Day 3 (09/09/04): National day celebrations in Pyongyang
Day 3 of our program was to be a special day. September 9 is national day, the most important national holiday in North Korea , celebrating the founding of the republic. We picked up our mobile phones at Pyongyang airport on our way back from Mt. Myongyang, and then drove through Pyongyang for some site seeing. Our first stop was Kim Il Sung square, were we visited the Korean Central History Museum and had lunch on passenger ship nr 1. The next stop was Mangyongdae, the birth house of Kim Il Sung. Next we took the Pyongyang metro from Puhung Station to Yonggwang Station. In the afternoon we joined thousands of Pyongyang citizens dancing and eating in Morangbang park. After our picnic we checked out, The arc of Triumph, Moranbong Theatre and the Chollima statue situated near the park. We checked in the Yanggakdo hotel and had dinner had dinner in the Ryugyong restaurant. In the evening we would watch and be part of the National Day celebration on Kim Il Sung square, where thousands of students perform Korean dances in traditional clothes.
Site seeing: Pyongyang propaganda
There are things that immediately strike you when you drive through the streets of Pyongyang, one is the fact that it feels like a desolate City. There is hardly any traffic and people seem top avoid the streets unless they need to go to work or school. During the morning and evening "traffic" thousands of people can be seen walking to their destination. Also very striking are the everywhere present propaganda posters depicting the triumph of the workers, Army, Party, the Leaders or the hate for America. Cleaners (mainly woman) can be seen everywhere cleaning the streets with a broom. Police officers manage the traffic on the crossroads because traffic lights do not exist. The colour of the number plates tells by who cars are owned; Black = Army, White = Government, Blue = Private and Red = (High) Party official. Almost all the cars have government or Army plates, we saw only 1 Red and 1 Blue plate. Our car (a South Korean Mini Bus) had a white plate, we noticed that other traffic was often stopped to let us pass first.
Museum: Korean central history museum
There are some very interesting museums in Pyongyang like the Korean art gallery (socialist realist art), the victorious fatherland liberation war museum (history of the Korean war), Mangyongdae Revolutionary Museum (Kim Il Sung’s exploits) and the party founding museum. We had to settle for the central history museum, because all other museums were closed on national day (probably to save energy). The good thing was that the museum was opened especially for us. It took some time before we could get in, the museum staff could not be found. During our visit museum staff proceeded us in the next exhibition room to switch on the light and followed us to switch the light off again when we left a room. There were also some female soldiers pretending to be visitors to disguise the fact that the museum was opened just for us. The exhibition shows the history of Korea from the pre history until now. The most interesting artefacts are the model of 15th century turtle ship (Geobukseon), far ahead of its time and the multiple launch rocket system (Hwacha) from 1451.
Historic site: Mangyongdae the birth house of Kim Il Sung
Leisure: Passenger ship nr.1
Mangyongdae native house is another sacred location of the Kim religion. It is the supposed house were Kim Il Sung was born in 1912. According our guide Kim Il Sung left the house at age 13 to fight the Japanese. Preserved at Mangyongdae are many relics and mementoes from Kim’s childhood. Nearby are a number of other childhood relics, such as the Warship Rock, the wrestling site, the spring site, the sliding rock and the study site where he was absorbed in reading until the evening. The house actually looks like it’s not older then 10 or 20 years, but North Koreans come to see it in great masses. There are also a fun fair, swimming pool and the Mangyongdae Revolutionary Museum at Mangyongdae.
It was lunch time after our visit to the national history museum. Our guides would join us which is a rare occasion because quality food is very scarce and expensive. The "river cruise" turned out to be quit hilarious, the ship sailed 5 minutes in one direction, turned, sailed 5 minutes in the other direction and that was it. The lunch was very good.
City transportation: The Pyongyang metro
After lunch it was time to take a trip on the metro and see some of Pyongyang’s metro stations, that are beautifully decorated as in other communist capitals like Moscow and Minsk. We took the Metro form Puhung Station to Yonggwang Station. These are known as Pyongyang most beautiful metro stations and part of every tourists site seeing tour through Pyongyang. All other tourists at that moment in North Korea were on the same metro as we were. We believe the whole trip was carefully organized and that all (well dressed) people in the train and metro stations were selected to be there at that time. It is hard to believe that a metro ride in a country’s capital is staged but the North Korean government goes to great length to show the country in a positive way. Our train was a Berlin type B model manufactured by DWM in west Berlin.
Event: 9-9 festivities in Moranbong park
On national day the citizens of Pyongyang get the day off, many go to Morangbang park where they dance, sing and picnic with friends and family during day time. We bought some wine, bread and snacks in the foreign exchange shop (a place were western and Chinese food, alcohol and cigarettes are sold for foreign currency’s). We were supposed to meet some Korean people to share our picnic with. We could not find them in the masses, so we enjoyed our food and drinks with our guides in Aeryon Pavilion overlooking the city. The atmosphere in the park was very upbeat, woman were dressed in traditional dresses, big groups of people where dancing on the familiar North Korean songs. We joined a dance, very much to the delight of some elder woman.
Event: 9-9 mass dance on Kim Il Sung square
Every 5 years big military parades and mass gymnastics are held during national day (celebrating the foundation of the DPRK, September the 9th 1948). In 2004 it was the 56th anniversary (no lustrum) of the republic so no big parades or mass gymnastics were organized this year. There would be a mass dance on Kim Il Sung square however and we had VIP tickets for the evening celebration. Our seats where on the tribune on the square, we were surrounded by foreign officials (Embassy staff, Red Cross, UN etc.) and party officials. We did look up to the balcony and there were some senior party officials attending. Kim Jong Il only visits public occasions very seldom and was not present that night.
Over 100.000 people performed mass dancing on typical Korean music. The (very beautiful) girls were all dressed in colourful traditional dresses. Halfway the evening we were ask to decent to the square and join the dance. Our guide picked a girl who we had to dance with, it was an extraordinary experience. There were photographers circling around us all the time making pictures. So it is very likely we appear in a North Korean publication with a comment like "foreign friends of the DPRK, honour the eternal leader".