National day in North Korea

So, one of the excitement for this trip was that it coincides with North Korea National day on 9 September. I expected it to be with much fanfare, because 2012 also happen to be the year of Juche 101 in North Korea, 100th anniversary of Juche.

Fun fact: North Korea uses Juche calendar (more about Juche in another post). Juche year 1 is 1912, the year in which Kim Il Sung was born. So, current 2016 is Juche year 105 in North Korea.

However, national day was celebrated without much fanfare. In fact, when I arrived 3 days before the national day, it didn’t even look like the country will be celebrating its national day in a few days. Unlike in Singapore, in which buildings will be decorated with flags at least a week before National day, in North Korea, the flags and buntings were up only the day before. Then, everything was taken down right the day after (in Singapore, the flags remain up for at least a month). I understand from the guide, celebration is more eleborated on Kim Il Sung’s birthday, 15 April. There will even be fireworks display.

In North Korea, National Day seems more of a solemn affair, a day for remembrance (something like Total defence day in Sg) rather than a day for big, fancy celebration.

Before we set off for the day, we were repeatedly reminded by the guide that the places we’ll be visiting will be crowded and that we had to be mindful of our manners, be solemn and respectful, which means don’t smile too happily, laugh loudly etc and to follow protocols and not to stray away from the group. We were also reminded not to interact with locals or foreign media that might be present and not to take photos of military vehicles and personnel.

5 Places Visited for National Day in North Korea

Mansudae Grand Monuments

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Mansudae Grand Monument

Gigantic bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansudae Hill. The backdrop is a mosaic image of Paekdu Mountain, the highest mountain in Korean peninsula. It’s a sacred place for the North Koreans as they believe it’s the place of their ancestral origin. Originally, it was only the bronze statue of Kim Il Sung. We were lucky that the bronze statue of Kim Jong Il was unveiled just a few months before the trip (early 2012).

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22 m high bronze statues of Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il (right) [Credits: Nilsen Travels]

On both sides of the statues, there is a structure made up of a long line of figurines of workers, farmers, soldiers etc. This represents the people fighting in the wars against Japan and USA.

We were warned that it will be more crowded and greater presence of media than previous years because it was the first national day with the new statue. Despite the crowd, the flow of people was well coordinated. Almost all locals carried flowers to be placed at the foot of the statues as a mark of respect for the Great Leaders. They walked up towards the statue, bowed, walked closer to lay the flowers at the feet of the statue and then another group of visitors will take over their position… this cycle repeats continuously due to endless crowd.

Some interesting points to note:
– We were encouraged to purchase flowers to abide by the customary act of showing our respect to the Great Leaders (a few of us pooled some money to share a bouquet of flowers)
– We were reminded to look respectful when taking photos with the statues (e.g not widely smiling/ laughing while posing, no peace sign, no rabbit ear sign etc)
– The statues cannot be cropped in the photo, which means it has to appear as the whole figure.

Chollima Statue

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Chollima is a mythical winged-horse which fly at very high speed.

Chollima represents the vision of the Great Leaders for the nation to advance rapidly. Chollima flies very fast that it almost impossible to ride it. But, the statue is also made up of a man and woman riding it. So, this represents bravery of the people and their fighting spirit to move forward at great speed. Chollima Statue was constructed in 1961 to encourage the people to reconstruct the country after the Korean War.

Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery

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Dedicated to those who fought in the Korean War, this is where their national heroes are laid to rest.

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It is situated on the top of Jujak Hill of Mt. Taesong, overseeing Pyongyang, symbolising the heroes laid to rest witnessing the growth and progress of the capital city.

martyrs-cemetery

Statue of Kim Jong Suk is in the centre

One of the notable heroes is Kim Jong Suk. She’s Kim Il Sung’s wife and mother of Kim Jong Il.

Mangyongdae Native House

native-house

This is the (supposed) birthplace of Kim Il Sung. It looks like a regular thatched house, which apparently shows his humble beginning.

Here, you’ll get to see exhibits of stuff that he and his family used over 4 generations. Personally, having been to folk village in South Korea before, I think this village is almost typical of any other Korean traditional village.

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What struck me most though was how passionately the guide spoke about Kim Il Sung and his family… in a freaky way. She was praising him high and mighty all the time and her intonation shows just so much love and adoration for Kim Il Sung as she narrate to us his life story. I’ve been to many history musuems and guided tour, but this really takes the cake. So vivid in her description and passionate that it was as if she knew him personally. Not surprising I guess because they really hold him in high regard. But it did get a bit annoying at some parts that I almost roll my eyes at some of the exaggeration, like… “he even sleep on the floor”. Ermmmm, which is common for those living in traditional houses.

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His family is poor and humble that even when the water jar is dented, they still continue using it.

Another interesting point is… how much the locals treasured this place. The moment I alighted from the bus, I was surprised to hear faint, classical music playing. So, apparently speakers are placed up on the trees. It was just a short work to the house from the bus drop-off point but it was really an interesting experience walking through the lush greenery around while enjoy the calm, soothing music. I’ve never had a walk in a park in that manner ever. Maybe Singapore NParks can consider installing speakers too?? 😁

Kim Il Sung is so revered by them that so much care taken to beautify the place and to provide the best experience for visitors. Afterall, this is another sacred place for the North Koreans, with many visiting it to pay homage to Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung Square
Save the best for the last… the highlight of the celebration is the mass dance at Kim Il Sung Square, located in the heart of Pyongyang. It was pretty simple steps to follow and anyone can just join any of the locals. Some of them are shy, but they will welcome you warmly and willingly agree to ve your dance partner. They  will guide you through the steps and all you have to do is to enjoy the dance 💃

Here’s a video (not mine) to show you what’s the mass dance is like…

Well, it has to come to the end of the list of how I celebrated National Day in North Korea. Lookout for my next post on other places of attraction there!

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