When I returned home from my first trip abroad to Russia in 2002 I arrived at LAX loaded down with a duffel bag full of souvenirs. With my subsequent travels to Russia and other European countries, I began accumulating massive amounts of stuff. Much to the dismay of my mother, my room back home in California began to resemble a Russian souvenir market. My shelves were lined with stacking dolls, chess sets, and bottles of vodka, and my closet was overflowing with enough Soviet military surplus items to outfit a battalion. I’ve since learned that accumulating so much stuff is rather, well, ridiculous, and usually refrain from purchasing any souvenirs unless they are small. With this trip to North Korea, however, I brought along plenty of euros in case I happened across something unique.
Unfortunately, however, the variety of souvenirs available in North Korea is lacking, unless you are really, really into political books written by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il. During our five day tour, our guides took us to several souvenir stores which basically stocked the exact same products – endless rows of tracts written by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il. They are probably the most prolific authors in the world, writing on anything from party building to opera. Sadly, there are no Kim Jong-il bobblehead dolls, “I love Pyongyang” t-shirts or mugs, Mt. Paekdu snowglobes, military headgear or gas masks, or Kim Il-Sung mausoleum shot glasses. Not even a lousy miniature Tower of Juche with a thermometer on the side. Just books. Lots and lots of books.
One of the largest souvenir stores we visited, with plenty of books to choose from. It’s like the Barnes & Noble of North Korea.
I’m sure this is on the New York Times bestseller list.
“Land of Morning Calm” is exactly how I would describe North Korea
Surely these are page turners
The official English language propaganda newspaper
Unfortunately, this painting was not for sale. I have some space on my wall and I think it would have fit perfectly.
Our guides took us to Korea Stamp, a store that sells, yes, you guessed it, stamps. I am not a stamp collector, but the variety of stamps was incredible.
This is the most popular stamp among American tourists. It depicts Richard Nixon being stabbed by pens. Unfortunately, it was sold out when we were there, but I did purchase a small poster of this image.
Kim Jong-il and Putin
Golf and baseball in the DPRK
Atoms and doves
So what did I end up bringing back to the U.S.? Not too much. A few sheets of stamps, a copy of “The Benevolent Sun”, a hilariously dry biography of Kim Il-Sung (as it turns out, it’s multi-volume and I only purchased one, oops), a few pins, a small flag, and a propaganda poster. The poster is definitely my favorite purchase. It’s hand painted and depicts a soldier carrying an AK-47. When it comes to communist propaganda posters, what more could you ask for?
“Let’s boldly push forward the revolutionary march for the establishment of the powerful and great nation!” (Thanks to Jae for the translation)
More photos here.