China and the DPRK: Day 10: The Co-operative farm and cooking with petrol.

After seeing the Palace of the Sun, we leapt back onto the bus and took off into the countryside to see a co-operative farm.

It was yet another empty road stretching out into the distance. Believe me… this wasn’t a staged shot. This population doesn’t appear to be terribly mobile.

Both on the way to the Palace of the Sun and while we were on the road to the farm, Un Ha was on the microphone telling us about different things.

  • Japan owes its development as a world power to Korea’s gold.
  • 200,000Korean sex slaves were taken to the battlefields when Japan was ruling the Korean peninsula.
  • The Korean people were treated like animals and slaves during this time.
  • Kim Il Sung saved them.
  • Kim Il Sung’s motto was: Live for the people, work for the people.
  • Everyone is equal in North Korea – there is no social hierarchy.
  • Kim Il Sung’s official title is ‘Eternal President of the People.’ This was made legal 3 years after he died and he is still the president of the DPRK today.
  • Kim Jong Il’s official title is ‘Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Council.’
  • Kim Jong Un’s title is: ‘First Secretary of the Country.’
  • There are 3 major milestones in a North Korean’s life. For the first 100 days after being born the baby is kept inside and is unnamed. 1. First birthday. 2. Marriage. 3. 60th birthday. On your 60th birthday you can do whatever you want. Everyone has to give you presents and obey your every whim.

When we pulled up into the carpark at the Co-operative farm there was this big sculpture detailing ( I think) one of Kim Il Sung’s speeches when he visited there.

From my reading, I’m VERY sure that this woman wasn’t standing here mopping the speech for our benefit. It’s absolutely mandatory for the sculptures and photos of the Leaders to be kept in an immaculate condition at all times, whether they be outside on a hilltop or inside the humblest house. All the same, I’ll bet she was thinking, “Oh shit! The tourists are here and I’m not finished yet!!”

After a short walk we were led out to see this ENORMOUS statue out in the middle of nowhere, looking out onto fields. There was a huge expanse of concrete pavers in front of it, obviously for people to gather and give their respects to Kim Il Sung.

This statue made me so angry.

Our guide, a lovely woman in a long black coat, (it was pretty cold), was telling us the story of how President Kim Il Sung came to the farm to inspect it. The farmers asked if they could erect a statue in his honour. He refused, telling them that it was unnecessary and that they were already doing important work.

Three years after he died, his son (Kim Jong Il) gave them permission to build it and so here it was. The farm is so proud of it and it depicts actual people who were working there when Kim Il Sung came to visit. This story is all very nice and cosy…

… except if you’ve done your homework and you know that in the 1990’s famine was laying waste to millions of people in North Korea who were literally starving to death. People were eating grass, bark and anything they could to survive. The government had smooth sailing until the USSR collapsed in the early 90’s, when suddenly there were no more food and technology subsidies any more.

The government tried to keep it a secret from the rest of the world, but when they finally relented and asked the UN for aid, the sacks of rice etc from the USA predominantly went onto the black market, so things weren’t much better for the average person at all.

Meanwhile, here’s Kim Jong Il, in the middle of all this in 1997, telling a FARM to give up land and resources to erect a monument to his father. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But then again, I’m just the silly sort of person who’d assume you’d want food producing businesses to keep producing as much food as they could in the middle of a famine… not less.

But it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow any good – our guide was really proud of it and it undoubtedly brings the tourists.

We didn’t see too many actual farmers around the place.

Not content with the statue and the speech, there was also what looked like the Korean version of a village square. Here’s Kim Il Sung on his famous visit here, giving the farmers the benefit of his instructive wisdom.

Ringing the square were more speech extracts from various dignitaries.

We passed some kids going home to lunch. I would’ve given them some lollies but I’d left my gift bag on the bus.

Here’s how people get around.

Remember when we went to the Grand People’s Study Hall in Pyongyang to look at the English class and I said that post-secondary education is pretty much compulsory? They work until 6PM, then have classes, usually in computer tech or the teachings of the Kim leaders. These courses last for a couple of years, then they sit exams. This building is where the classes take place for the people of this village.

Next we were taken for a tour around the greenhouses. You can see that unless the government wants to put a statue on prime farming land, no space is wasted.

They even utilised the space in between the greenhouses.

Once we left the farm we continued on to a fishing town for lunch. The hotel we arrived at was… interesting. Very full of faded grandeur – it would have been quite the place to stay in the 1960’s.

The foyer was spacious, with the usual portrait of the leaders and the giftshop in the corner with stamp albums, books and postcards for sale.

However the toilets near the dining room weren’t working, which meant that we had to walk through lots of halls and rooms to get to a room that they’d set aside for our group to use. On the way, we passed the billiards room. I’m not sure that the game would be very entertaining. You’d be chasing the balls all over the place.

Even if some of the rooms looked a little down-at-heel, it was all scrupulously clean. The lunch was lovely, with fresh oysters being the main dish.

AFTER the official lunch, though, was when I ate the most memorable meal I’ve ever had.

Petrol clams.

Helen told me about this after she went to North Korea last year and when she described it I recoiled in horror.
“They put clams on the ground, douse them in PETROL, set them alight and then eat them?!? You have GOT to be joking.”

But once I decided to go, this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. Where else would you get to eat a dish cooked with petrol? Besides, one meal (probably) wouldn’t kill me.

Right?

While we were inside having lunch, the cooking crew placed the clams close together, opening-edge side down, upon the concrete of the balcony. When it was time to cook, all they needed was a squeeze bottle full of petrol and a lighter.

All in all, it took around 10 minutes or so for the clams to cook.

It was definitely petrol. The smell was unmistakable and the black smoke was acrid as it drifted away across the lawn. It was probably lucky for us that there was a bit of a wind blowing. Our cook kept adding petrol a little at a time as the flames started to die down, until at last she stepped back and motioned to a couple of helpers who were standing behind us.

They came forward to hand us paper serviettes and small cups of soju. I’m pretty sure the soju was there for antibacterial qualities, just in case!

This was undoubtedly magical – seeing the flames leap over the clams as they slowly cooked. I have a video of it, but the blog won’t let me upload it. We were talking and laughing while the smoke rose and the smell assaulted our noses. Burning petrol is hardly the most aromatic thing you can do.

What did they taste like?

Lovely!

It was crazy fun, taking the clams one by one and cracking them open and eating them. The clams were fresh and delightfully sea-foody, but the paper napkins were definitely needed after a while, as our hands started to smell very ‘petroleum’ as we held more and more clams. The soju kept the hilarity up and the cold wind away.

The petrol doesn’t get into the inside of the clams, because the hinge part of the shells is pointing up, but there’s a smell and the slight hint of a taste from the residue on the hands. But of course, that just adds to the novelty of the whole thing.

Everyone tasted these, but only half the group were hardy enough to keep chowing down after one or two.

We were here for about 20 minutes, steadily attacking the clams. We’d just had a huge lunch, though, so one by one we gradually fell away.

But not Wally. He said in his Hungarian accent, “I will not let them beat me!” and he kept shovelling more and more clams down his throat. But sadly, even Wally had to give up in the end.

All too soon, he was lolling back in his chair, a broken man, and we were gathering up our things to go to the next thing on the list for today. For a secretive hermit nation, they surely allowed us to scamper around a lot!

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4 Responses to China and the DPRK: Day 10: The Co-operative farm and cooking with petrol.

  1. Andrew says:

    Occupational health and safety notwithstanding, I’d love to try petrol clams, which I think are very like mussels.

  2. Susan says:

    Go Wally! Just loving your posts, it’s good to see the country from your perspective Frogdancer.
    Must say the 200,000 sex slaves for the Japanese made me feel quite sick at heart :,(

    • Frogdancer says:

      Yes, in between the stories about the Japanese and also knowing how the US behaved during the latter part of the Korean war, there’s definitely good historical reasons why the Koreans aren’t too fond of either nation. As Dr Phil says, “No matter how thin you make a pancake, it always has 2 sides…”

  3. Briget says:

    Loving these posts of your trip, Frogdancer. The building of monuments is astounding, especially when they are prioritised over feeding the people.
    As someone about to turn 60, I do like their birthday tradition though.

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