Archive | October, 2009
October 21, 2009

North Korea: The Mansudae Grand Monument to Kim Il-Sung

Following an evening of Mass Games, drinking North Korean beer, and exploring our bizarre hotel, we were up bright and early for our first full day of touring Pyongyang. The first stop on our itinerary was the obligatory visit to the Mansudae Grand Monument, a 65 foot bronze statue of the “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung. Of all things you will do in North Korea, visiting this monument is perhaps one of the most controversial. While planning a trip North Korea, one must keep the following things in mind:

1. A visit to the Mansudae Grand Monument to Kim Il-Sung is obligatory. This is one of the holiest sites in Pyongyang, with thousands of North Koreans paying their respects to the Great Leader each day.

2. Your group is expected to purchase bouquets of flowers, lay them at the feet of Kim Il-Sung, and then bow in accordance with local customs.

3. When taking photos of the Great Leader, do nothing “cute” like mimicking his pose. Ensure that all photos contain the entire statue of the Great Leader. Do not take any photos that would crop the Great Leader (i.e., showing only his feet).

Since we had received all of this information in our tour packets, and it was further reinforced in the pre-tour briefing in Beijing, we were all well aware of how we were expected to act at the Grand Monument. Obviously, bowing to a statue of a ruthless dictator is not something you want to do, but if you are set on visiting North Korea, this bizarre gesture is a requirement that many simply accept as the price of admission.

The monument was erected in 1972 to celebrate Kim Il-Sung’s 60th birthday. Rumor has it that the statue was originally coated in gold, but this was removed on the insistence of the Chinese government, which was heavily subsidizing the regime.

Flowers in hand, we hopped off our tour bus and walked a short distance to the monument. Spread out before us was a vast open space with a huge bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung front and center and two large socialist-realism sculptures to the left and right of the statue. Music blared from large speakers as groups of soldiers, schoolchildren, and families lined up before the statue and solemnly bowed. Our guide pointed out a man carrying a large video camera. “He is from the news channel, and here to film you.” Oh great. Our visit was being turned into propaganda for the masses. I could just imagine the evening news anchor announcing: “And here are the U.S. Imperialists bowing before the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung…” Well, there goes my future political career.

He’s from the North Korean version of CNN.

Our guide led us to the front of the statue. Members of the group who had purchased flowers stepped forward and laid them at the feet of the Great Leader. Once they had returned and taken their place in line, we followed the lead of our guide and bowed. Compared to the North Koreans, who were bowing in perfect unison, we were all quite disorganized. Some members of our group had a long bow, some had a quick bow, others bowed twice. I’m sure the Koreans watching the news that evening got quite a laugh at the clumsy U.S. Imperialists. What can I say, we just aren’t accustomed to bowing before statues (or preserved corpses, as I will detail in a later entry).

Our obligation to the cult of personality fulfilled, we were then free to wander around the area and take an excessive amount of photos.

Unfortunately, no American pose here.

This kid has his own military uniform.

The rest of the photos can be found here.

October 18, 2009

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-18

  • Help…lost in corn maze. Need flare gun #
  • Angels sweep sox! MLB iPhone app live streaming FTW! #
  • Sporting clays, smores, West Virginia, and the Halos sweeping the Red Sox…another lovely fall weekend #
  • eating a peanut butter chocolate cupcake for breakfast to make up for the fact that we don't get Columbus Day off. #
  • All I want for Christmas is a Freeway Series (and Angels win) #
  • I really don't want to sit through three hours of Russian #
  • At work, even though @bobmcdonnell thinks I shouldn't be! #
  • Krispy Kreme pumpkin donuts for breakfast courtesy @pointerj #
  • This weather sucks #
  • I want to make Glenn Beck cry. What do I need to do to accomplish this? #
  • 3g in the metro…finally #
  • I'd rather be in SoCal #
  • Looking forward to Angels vs Yankees tonight. Better not get rained out. #
  • nice one Dodgers #
  • Driving outside the Beltway to Fredericksburg…scary #
  • Only person here not wearing camo #
  • Now the proud owner of a 12 gauge beretta shotgun. Yes even my firearms are elitist Europeans #
  • Going to see Jon Stewart at GW! #

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October 16, 2009

North Korea: Good morning, Pyongyang!

When you’re on vacation in North Korea, you don’t get to sleep in. And really, how could you, when there are so many Kim Il-Sung monuments to pay homage to and ill-maintained roller coasters to ride? Thus, your morning in North Korea typically begins with a wake-up call at 7am (and 7:05am, in case the lazy U.S. Imperialists just pick up the phone and then go back to sleep), breakfast at 7:30am, and on the bus by 8am.

Our first morning in North Korea I actually woke up a little early (shocking, I know), downed a canned “coffee milk”, and opened the window to let some fresh air in. I was still pretty amazed that you could open the windows, considering I was on the 33rd floor of the hotel. Even more amazing, however, was that the city was completely silent. There were no honking car horns, sirens, or any of the other sounds you would find in a city of 3.2 million people. Just silence…until 7am, when the sound of air raid sirens began to echo throughout the city. Great. My first morning in North Korea and we are apparently under attack. My parents are never going to let me hear the end of this.

But Pyongyang wasn’t under attack, of course. The air raid sirens there basically serve as a city-wide alarm clock to wake up the residents and let them know it’s time to get to work and school. I suppose it’s cheaper than issuing every household an alarm clock. They wouldn’t have the electricity to run them anyways.

The wailing of the air raid sirens was then followed by snappy revolutionary music and several announcements. Since I don’t speak Korean I hadn’t the slightest idea what they were saying, but I imagine it was something extolling the accomplishments of the Dear Leader and criticizing U.S. Imperialists. Just a guess.

Here are a few photos I took of Pyongyang covered in a thick, early morning mist.

Taedong River

Juche Tower

The incomplete Ryugyong Hotel

Schoolchildren practicing with flags

October 14, 2009

North Korea: U.S. Imperialists attempt to retake the USS Pueblo, and fail miserably

If you’ve known me for a while then you’re well aware of my interest in touring US warships. Ever since I can remember, my parents would take me down to San Diego so we could visit whichever ship was open to the public. I’ve been on everything from aircraft carriers to dock landing ships to guided missile cruisers. It’s a good way to see your tax dollars at work and convince impressionable youngsters that the navy life is for them (I will admit that to this day I still think of escaping the cubicle and enrolling in Navy OCS. At least I would live near the ocean, where there might be waves…).

Still, North Korea is probably the last place I would have expected to walk the decks of a U.S. navy ship. Yet, anchored on the bank of the Taedong River in Pyongyang is the USS Pueblo, a still commissioned U.S. naval ship captured by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968. It is the only U.S. naval ship currently held captive by a foreign entity, and the North Koreans are very, very proud of this trophy. They have made the “US ARMED SPY SHIP PUEBLO!” (as they refer to it) into a tourist attraction and gladly show it off to visitors, including U.S. Imperialists such as ourselves. For background information on the USS Pueblo, I highly recommend this website run by the USS Pueblo Veteran’s Association.

This monument marks the location where the General Sherman, a U.S. merchant marine schooner, was destroyed by the Koreans in 1866. The North Koreans claim that one of Kim Il-Sung’s ancestors led the attack on the Sherman. There is, of course, no actual evidence to support this assertion.

The Pueblo

Our tour guides

The North Koreans claimed that the Pueblo was in North Korean waters. The United States denied this, saying the Pueblo was in international waters. Regardless, the North Koreans opened fire on the Pueblo with 57mm guns. You can see some of the resulting damage to the ship in this photo.

The Pueblo was lightly armed, with only two .50 caliber deck guns and small arms. Commander Lloyd Bucher did not give the order to return fire. Instead, the crew began frantically destroying classified material so that it would not fall into North Korean hands. One sailor, Fireman Apprentice Duane Hodges, was killed during the attack on the USS Pueblo. The remaining 82 sailors were captured when the North Koreans boarded the Pueblo. They remained prisoners of the North Koreans for 11 months and endured brutal treatment, including torture and starvation.

You may not know what happened to the men of the Pueblo. The crew cooperated with their captors, appearing in press conferences and public appearances criticizing the US government. On March 4, North Korea gave the US representative of the armistice commission a letter, signed by the entire Pueblo crew, admitting the ship had violated the communist country’s waters and committed “hostile acts.” According to the letter, the crew expressed no anger at their captors, but rather guilt for their own actions.

To understand these confessions, we need to look at North Korean brutality. The North Koreans beat Charles Law for six hours with a hammer handle while a communications technician was struck 250 times with a two-by-four block of wood and left, semi-conscious, in a pool of his blood. The technician confessed to everything, including escape plans from a James Bond movie.

It also must be said that the men did resist with subtle language and hints, indicating that their confessions were not of their free will. Commander Bucher, after being beaten and tortured, signed the confession with a false serial number and date of birth. One letter had at the bottom in tiny Morse code “this is a lie.”

Interior of the Pueblo.

Trying to contact the Pentagon to request air support. No luck.

The “admission of guilt” that the crew was forced to sign.

The Pueblo crew was released on December 23, 1968, eleven months after their capture. This is how the Pueblo’s commanding officers were welcomed home by the U.S. Navy:

Based upon its findings of fact and the formal opinions which it derived from those findings, the Court of Inquiry recommended that Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, U. S. Navy, the Commanding Officer of USS PUEBLO., be brought to trial by General Court-Martial for the following five alleged offenses: permitting his ship to be searched while he had the power to resist; failing to take immediate and aggressive protective measures when his ship was attacked by North Korean forces; complying with the orders of the North Korean forces to follow them into port; negligently failing to complete destruction of classified material aboard USS PUEBLO and permitting such material to fall into the hands of the North Koreans; and negligently failing to ensure, before departure for sea, that his officers and crew were properly organized, stationed, and trained in preparation for emergency destruction of classified material.

Thankfully, Navy Secretary John Chafee ordered that all charges be dismissed.

On the deck

None of us knew how to drive a ship, thus foiling our plans to reclaim the Pueblo.

Near the end of our tour, we were all led down to the ship’s mess hall, where we were shown a video explaining the North Korean version of the Pueblo’s capture. We were actually shown the first 10 minutes of the video several times, as the DVD kept freezing up, forcing one of the embarrassed sailors to scramble for another copy. The video’s distortion of history was quite hilarious, and ended with the line “Death to the U.S. imperialist aggressors, the sworn enemies of the Korean people.” Well then. Following the video, our guide then yelled out, “OK U.S. group, let’s go!” Yeah, thanks. Go ahead and let everyone else on the boat know that we’re a bunch of Yankee imperialist dogs.

North Korea claims that this is an unmanned U.S. submersible they captured in August 2006. The U.S. denies that this is a U.S. sub. Who knows.

More photos here.

October 12, 2009

The USS Pueblo / North Korean Special Forces

A few days ago there was a segment on NPR about North Korea. The correspondent had actually been allowed into North Korea, but from what I could tell they are basically shown the exact same thing as us regular tourists. I really should have pursued that foreign correspondent career. I could have been getting paid to go to North Korea instead of using my own funds. Also, I wouldn’t have to dress up for work. C’est la vie.

Anyways, in the past week there have been two interesting WashPost articles about North Korea. The first concerns the crew of the USS Pueblo and their efforts to sue the North Korean government for the torture they endured after their ship was captured by the North Korean navy in 1968:

William Thomas Massie’s nightmares almost always begin in a dusty prison cell. His arms are lashed behind his back, and North Korean guards are karate-chopping his neck, kicking his groin and ankles, and smashing his face with fists and rifle butts.

The frigid room is illuminated only by tannin-tinted light trickling through newspaper-covered windows. The guards are screaming. One thrusts an assault rifle into Massie’s mouth. The soldier’s finger is on the trigger. Sweat stings Massie’s eyes. He is terrified.

The second article details North Korea’s expansion of its special forces and their adoption of terrorist tactics used in Afghanistan and Iraq:

In a conflict, tens of thousands of special forces members would try to infiltrate South Korea: by air in radar-evading biplanes, by ground through secret tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and by sea aboard midget submarines and hovercraft, according to South Korean and U.S. military analysts.

Disguised in the uniforms of South Korean police and military personnel, special forces are also expected to try to walk into Seoul. Dressed as civilians, they may also arrive aboard passenger flights from Beijing and other foreign capitals.

“These are not your standard North Korean guys,” Bechtol said. “They are the best-trained, best-fed and most indoctrinated soldiers in the North. They know how to fight, and if they are caught, they are trained to kill themselves.”


Their low-tech, low-cost training includes throwing knives, firing poisonous darts and running up steep hills wearing backpacks filled with 60 pounds of rocks and sand, said Ha Tae-jun, a former South Korean commando who has debriefed captured members of the North’s special forces. They are also drilled in street warfare, chemical attacks, night fighting, martial arts, car theft and using spoons and forks as weapons, say South Korean government reports and military experts.

Beware North Korean soldiers wielding spoons…

October 12, 2009

An extraordinary observation, indeed

More North Korea posts coming up when I can find the time to sit down and write them, but in the meantime here is the latest from the Korean Central News Agency. This might be the best one yet.

Extraordinary Observation

Pyongyang, October 12 (KCNA) — President Kim Il Sung gave field guidance to the Oryu Co-op Farm, Sadong District, Pyongyang one day in June Juche 63 (1974).

He went to a cabbage field where the cabbage grew well.

He stepped into the field regardless of muddy ground with a bright smile on his face. Suddenly he stooped himself to see a head of cabbage carefully.

Those accompanying him turned their doubtful eyes to the cabbage. Its leaves had only fine luster.

After a while the President asked a farm official whether the cabbage had been hit by hailstones.

At that moment the official was very surprised.

Actually the cabbages had suffered a slight damage from hail when young.

However, the cabbages were unusually in good condition so that it was difficult to find the marks of damage.

The President found out instantly the marks that even the peasants and experts could hardly do.

The officials were deeply moved by his extraordinary observation.

October 11, 2009

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-11

  • @flightblogger what are you going to PSP for??? My hometown! :) in reply to flightblogger #
  • Brickskeller! (a real bar) #
  • How did I get on the Ladies' Home Journal e-mail list? "Snuggle-Up Suppers for Fall" WTF?!?! I think that requires using a stove… #
  • @mjanderson Oh, I do…I'd just rather have someone else do the cooking! in reply to mjanderson #
  • Finally uploaded the 1,300 photos from North Korea. Only took me three weeks: #
  • Free London fog latte ftw #
  • Tonight's class covered "getting married in Russia". Must now acquire Russian husband. #
  • Omg two dudes on metro wearing Texas flag shirts and American flag bandanas. DC tourists never cease to amuse me. #
  • I really wish there was a Krispy Kreme by my office #
  • @pointerj ah, but sometimes you just want a pumpkin donut and coffee from Krispy Kreme :) still have to try the fro-yo place! in reply to pointerj #
  • Put the French vanilla creamer in your coffee. It's just like being in a Parisian cafe. Or not. #
  • Angels vs Red Sox in exactly 12 hours… #
  • hired a shooting instructor. next stop: olympics. then glory. #
  • Wooo Torii Hunter! #
  • FYI, stay away from hot sauce called "Satan's Blood" #
  • When a Big Oil lobbyist e-mails you photos of polar bears hugging dogs and writes "this made my day", you really start to worry about them #
  • Looking forward to game 2 tonight. Go Angels! #
  • Why do random people always ask me where the nearest gas station is?do I have big oil written on my forehead or what? #
  • Another halo victory! #
  • Up way too early on a Saturday, drinking coffee, and off to Centreville to go shooting #
  • Yeeeah I don't mean to brag, but I was hitting a lot of the harder clays that the guys kept missing… #
  • Headed to West Virginia #

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October 7, 2009

North Korea: Kim Il-Sung Square

Kim Il-Sung Square was the second site we visited soon after our arrival in North Korea. While Kim Il-Sung Square is incredibly impressive, it is far from the largest in the world. The Chinese, with Tiananmen Square in Beijing, are the current record holders for largest square in the world. Kim Il-Sung Square comes in at a measly #16! Nevertheless, Kim Il-Sung Square still manages to accommodate the Dear Leader’s need for a large area to show off his army’s precision marching capabilities and outdated military hardware.

(Reuters/Xinhua news)

Although we were in Pyongyang for one of North Korea’s biggest holidays (Independence Day), no massive parades were scheduled. And even if there were, we wouldn’t have been allowed to watch them and likely would have been sent off to some mountain resort far from Pyongyang. Apparently U.S. Imperialists just can’t be trusted to see anything.

North Koreans love volleyball, too

Grand People’s Study House

Across the river is the Tower of Juche Idea

Can you spot Marx and Lenin?

Kim Il-Sung (of course)


Our guides took us back to the square at night. I think the entire country’s electric generation capacity was being used to light up Kim Il-Sung Square, because the rest of the city was eerily dark.

October 6, 2009

North Korea photos

It only took me three weeks, but I’ve finally uploaded all 1,293 photos from my trip to North Korea. Free time has been pretty scarce lately, but hopefully I’ll have some more North Korea related posts soon.

October 4, 2009

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-04

  • Just finished breakfast…chocolate chip and peanut butter pancakes #
  • Are people in NJ too dumb to pump their own gas? #
  • In my mailbox: "Do you trust oil companies and trophy hunters with the fate of the polar bear? Sign the petition to save polar bears." #
  • mussels, frites, beer, and chocolate…just like Belgium! #
  • Arirang Festival Mass Games – 100,000 North Koreans performing for the Dear Leader: #
  • really looking forward to alumni weekend! #
  • anyone want to play floor hockey on Thursday nights? #
  • Ugh it's cold #
  • I am eating candy corn for breakfast. Yes, fall has officially arrived! #
  • Wish I had thought of Chop't. I'd be sitting on a beach in Costa Rica right now… #
  • I like my sugar with coffee and cream #
  • I love sweet tea vodka and shuffleboard #
  • Strange being back on the GW campus #
  • Found my damn brick!!! #
  • Drinking beer and eating chocolate covered bacon #
  • Jumped around on an inflatable joust arena with a giant chicken #
  • @mjanderson you wish you lived in pentagon city! in reply to mjanderson #

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