Dreaming of reunification in North Korea
Travel is all about experiences. They may seem quite small at the time, like a chance but memorable encounter with a local person that changes your perspective on the world. Or they may seem huge, visiting an iconic world sight that you’ve dreamed about seeing for years. But whether large or small, long-planned for or serendipitous, the experiences of travel are, in my opinion, among the best to be found.
Mount Paektu, the revolutionary mountain
Straddling the border between North Korea and China is a still-active volcano, Mount Paektu. Its last eruption was in 1903 and scientists consider that another one could be imminent, based on a trend of eruptions roughly 100 years apart. The crater lake, Lake Chon (‘Heaven Lake’) was formed in the 946 AD eruption.
Friendly Friday Challenge: think about your viewpoint
Before photographing your subject, it’s worth taking time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. As well as shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on.
International friendships in North Korea
Among the mountains to the north of Pyongyang two vast edifices are set into a mountainside. Climate controlled and windowless, the International Friendship Exhibition buildings house thousands of gifts presented to the Great Leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, both during and after their lifetimes, and more than a few given to Kim Jong Un.
Eating like honoured guests in North Korea
Many people worry, unnecessarily, at the idea of visiting North Korea. Is it safe? Are the rules too strict? Will the food be tasty, and adequate? The latter question is perhaps understandable, given the well-documented periods of famine suffered in the country, but tourists, as honoured guests of the regime, have nothing to fear on that score.
The Land of the People
Imagine an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony; full of spectacle and colour, involving tens of thousands of performers. Add a good dollop of political propaganda and unashamed messaging. Throw in hundreds of well-drilled cute children, all eager to please. Imagine too that this ceremony takes place every single night for several months. Now you have just a small idea of the scale of the North Korean phenomenon known colloquially as the Mass Games.
Some short stories from the Hermit Kingdom
We visited many strange and wonderful places on our tour of North Korea. But this is a short story about a place we didn’t visit. The Hungnam fertiliser factory was first established in Hungnam by the Japanese in 1927 and reopened by the Koreans after having been destroyed in the Korean War.
A look inside the Grand People’s Study House
Nearly all the great buildings and monuments of Pyongyang were built to mark a significant event linked to the Great Leaders, usually a birthday; and Kim Il Sung was especially fortunate on his 70th to be honoured with three such gifts. This special event was marked with a grand library, a triumphal arch and a tower.
The astounding architecture of Pyongyang
The capital of the DPRK, Pyongyang, has been developed as a showpiece for the country, demonstrating to both outsiders and the North Korean people the strength and power of the regime, and making a strong statement about the country’s ambitions to be self-reliant in the face of often hostile challenges from elsewhere – those challenges being of course both political and at times physical.
Another slice of North Korean history in Kaesong
Kaesong is unusual among North Korean cities in having not been largely destroyed during the Korean War. It is also noteworthy as the only city to have changed hands as a result of the armistice agreement, having been part of South Korea from 1945 to 1950 until the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement brought it under North Korean control.