As we entered the city, it was being decked out in national flags in preparation of the Liberation Day on August 15. Children were proudly singing and practising national songs for the big day. Their love for the country and their leaders was very apparent from the way they sang the songs – with fervour and passion.
To my surprise, there were more people than I expected in Pyongyang, taller buildings than I could have imagined, better living standards than I would have fathomed. The city seemed new, the roads, wide and the traffic, minimal – few cars, trams from the old Czechoslovakia and the metro trains from the USSR. The guides very proudly pointed out to the new roads, buildings, transportation and public sculptures, informing us of how they were built to inspire the new generation. One particular road, Mirae is built was scientists – Mirae meaning future in Korean.
As the government worked to improve the standard of living, the people in return laboured under the “200 Day Campaign” with no holidays except national holidays to give them some respite. This is in response to the increased sanctions levied on the DPRK and Marshall Kim Jong Un mobilising his people to boost production and speed up the stuttering economy. “Comrade, have you carried out the plan for today?” one poster asks.
The only people who were soaking up the luxury of leisure were us tourists. Cooped up inside the 47-storey Yangakdo Hotel that was built in 1995 – the second highest building after the Juche Tower, we are bound inside the four walls of the hotel, not allowed to walk around on our own lest we talk to someone and influence them in some way, take pictures of places we are not meant to find out about.
Outside the hotel, you can see more than 50 large buses and dozen more mini buses. The tour follows a strict itinerary and even stricter rules: what to wear, how to photograph their leaders, who not to photograph, how to hold your hands while bowing, what is taboo – it is endless.
Our two guides followed us everywhere. Most of the pictures taken were from inside the bus – us looking out at people going about their lives and the people looking at us like some kind of a imperiled species from another planet. It was like a human safari.
And for those 5 days, in effect, our lives were no different than theirs.
[Check out my previous post on conformity and orderliness being the norm in DPRK.]
School children practicing for the Liberation Day on 15 August
Yangakdo Hotel – no flowers, no pictures, no frills, no fancies
Lift lobby, Yangakdo Hotel
The towering Yangakdo Hotel
The bright red 200 day campaign posters hang in public places urging North Koreans to work hard and make the country super successful.
Women propaganda team, somewhat like cheer leader troop encouraging the working class to stay the course
Decking out the city ahead of the Liberation Day but no liberation from labour during the 200-day campaign
Mirae Street – built for scientists
Bowling alley in Yangakdo Hotel is one way to keep the guests from being bored and being bound inside. There is a swimming pool, a billiards and a ping pong table and loads of beer. Go, be merry.