interested to see what it all looked like.

Un Ha was saying that it seats 150,000 and it has so many gates that the entire crowd can clear in less than half an hour. This place is certainly massive.

There was a soccer match playing when we first arrived. Way over on the other side of the stadium was a small group of school kids watching the match. I tried to get a close-up shot but the iPhone wasn’t up to it. This place really is large.

Just to prove that I was here. 😛

Yet another guide in traditional clothes. The stadium has only recently been opened after having an upgrade.

Every room has the portraits of the leaders – even the rooms which foreign teams would be using.

Ollie used to manage a professional league soccer team in Hamburg, so he signed the guest book. Un Ha is writing a translation of what he said.

This seemed to symbolise the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

A short bus ride later we arrived at Kim Il Sung’s birthplace. As we walked through the parkland surrounding it, I saw some of my colleagues working on excursions. Primary and secondary kids were there in abundance.

I’ve just come from an excursion with my year 7s to the Art Gallery in Melbourne. It’s nice to see that some things are the same, no matter where you go in the world. These kids were FAR better behaved than the kids Scott and I saw in the National Portrait Gallery in London. OMG. My hair still curls when I remember them.

This was our guide, different from the schoolkids’ guides because she spoke English. We joined in line behind some students and she took us around. She was a diligent and thorough guide, who was also responsible for one of the most jarring ‘OMG did I just hear that?!?‘ moments of the trip. But more on that later.

You can see behind her that the exhibit is 3 small buildings with thatched roofs. The story is that Kim Il Sung’s family lived here for around 150 years before he was born. The rest of the village has long gone, as this place is now surrounded by acres of gardens. His grandfather was a gravedigger and farmer and Kim Il Sung lived here with them and his parents until he left Korea when he was 14, vowing never to return until Korea was free from Japanese rule.

It’s all very spick and span, with implements from the time laid out. It’s very clear that the message being drummed into the visitors is that Kim Il Sung came from very humble beginnings.

The roof reminded me of Tudor buildings in England. 🙂

I liked the look of these blinds. Might be something I can use when I build my deck in a couple of months…

This squashed pot is very famous. His great-grandmother needed a new pot to store things in but she couldn’t afford a new one. This squashed one was the only one that she could afford and the family kept using it. It’s now 140 years old. The cult of personality that Kim Il Sung established relies on his humble beginnings to give it credence, as well as his guerrilla activities against the Japanese.

The kitchen. I took a shot of this because I remembered being appalled by the Balinese kitchen that the boys and I saw when we went to Bali back in 2006, before this blog had even begun. It was dark, spartan and utilitarian. This looked very similar, but clearly whitewashed and gussied up to within an inch of its life.

When Kim Il Sung came back to Pyongyang in 1945 and was installed into power by the Soviets, he reportedly spent his first night sleeping here, with his grandparents. Our guide said that his grandmother said to him, “You came back, but without your parents!” Poor woman.

The grandparents refused to leave their house, even though the Great Leader offered them better accommodation. I have a sneaking feeling that I would have been the same. *This is my house and no one is going to make me leave!*

These are photos of the young Kim Il Sung, his brother and (I think) an uncle, before they left to seek their fortunes in China (and later the USSR.) The guide was saying about how both the parents were revolutionaries, with his father dying young at 32 from the aftermaths of getting tortured by the Japanese. I have no idea of the truth of this.

Remember her? We were standing in front of the last room of the exhibit, schoolkids behind us waiting for their turn to view it. She had been talking of the olden days, Kim Il Sung’s bravery in fighting the Japanese and his enormous sacrifices and struggles for the Korean people, with only the people’s betterment in the forefront of his mind.

Then, out of nowhere, she said, “And this is why, under the wise leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un, we have achieved success in our nuclear program which will bring the DPRK to the forefront of world power.”

Um… what?!? One second we’re talking ploughshares and earthenware pots and the next we’re talking nuclear warheads??? It’s a funny old country sometimes…

Un Ha was saying that schoolchildren visit here once a year. It’s considered to be an important part of their education. Honestly though, there’s not much to it. Three small buildings, a gift shop where Matt bought us all icecreams, (I had chocolate… not as sweet as ours but still very nice), and then we went for a walk through the parkland surrounding the site.

To the left of this photo is the famous well that the family got their water from, but I didn’t know of its significance at the time so I didn’t drink from it. Judging from what I’ve since read on Tripadvisor, it’s quite the done thing to taste the water.

Frankly, I was expecting lots of statues and monuments but this was the only thing like that that we saw. He looks young here, so it’s probably a representation of when he was in the mountains fighting the Japanese.

None of us bought flowers to lay at the picture.

I wish I had’ve thought to take some pictures of the parkland. This is the only one that gives even a hint of the area surrounding this place. It’s clearly a site of great significance to the North Koreans.

This was the only vaguely oriental bonsai-looking plant I saw. I liked the look of it. My father used to bonsai trees, back in the day.

Look!!!! A BIRD!

Honestly, this sight was so rare that I think most of us took a photo. It’s weird… I don’t know if Pyongyang is naturally devoid of birds and animals, or if this is the aftermath of the terrible famines they had in the 90’s and 2000’s.

People obviously come here to picnic and enjoy the serenity.

Just before we got back onto the bus, someone noticed the chairlifts over the trees. Turns out there’s a fun park over there. (Tripadvisor again.)

This was a fairly dull part of the trip in itself, but when you look at the how the country as a whole is so in thrall to the Kim family’s cult of personality, particularly around the founder, Kim Il Sung, it’s pretty interesting to see one of the key building blocks used to underpin the whole thing. SO MUCH was made of his humble beginnings, the family loyalty to Korea against the imperialist aggressors (the Japanese this time), and how the family clung to its roots and was proud of where they came from. The family history of fighting against the invaders appears to be somewhat exaggerated from what I can tell since coming home, but then again – now I’m dealing with Western propaganda which is unsympathetic to the regime, so who knows?

This was less than an hour, then…

…it was off for lunch at the Rifle Range!

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2 Responses to China and the DPRK: Day 9 – Mayday Stadium and Kim Il Sung’s birthplace.

  1. Jamie says:

    I missed this post somehow, but came across it today.

    Our 15yo is learning about the Cold War and needed to write a comment on a propaganda poster from the USSR, and I was like “Frogdancer did some blog posts with lots of posters!”, so I brought her to your blog to have a look through some more examples of posters.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Frogdancer says:

      That’s wonderful! I know that when I showed the propaganda postcards to my year 7, 8, 9 and 12 students, they were all shocked at how blatant they were. It’s certainly a big wide world with lots of different viewpoints out there! ________________________________

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