After visiting the Demilitarized Zone we visited the city of Kaesong, the southernmost city in North Korea.
This shot of Kaesong illustrates the quintessential North Korea: huge wide streets with no cars in them, half-completed buildings, a bit of old-Korean style, a monolithic apartment building, a road going nowhere, no bright colors, and some people walking far distances.
This picture shows the view facing the other direction from the previous picture. This road goes nowhere on the far side of the valley. On this side it goes up to a statue of Kim Il Sung (maybe Kim Jung Il, I didn't check). You can decide if that means it goes nowhere on this side too. I don't know if locals visit the statue too or just tourists.
Ah, that's Kim Il Sung alright. And John, Neil, and Ingrid in the foreground. I'm not sure what this particular statue represented or just his general glory.
The building behind me on the right, if I remember right, had a bookstore. It might also have been where we ate lunch. I didn't buy many souvenirs, but I did get a small booklet from one place. It's called "The DPRK Represents Genuine People's Power and is a Banner of the Unity and Solidarity of the Masses", but Kim Il Sung. Many of the books have titles like that. He or his ghostwriters wrote prolifically. You could fill a library with the books he "wrote."
If the last picture wasn't silly enough, we have this one and the next. I don't know if you can tell, but the crane is at one construction site, but the buildings behind it aren't complete. I mean, people are probably using them, but they don't like they've been in use for a while but don't have windows in them. If they do, plenty of others didn't.
I don't think I was pontificating, but it looks like I was. Alex and I were falling behind and one of our guides was getting animated about catching up. Staying in the group is important there.
Alex, my roommate. Somewhere I wrote that he did free running and parkour, among many other awesome things. If you've never heard of those sports/games, look them up. Here's a video of many to start with and here's a Wikipedia page. I find that stuff inspirational, so I'm grateful to Alex for doing a few moves with it to introduce me to it.
The group -- Ms. Yu (our North Korean guide), Alex, (I think Mr. Lee, another North Korean guide is behind Alex), Ingrid, Gabriel, Neil, Me, Jordan, Alex, James, Joseph, John, Hannah, and Dan. And, of course, Kim Il Sung benevolently standing behind us.
Yup, that was Mr. Lee behind Alex. What a beautiful day!
Third time's the charm. A bunch of my friends were at Burning Man around this same time. I think we had the greater adventure, but, of course, that's a matter of taste.
After getting to the top of the hill, we walked through a park to the side, which included a group of maybe five little girls playing jacks or something like that. They kept giggling but we couldn't understand what they were saying or doing. There was no sign of parents anywhere. Someone in the group speculated they were plants -- people the government put there for tourists to see and think highly of the place. I couldn't see why they would do that, but who knows?
Again, this is just to the side of the hill with the statue, overlooking what I guess is a major residential area of Kaesong, a city of just over 300,000 people, one of North Korea’s ten largest cities.
You had to agree the city looked beautiful from this hill. They said our hotel was not that far in the direction behind Alex, but we drove a while to get there. We also went through some winding roads in the hills. The country there looked beautiful to me.
Alex is French, by the way.
We'd already thrown discs around ourselves. Now the North Koreans began to toss the disc around. This park was between the view of the city and the statue of Kim Il Sung, so we were heading back to the bus, near where the girls with no parents around were playing jacks.
Now you can see the disc. You maybe can't tell from these shots, but everyone smiled when they threw the disc around. Frisbees have that property. We couldn't have anticipated at this point how amazing the tournament would be a few days later.
I can't see the disc in this shot, but I can see Gabriel taking their picture too. I guess the guides get used to being part of the show for tourists, especially Western ones like us. I wonder if they realize what we see as different or not. On another note, Gabriel and I had a drink when he passed through New York City about a month ago, which was about a month after the North Korean visit. We both remarked we were still riding the wave that visiting such a different place brought to our lives.
The guy I mentioned before who showed up now and then videotaping us. Now that I see him here I think he probably was with the other group getting footage for everyone. Who knows.
After the park we visited a quasi-open-air museum of ancient historical artifacts and I forget what else. I saw someone else take this shot and got in on the action.
This little girl wandered through the museum. Most children we saw were dressed in more adorable outfits.
One of the museum's buildings. I remember beautiful mural paintings on the walls of the buildings and ancient tools on display. I think Wikipedia said Kaesong used to have a different name and was the capital of all of Korea. People have lived there since the stone age.
One of the first women I saw wearing this traditional North Korean dress. I didn't realize I'd see thousands more. These dresses were always brightly colored, nearly the only clothing that was. South Koreans and Korean Americans who see them laugh at something about them, but I haven't asked what.
I just missed one of the shining moments of the trip. John, who is starting an opera singing school for Americans in Germany, sang on a few occasions. I forget the song, but he sang to Ms. Yu while we all watched. Ingrid had just taken silly naughty pictures of Neil and the statues. Everyone was in a good mood. If only I had figured out how to get my camera to do video fast enough to record him singing the song. In any case, we were near some old, beautiful statues and what I think were burial grounds.
After the day in Kaesong, we went to a traditional-style hotel, I think this one. I went to sleep early, but others drank and had funny stories about the bartender, a woman who behaved robotically.
I woke up the next morning before 6am and heard the town loudspeaker turn on and play first morning music, then rousing music, and later what sounded like propaganda. That morning, jet-lagged, I started taking notes that evolved into this journal.
Not only jet lag woke me up. They heated the floors of the hotel — probably awesome in the winter, but in August you had to keep moving around your bed to avoid the hot parts where you may have sweated. Hannah had asked them not to heat our rooms, but it happened. On the other hand we needed flashlights to go to the bathroom because the power went off. You figure it out.
Still, the hotel was beautiful and charming. A small footpath over a bubbling stream connected the different one-story buildings.
Speaking of starting writing here, before I went I had few expectations. While there it didn’t take long — the dawn of the second morning there — before the place started getting me thinking about life outside North Korea differently and that I felt compelled to share those thoughts.
I get as much feedback about these posts as the main blog, so maybe it has some value.
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