Day 3 in the DPRK was another full day of sightseeing and by the middle of the day, I was already completely drained from seeing different variations of the same “attractions.” It’s really sad to see a nation with such a rich historical legacy disregard its past; it’s as if everything began after the Japanese occupancy in the 20th century and that everything before then was deemed to be of little importance.
We began the morning with a visit to Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the humongous mausoleum complex for President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il. We were told to wear our best clothes on this day. It was another occasion to stand in various single-file lines and to bow in respect. At one point, the four lines we were told to walk in had to merge into two lines and it was hilarious to see how difficult the task was for us versus the Korean soldiers who had come to visit the mausoleum as well. There is little doubt that DPRK is one of the poorest countries in the world and it seems so excessive to spend so much money on constructing countless monuments for two people, both of whom are dead.
The mausoleum visit started with a long corridor filled with photos of President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il’s photos. We had to stand on a very slowly moving walkway to take in all of the glorious achievements of the two men. Next we walked through dust blower station to cleanse us for the main event. Like other socialist leaders, President Kim Il Sung and Leader Kim Jong Il are preserved in their resting state for people to see. As we entered the room with President Kim Il Sung, the mood was somber and the room was quiet. We were told to stand in four lines of four and then walk up to the body one line at a time. We bowed, walked around to another side of the body to bow again, walk some more to the other side, and bow for a third time, It was interesting and also a bit uncomfortable for me. We were then led to a room with various medals and honors that President Kim Il Sung had received from other nations during his life. We also had a chance to see the train carriage and Mercedes sedan that President Kim Il Sung traveled in while he was alive. After visiting the President Kim Il Sung wing, the same procedure was repeated for Leader Kim Jong Il. Again, there was dust blowing, bowing, and medals and transportation displays. The most interesting thing that caught our Western eyes was the desk display in Leader Kim Jong Il’s train carriage. Apparently, he passed away on the train while working and the mausoleum/museum decided to show what his workstation looked like at the time. Sticking out like a sour thumb was silver MacBook Pro. As Cupertinian, I’m not sure if we should be proud that one of Apple’s signature products was used by Leader Kim Jong Il.
After the trip to the mausoleum was a visit to the historical home of President Kim Il Sung at Man…. A guide dressed in traditional attire explained the story (probably partially fabricated) of President Kim Il Sung’s life.
I was pretty excited to see a non-Kim Il Sung related attraction as they are few and far between. We went to ride the Pyongyang Subway, rubbing elbows with regular Koreans. That day was the Harvest Moon Festival, a national folk holiday of the Korean people and the streets and public transportation were packed.
I’ve read online before that there’s speculation that the subway is not actually in use and that riders are actors stationed at the stop for the purpose of putting on a show for tourists. After my own experience, I’m 99.9% sure the subway is indeed in use by regular people and is not a show for tourists. The subway system is only comprised of two lines with less than 20 stations.
The stations were designed to also protect citizens from attacks and are thus dug especially deep. The escalator ride from the street level to the platform below took 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Trains arrive in 3 minute intervals and the cars are old Soviet-style carriages. Most tour groups go for a one station ride on the subway but our YPT tour let us ride 5 stops. When we emerged from the station, we were greeted by the Arch of Triumph, modeled after and even larger than the one in Paris.
In the late afternoon, we departed Pyongyang for Kaesong, an industrial city that was under the control of the South after WWII but fell to the North by the time the armistice was signed. Due to its proximity to the South, in recent years a special trade zone was created in Kaesong to attract South Korean investment. Many of the factories in the city are owned by South Korean joint ventures. However, the volatile political situation between the North and the South often causes factory shutdowns and working with the North Korean government is still difficult to do.
We stayed overnight at the Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel, a quaint traditional-style one-story courtyard hotel complex. Instead of beds, we slept on the floor which proved to be very uncomfortable for me an I woke up with a back ache. Also, while I knew that the hotel wasn’t going to be as nice as our “deluxe” accommodations in Pyongyang, I did expect to able to take a hot shower. Apparently, hot water was only available for less than 30 minutes while we were there and I missed it.