[CanKor Brain Trust member Hannah Barraclough describes her most recent visit to Pyongyang during celebrations of Kim Jong Il’s birthday, 16 February 2012. –CanKor]
Nick and I visited the DPRK with a group of 30 to be in Pyongyang for the celebrations of the birthday of Kim Jong Il on February 16th which has now been given an official name – The Day of the Shining Star (Kwangmyongsong Chol). Kim Il Sung’s birthday on the 15th April has been known as the Day of the Sun since he passed away. The atmosphere in Pyongyang over the birthday period was not celebratory nor particularly sad, just rather flat. On the 16th itself we visited the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery where we passed thousands and thousands of members of the public carrying the pink and red plastic flowers (both flowers connected by a length of loose wiring no doubt to help them in the display) around Kumsusan Memorial Palace. It turned out this was for a military parade which was broadcast later that day on tv. (See: North Korea holds big parade on anniversary of dead leader’s birth.)
A new statue of Kim Jong Il on a horse was unveiled at Mansudae Art Studio on the 15th Feb. It has been placed alongside the one already existing there of Kim Il Sung on a horse. It also appears that they are making a new large statue of Kim Jong Il which will go on Mansu Hill next to the one of Kim Il Sung there which is currently covered up. This is expected to be completed by April. Nick and I visited this new statue but we were unable to get any photos. Here is an image taken by KCNA though.
At various locations in Pyongyang there were images of a smiling Kim Jong Il painted on gigantic portraits (similar to the ones of his father) – I saw them on Kim Il Sung Square, outside the April 25th Palace of Culture and outside the Indoor Gymnasium. There were huge queues of people lining up to lay flowers and pay their respects. The tour group visited the portrait on Kim Il Sung Square.
There were several different events held to mark the birthday – an Ice Skating display, the military circus and a synchronized swimming display – these are usually held on the 16th Feb. At the end of the Army Circus they played the song Footsteps which is the song dedicated to Kim Jong Un, and at the end of the synchronized swimming the swimmers shouted Kim Jong Un’s name several times. Video of Swimming Performance
During the trip we also visited the new Viennese Coffee shop which is located at the bottom left corner of Kim Il Sung Square near the History Museum. It is in a complex which includes the coffee shop, a small store selling food and drinks and a restaurant with several private rooms. The coffee shop itself looks like an empty railway waiting room with pinkish lighting and a few chairs and tables placed around. The corridors in the war museum have more atmosphere than this place. The coffee was ok and nice apple cake but not a patch on the Pyolmuri Apple Pie. The group ate at the restaurant which wasn’t bad but nothing to scream with joy about! The lights were quite cool though – looked like coloured menthos…. More info about the coffee shop can be found here
- New Travel Opportunity in North Korea! (CanKor.ca)