Juche Tower by night in Pyongyang

Pyongyang, North Korea

Pyongyang, North Korea… These names have always been mysterious for me. With North Koreans known to be so close-minded, what kind of capital city can they possibly build? And how exactly can they live in this very capital under the dictatorship of the semi-immortal gods, surrounded by all the modern enemies?  I have been dreaming of witnessing all these myself for a long time. After the North Korea by train, Kaesong and the DMZ, let’s discover Pyongyang.

Morning in Pyongyang
Good morning North Korea!

Upon an early morning, we went to take a ‘wild’ walk during this little free time we have before the guides arrive.  You cannot normally move around unaccompanied, thus everything seemed abnormally nice, especially without those disturbing explanations and questions our guides dote on.

International Cinema Hall in Pyongyang
International Cinema Hall. Only Soviet film I suppose. I can not yet advise them on "Grave of the Fireflies" as a comedy.

As we were enjoying the quiet morning, our guides have arrived, much earlier than we expected. They did not say it but they actually live at the same hotel! Although one of them actually lives near the center of Pyongyang. So why are they there? To watch us? Excuse my bad language, this is obviously to ensure our security.

Lonely Man in Pyongyang
A Quiet Morning.

We thus wasted no time and set off straight away. Nobody works today, apparently it is a day off. It is a beautiful sunny day but quite cold (-14 degrees). As a result the battery of my camera freezes and I have to replace it every 20 minutes.

Grand Theatre in Pyongyang
Grand Theatre.

The first place we visit is the Pyongyang Grand Theatre. The building is not ugly, rather colorful but if you look closer and you willrealize that it is poorly maintained, especially the roof. Here are translation for movie listings:

  • Speak, Forest! (Revolutionary Opera)
  • The Faithful Daughter of the Party (Revolutionary Opera)
  • Song of Mount Kumgang (Revolutionary Opera)
  • Seonghwangdang (name of a temple) (Revolutionary Opera)
  • With Anger Bloody Ten-Thousand Countries (Revolutionary Drama)
Movies Posters in Pyongyang
The films are, as they say, free of charge. Well, given such a selection, I will say it is a good sign.

There is no traffic on the street, no traffic lights. People are walking, rather quietly. There is a lack of stress as we are used to in the large mega-cities. The morning light is soft, soothing, that an inattentive eye might almost believe himself on a boulevard in Beijing without traffic. But things are always beyond the first impressions.

Busy Street in Pyongyang
주체101: This is the 101st Juche (name of the political philosophy of Kim Il Sung and another way to record the years).

There are families walking, you can see people in the bus (without lights), almost everything seems normal. But there is an only oddity: the street is a very central axis but without any shops or restaurants. Nothing is on sale, there are no marks, no advertising at all…

Camera Shop in Pyongyang
The Photo Shop in Pyongyang. 예술 사진 Photo Art. 제작 Production. 증명서: Picture ID. 수복 사진 Birthday Photo. 비닐 도포: Development. 수자식 사진: Digital Photography. And... the wedding photos that are dear to Asians? Who cares.

But there are actually some kind of signs, all similar and rather explicit. Businesses are apparently all like that, always hidden behind a heavy curtain. It is not certain that something is behind there all time: the few stores where we visited were either closed or practically empty. There was even one shop blacked out during our visit, and we had to finish our shopping with a flashlight! And of course, you never see anybody in them. The universal rule that stores need to have nice window display and seasonal promotion to lure our appetite is of exemption here.

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Chicken and Eggs in Pyongyang
Salmonella for dinner!

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Candies in Pyongyang
Only for children, and one each!

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We now arrived at Kim Il-sung’s Square where all the government buildings are located. I’m not sure that Karl Marx shared much enjoyment seeing his own portrait on the “Government Complex Number 2″! Above it is written 영광 스러운 조선 로동당 만세! Long live to the Korean Workers Party!

It goes on with other slogans written vertically:

  • 경애하는 김정은 동지의 령도따라 주체혁명위업을 끝까지 완성하자! Long live the leadership of our respected and beloved Comrade Kim Jong-un, are completing the Great Revolution!
  • 위대한 김일성동지와 김정일동지는 영원히 우리와 함께 계신다! Our great comrade Kim Il-sung et Kim Jong-il will live with us forever!

Kim Jong-il has been dead and embalmed for weeks at that time, but on the slogan above was the only time that we see our beloved new (fatty) leader (Kim Jong-un) being mentioned; he was otherwise completely ignored by our guides, nor does his photo appear anywhere, and you can just about to catch a glimpse of him in television news (for which we can seriously enjoy it as “the 10 Minutes Show”, because it is so ridiculously short… or to say it shortly, it is ridiculous).

Government Building in Pyongyang
Hi Karl. You are like a little stamp on a big postcard on which people are either dying of hunger or forced to mourn the death of a leader who was spending 1.700 euros per day just to get a hungover with Cognac.

This is what happens to be the principle building of Pyongyang : the Grand People’s Study House. We will go for a walk (and explore its roof of course) later.

Grand People's Study Palace in Pyongyang
Grand People's Study House.

It seems that turquoise is a popular color in Pyongyang. Most of the buildings and monuments use this color, especially for roofs. It is the color of the quiet authority. The message was very well very well delivered, on the paintings here, the leaders are always represented with big smiles aiming to rival Mr Colgate. But the people, featured on the same pictures, are always in their revolutionary spirits, ready to jump on any possible enemy. Fortunately, our dear fathers are here for them, with the quiet force, law and order.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il, enthusiastic about devouring pitbulls, was ordering them alive from United States in order to acquire the power that we already knew.

Pyongyang Center
In the distance, "우리 는 행복 해요, we are happy." Like that, it is clear,there is no debate.

Many buildings are in short preparation for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung (Juche 101). As it is immortal, he can obviously come back and enjoy the long array of empty buildings.

Strangely, Kim Jong-il was not granted the holy grail and therefore will not be able to check this exciting new landscape. Alternatively, he was able to avoid going to the toilet. His biography says that he was not defecating! Quite a convenient power as well. Although it is clear that everyone has his own super power, the power that Kim Jong-un possesses, however, is not clear yet.

Muddy Building in Pyongyang
A building not very straight and dressed all in mud.
These buildings will be ready to welcome the South Korean brothers who will soon come in flocks. Once they are freed from the U.S. imperialists and their puppet president, of course!
Stand-up in Pyongyang
Oh no, it's not going to be this way! 10,000 countries! This is going to cost you sh*t loads!

We are now going to visit Tower of Juche, from which we can enjoy an overview of Pyongyang. Super! I shall run fast! But first, what is this “Juche”?

The Juche is the official ideology of North Korea. There are supporters from all countries (even France) but I have a big doubt. It was created by Kim Il-sung in the 30s. Here are the three fundamental principles (also known as the “Three Legs of the Grand Chat”).

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Juche Tower in Pyongyang
Juche Tower.

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Juche Tower Go Go Go in Pyongyang
Go, go, go!

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The Chaju: Political Independence
Do seek the advice before firing anyone, that way you can shoot first. This is the strength of the Weak… but also the one of the Malicious and even… the Sneaky!

The Old and the Ryugyong in Pyongyang
The Old & The Ryugong.

The Charip : Economic Self-Sufficiency

As we shall see later, North Korea has not only its own power plant serving the whole country, but also a huge ostrich farm on top of other technologies to feed the entire regime.
Massive Buildings in Pyongyang
Hey ! Do not copy the guy next to you!

The Chawi : Self Defense Force
North Korea is the most militarized country in the world. Just look around, it seems that most people are soldiers, especially outside the capital. Unless the military costumes are the trend of the moment.

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Angry North-Koreans in Pyongyang
Which of these three tools will give us food?

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Kim Il Sung's Ideology in Pyongyang
Eruption! Flames! Phallic pride! Long live Juche!

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It’s cold (everything is frozen) but the view is nice. Basically, this is the radio tower in Pyongyang, and down, a bridge where you see all the little North Koreans going to of coming back from work (but not so small because those tiny ones has been sent to remote islands already, in order to put an end to their embarrassing genes; eugenics have still its place here).
Frozen View in Pyongyang
A frozen view.
This giant pyramid was the main attraction which makes me want to discover the country. I spent hours searching for information and photos in the past. It is shining, resplendent, but it was not always the case.

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Infamous Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang
The Infamous Ryugyong Hotel.

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Ryugyong Hotel Street in Pyongyang
The road to Ryugyong Hotel.

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The Ryugong Hotel was built in response to the construction of the Stamford hotel by the South Korean brothers. In 1986, it was the largest hotel in the world and North Korea of course had to do something about it. Unfortunately, a lack of funds speedily transformed the Hotel Ryugong into a ruin in 1992. The construction was resumed only recently, with the generous help of Egyptian investors (‘Any link with the fact that it looks like a pyramid?’ I asked, ‘Not at all’ replied the guide) and the hotel will apparently be in use in the summer of 2012. Meanwhile, it is impossible to approach.
Workers Party Monument in Pyongyang
조선인민의 모든 승리의 조직자이며 향도자인 조선로동당 만세! Long live the Korean Workers' Party, which organizes and leads all the victories of the Korean people!
We are now at the Monument of the Foundation of the Workers’ Party. This party has been prevailing in North Korea since its creation in 1949, lead by President Kim Il-sung eternal. Just before the death of the latter, the party began to decline, mainly caused by the brindle inherent to the principles of Juche (North Korea would not have the humility to stop those amazing things).

At this perilous moment Kim Jong-il took the reins of the country that he continued to dry on low heat, while allowing some air to fully appreciate the joys of life (several women, a great sushi Chief, good drinks, gourmet dog, golf, movies, travel, etc.). Since Kim Jong-il, no party congress took place which was supposed to happen every 5 years.

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Flowers for Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang
Flowers for Kim Jong-il. Too bad he can not eat them.

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Bow at Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang
A deep bow.

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We find again the well known weapons of the party: the hammer (the worker), the brush (the intellectual), and sickle (the farmer). In an attempt to steady the balance of this country in the total loss of speed, the loss of control was then added; no freedom, no rights. The North Koreans are the shares of a failed machine, but yet they worship their leaders, and few people wake up from it and try to escape.

They are not faking it in front of the monument, showing respect to Kim Jong-il a last time. You have to see to realize it, for they have eyes are glittering! I am now certain that they must have really cried the day he died . It is intimidating to think so. This trip feels like a game so far, but I realize that our presence here is on the borders of their tolerance, and everything is taken very seriously.

Radio Tower in Pyongyang
Center of Pyongyang.

Then we walk much further, around an amusement park where everyone goes. The park itself does not open in the winter, but the doors were open.

North Korean Messiah in Pyongyang
The Messiah

There is really not a lot of cars in the city, most honest people use their feet, the subway, or bus. Some have a bike but it seems that it is limited to the richest. Note that the bicycle is one of the “pride of the party”. No the buses, for sure,they are completely neglected.

Trolley Bus in Pyongyang
Pyongyang trolley bus.

Here is the entrance to Kaeson Youth Park (개선청년공원). Nothing very interesting, in fact.

Attraction Park in Pyongyang
The store inside basically sells chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes (군밤 군고구마), but it is closed.

You noticed the cleanliness of the city? We are not far from the Japanese OCDs here.

Subway Station in Pyongyang
The Subway Station

The disabled are also removed from the land (from birth if possible). Another thing worth noticing is that there are no dogs, no cats either, they are all extinguished in the barbecue a few decades ago. I wonder if they even know what these animals look like?

Ice-Rink in Pyongyang
Pyongyang Ice Rink

The only animal that we could see alive is the ostrich (you will see them all lined up very soon). The day that hunger disappears, would be the day we see them as pets. Otherwise we can we do with these big bird. The scene of the early morning ostrich-walking must be impressive.

Hail Kim in Pyongyang
3대혁명: 3 revolutions. Let us rise up and strive to accomplish the Jucherevolution!

In Pyongyang, the most flattering scene must be the traffic ladies. They are the conductors for the streets of Pyongyang and we are lucky to have them here. The world has a passion for them, there are even fetish forums about them! They are usually pretty nice, well built, strong and intelligent. Oh my! They are also entitled to cosmetics; which is probably necessary for the performance of their work. And their costumes are out of the careful consideration of Kim Jong-il; in summer, they are all in skirts.

Traffic Lady in Pyongyang
A traffic-lady.

Then we are on the way back to the hotel.

War and Music in Pyongyang
혁명의 수뇌부! the Force and Spirit of the Revolution! 결사 옹위 하자! Come on, let's sacrifice for our country! 결사 옹위! We sacrifice FOR OUR COUNTRY!

We are here! The Yanggakdo Hotel looks like a big old nasty robot. It is almost empty, there are 1,000 rooms but only a dozen are occupied. At this time of year, there are less than twenty foreign tourists throughout the whole country.

Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang
Yanggakdo Hotel.

Interesting little detail: if you look into the hotel elevator, the 5th floor is missing. I wanted to go there with the stairs, but I avoided it because I had seen a website before revealing the secret, so no further explanation needed. It does not worth getting caught for such a trivial.

After a refresh, I am absolutely ready to explore Pyongyang at night. Let’s go!

Red Tramway in Pyongyang
The tramway, stuffed in the train going home from work.

We are now on a bridge across Taedong River, where there is a market. Everything is on the floor, people are dirty. This is the miserable parts that we were hidden from throughout the day. Of course, there I was warned that my camera will not last long if I dare take a picture. I refrained.

Street Market Bridge in Pyongyang
The Bridge Market.

Presently we are passing Arc of Triumph. I point out to our guides that  in France we have the same thing, ‘oh really’ was the half heartedness answer we got , as usual. It is very difficult to attemp a deep conversation with the guides, unless you go completely their way (which is very annoying). They do not seem to know or care that this monument was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, even though their study was only about the ‘world’.

Arch of Triumph by night in Pyongyang
Arch of Triumph.

We then return to where we were this morning at the Grand People’s Study House. This is surely the most illuminated place of all Pyongyang.

Grand People's Study House by night in Pyongyang
Grand People's Study House.

The Koryo Hotel is well lid as well. This is the second biggest hotel, after Yangakkdo. Inside this hotel there is the restaurant frequented and owned by Japanese people.

Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang
Koryo Hotel.

Now back at the Juche Tower, who is definitely more impressive and funky at night.

Juche Tower by night in Pyongyang
The Juche Tower by night.

I will try to end this post with an attempt for a bird view of the city at night. It was not very clear since there was a fog, plus the city was not really bright.

Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea
Ryugyong Hotel.

A zoomed one for the Ryugong Hotel, which is not lid just yet!

Ryugyong Hotel by Night in Pyongyang
Ryugyong Hotel.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Pyongyang. In the next article, we will visit the ostrich farm, and all the indoor pictures will be revealed. In the meantime … are there anything particular you noticed on the pictures?

  • Viktor

    good job

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

      Thanks Viktor

  • wadekelly

    This is great! Thank you for detailing your trip so thoroughly. It’ll be terribly interesting to see what happens to the Pyongyang hotel. 

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

      Yes, me too… let’s see if it’s actually going to be used! And to stand…

  • Moni Duettmann

    Few people, few cars, no cats, no dogs… seems like a very desirable place to live! Your claim, almost everybody would be a soldier, isn’t really showing up in any of the pictures though…

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

      We are not able to take pictures of them, that is why. In Pyongyang though, you don’t see as many as in the countryside; they are everywhere, wandering around aimlessly, it’s like they have really nothing to do…

  • Markhill

    I notice that there are no lights at all on the windows of Rugyong Hotel, which seems to suggest that only exterior cladding was finish, maybe there’s nothing inside…

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

      It was probably empty when I was in Pyongyang. Now it *might* be different… but I doubt it

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

      It was probably empty when I was in Pyongyang. Now it *might* be different… but I doubt it

  • Zeneth Thobarony

    Hi, my name is Zeneth, I am very interested about North Korean so I ended up with googling Pyongyang, North Korean and found your blog. I want to visit there badly, sightseeing, be the victim of the last communist country in earth and write in journal. My question is how did you do to get permission to visit such a restricted country like north Korea? Anyway, I’ve read a journal that the situation in Pyongyang like back in 80′s. Is that so? Thank’s for your reply. Anyway, your blog is very nice

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Jordy Meow • Totoro Times

      Hello Zeneth! Actually anyone can visit North Korea, you just need to find a travel agency which has a partnership with the North Korean travel agency (obviously there is only one there) and they will plan everything for you. Depending on your nationality you will be able to plan it yourself and to do more things. As a French, I did all the research and planning, then I was even able to get on the train which was really awesome.

      Pyongyang is a very special place to be, it’s indeed very 80′s, but a weird 80′s, probably right between the one depicted in “1984″ and East Berlin in the 70′s.

      • Rob

        How much did the trip cost? Great photos!

        • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Jordy Meow • Totoro Times

          I think the week is around 1,500$, but it depends on what you do.

  • LVRichardson

    Have any of you read the book, “Escape from Camp 14″? If you are interested in NK, you must read this book.
    Jordy, your photography is very very good. These are extraordinary pictures. Your captions are funny. Thank you.

    • http://totorotimes.wpengine.com/ Jordy Meow • Totoro Times

      I read a summary of that book a few days back, and I was wondering: how can someone who never lived outside can actually wander around in the direction of China without being spotted? And they also must have looked for him, asking the whole population to watch for the guy! Not only he was the only prisoner to escape, but he succeeded in running away from the country + wrote a book. But yes, I think I will definitely get it and read it And thanks for liking my photos!

      • LVRichardson

        (I just sent this from a different location, so you could get it twice) You must read the book! This is an amazing story and it could change your life. You will understand so much more about NK, and you will know how he “wandered around”. NK is not that organized, believe me. He was able to get military-style clothes and a coat and he blended in. As you noted yourself, military-style clothing is common there. Secondly, just think, security forces aren’t going to announce to the “whole population” that a prisoner has escaped from a labor camp. How would that look? It would look bad. No doubt, it was a dilemma for the guards and security personnel who let that happen. Shin is not the only person to have escaped from a camp, or even to be deliberately freed. He is the only person BORN in a camp to have escaped. He had never known any other life, and it is a very brutal life in there. Honestly, if you have any interest at all in NK, you must read the book. (Thank you for your response, btw.)

  • michaeljohngrist

    You went to North Korea as well!! Damn, both you and Florian are really stepping up the travel/urbex/explore thing. Do you go some place every weekend? Must suck up a good chunk of time and money. I know when I was going places regularly, it wasn’t cheap.

    • http://www.totorotimes.com/ Jordy Meow • Totoro Times

      Actually I love traveling, so haikyo or not, I am going somewhere almost every week-end. Now I have friends with cars and I am used to sleep in manga-kissa, so it’s actually not really expensive to travel (maybe around 5,000Y a week-end in average). But DPRK was obviously much more than than, and if you travel using shinkansen of course you can’t do much…

  • ObsamaObambi

    This is what America will turn into by 2016 if the Kenyan jihadist dictator gets his way. He’s already managed to indoctrinate sharia law into the American way of life. Truly sickening. God Bless!