Archive | July, 2010
July 28, 2010

North Korea: The Streets of Kaesong

Random photos taken while driving through Kaesong. Compared to the showcase city of Pyongyang, Kaesong has rougher roads and much poorer infrastructure.


No traffic girls like Pyongyang. All the officers were men.


Obligatory Kim Il-Sung statue


More Kim Il-Sung


And more…


Even more…


Outside Kaesong

More photos here.

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July 27, 2010

North Korea’s Funniest Home Videos: U.S. Imperialists visit the DMZ

Here is the North Korean produced footage of our visit to the DMZ. I had to break this up into two parts due to YouTube’s ban on videos over 10 minutes.

Part 1: This has some incredibly dramatic music as well as dialogue that explains how the “U.S. imperialists bent their knees” to the North Koreans. It also talks about the structure the North Koreans built for the signing ceremony against the wishes of the U.S., which merely wanted to hold the ceremony in a tent because the “U.S. Imperialists were afraid that future generations might see the place where they signed the surrender documents after suffering shameful defeat in the Korean War.”

Part 2: U.S. Imperialists visiting the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom. Incredibly dramatic music followed by something that is more appropriate for a cheesy musical.

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July 27, 2010

North Korea: Kaesong

Following our visit to the DMZ, we headed to Kaesong, the former capital of the Koryo dynasty (918-1392). Kaesong is currently North Korea’s 9th most populous city and serves as the DPRK’s center of light industry. Although we were originally scheduled to stay overnight in Kaesong, this didn’t happen due to a decision by some random North Korean bureaucrat (big surprise there). So instead of spending the night in Kaesong, we just had lunch at a restaurant there and then made a quick stop at the Koryo Museum.


A traditional lunch at Tongil restaurant. I had no idea what most of these dishes were.


Entrance to the Tongil restaurant.


On a hill overlooking Kaesong


The Koryo Museum. Originally erected in 992, this was an was the central institute of education during the Koryo dynasty, training children of the nobility to serve as officials in the Koryo government. It now houses relics from the Koryo dynasty. The present buildings date to 1602.


Unavoidable


Locals

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July 27, 2010

North Korea: Handing out Marlboros on the wrong side of the DMZ

“For your own safety,” the lieutenant colonel explained, “several of our soldiers will be accompanying you to the border.”

Statements like this are to be expected when visiting the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea, but when that announcement is coming from an impeccably dressed officer from the North Korean People’s Army, rather than one from the South Korean or U.S. Army, you have reason to be wary. Were the soldiers there to prevent us from wandering into some minefield, I wondered, or would they protect us if the “U.S. Imperialists” and their South Korean lackeys decided to randomly open fire? I wasn’t quite sure. Nevertheless, our tour group now had our very own North Korean soldiers to watch over us as we visited a place once described by former President Bill Clinton as “the scariest place on earth.”


Our bodyguards

We left Pyongyang around seven that morning for the three hour drive south to the demilitarized zone. Our bus traveled down the empty six-lane “Reunification Highway” at breakneck speed, passing by the occasional military checkpoint, tank barriers, and village. I spent most of the trip south downing Pepto Bismol (I think the meat from the previous night’s dinner was slightly undercooked) and writing postcards that would hopefully be approved by the censors and sent onwards to my friends in the US and Europe. (“Great trip so far. Beer is delicious. Highly recommend visiting. Cheers, Lindsay”)




A few scenes from the drive south. More photos in a later post.


Our American guide told us these were anti-tank barriers that were rigged with explosives. In case of invasion, the North Koreans would set off the explosives, creating obstacles for American tanks along the Reunification Highway.

Once we arrived at the staging area just outside of the DMZ, we hopped off our bus and stood around a large map of the DMZ while the North Korean officer gave a short talk on the surrounding area. We were then instructed to form a single file line and walk past the gated area, where our bus had pulled forward after being searched and cleared by several soldiers. We got back on our bus and drove past electric fencing surrounded by strips of landmines. We had officially entered the Korean demilitarized zone, a 2.5 mile wide buffer zone that divides the Korean peninsula in half. Home to over two million soldiers, the DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world.




Farm inside the DMZ


Because everything’s bigger in the DPRK, the country is home to the world’s tallest flagpole, which sports a 600lb DPRK flag. The flagpole is situated at the entrance to the “village” of Kijŏngdong, which is really nothing more than a Potemkin village built to extol the luxurious living enjoyed by DPRK citizens

Our bus stopped at the site of the former village of Panmunjeom, which is now just a set of buildings in which the North Koreans and United Nations negotiated and eventually signed the armistice agreement in 1953.




Entrance to the building where the armistice was signed. It is now home to the “North Korea Peace Museum”. The sign reads “It was here on July 27, 1953 that the American imperialists got down on their knees before the heroic Chosun people to sign the ceasefire for the war they had provoked June 25, 1950.”

The officer explained that the United States wanted to sign the agreement in a tent, but the North Koreans insisted that it occur in a building so that there would be a permanent monument to their victory over the United States. Apparently they constructed this building the night before the agreement was signed.


The officer also claimed that this is the original North Korean flag that was present when the agreement was signed.


See how much better the North Korean flag has fared compared to this discolored UN flag? Hmmm…


The “museum” consisted mainly of photos depicting Americans surrendering.


The axe from the “Axe Murder Incident” in which two US Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers.



Ensuring our safety


Approaching the Joint Security Area (JSA)/Panmunjeom. More electric fences and landmines.

We arrived at the Joint Security Area (JSA)/Panmunjeom, where North and South Korean soldiers stare at each other from their respective sides. In the middle of the JSA are several blue buildings where diplomatic talks are held. I was disappointed to discover that there weren’t any South Korean or American soldiers visible in the South Korean side of the DMZ. In fact, the place appeared to be downright deserted.


Inside the conference room, sitting in the translator’s seat, with one leg in South Korea and the other in North Korea.

Before the officer began his lecture on U.S. Imperialism and whatnot, our North Korean guide said “I apologize in advance. I will say ‘American Imperialists’ several times.” I was pretty floored when she said this. A North Korean apologizing for calling us imperialists? Never in a million years would I have expected that.


Two guards posted at the door leading to South Korea to ensure you don’t attempt to run away.


Two North Korean soldiers standing on the North Korean side of the Military Demarcation Line. When I took this photo, I was technically in South Korea.

Our time in the conference room was limited. After the officer’s lecture, we only had a few minutes to take photos. The two soldiers stationed at the door leading into South Korea soon began clapping loudly and shouting in Korean while moving towards us. I guess that was our signal to leave the building.

We then entered the large building on the North Korean side so that we could have a nice view of the JSA. I have read several accounts of tourists who toured the JSA from the South Korean side and were told that the North Korean building is nothing more than a façade. I can assure you, it is indeed a real building.


Smile, you’re on camera. The Freedom Building in South Korea.


Of course I had to have my picture taken with one of the soldiers

Our visit to the DMZ complete, we headed back north for a visit to Kaesong. First, though, we stopped at the staging area right outside the DMZ to hand out cigarettes. Specifically, genuine American Imperialist Marlboros straight from the good ol’ US of A. One of the things you are told before coming to North Korea is to bring along a few gifts, specifically cigarettes for the male tour guides and soldiers at the DMZ. We pooled together our packs of cigarettes, handed them to the American guide, and watched as she quickly passed them out to the North Korean soldiers. At first, some were reluctant to take them, but they eventually gave in and sheepishly accepted these small tokens of thanks for ensuring our “safety”.

More photos here.

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July 27, 2010

North Korea: Driving south on the Reunification Highway

Photos taken while driving from Pyongyang to the DMZ.


A section of the highway was closed, so we had to take a slight detour.


I really wanted to steal that cone


A quick stop at the Sohung Rest House


Anti-tank barriers. Rigged with explosives so they can be blown up and the rubble strewn across the highway to prevent tanks and other vehicles from moving north.


Not so sure about that structural integrity of this bridge…

More photos here.

pin it button North Korea: Driving south on the Reunification Highway
July 27, 2010

Casino Destinations in Asia

The basement of a Pyongyang hotel isn’t the only place you’ll be able to gamble when vacationing in Asia. Over the past ten years, gambling has exploded in various cities throughout the continent, and casinos can now be found in many hotels in Asia. Discussed below are two of the most prominent Asian vacation destinations for gamblers:

Macao: Known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient”, gambling tourism makes up 50% of this Chinese enclave’s economy. Gambling has been legal in Macao since the 1850s, when it was a Portugese colony. Macao’s casino industry was controlled by a monopoly of Hong Kong and Macao businessmen until 2001, when the government granted casino licenses to international companies, including Vegas heavyweights Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts. Macao now has a total of 33 casinos, all of which offer Western-style gaming such as Texas hold ‘em poker, slots, and roulette as well as traditional Chinese games such as Sic Bo and Fan Tan. Many casino promos include free play and complimentary drinks. The largest casino in Macao is the Venetian Macao, owned by the Las Vegas Sands corporation that runs the Venetian casino in Las Vegas. In 2006, Macao surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues, earning nearly $7 billion.

Singapore: A new entrant onto the legal gambling scene, Singapore issued its first gambling licenses in 2005 in order to position itself as a more vibrant, cosmopolitan city that would provide its residents and visitors with a plethora of entertainment options. The first casino opened in February 2010, attracting 130,000 visitors during its first week of operation. Tourism to Singapore has exploded and will continue to grow substantially thanks to the introduction of gambling and construction of two casino megaresorts, the Resorts World Sentosa and the Marina Bay Sands. The Marina Bay Sands is the most expensive casino in the world, costing $8 billion. Both casinos are, in reality, integrated resorts that offer its guests a large variety of gambling choices, entertainment, shopping, dining establishments, theme parks, and other activities. Interestingly enough, Singapore locals are not free to enter the casinos as foreign tourists are. If Singapore residents wish to gamble, they must pay an entrance fee of approximately $100 per day, which is added directly to government coffers in order to pay for various social programs.

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July 9, 2010

North Korea’s Funniest Home Videos: U.S. Imperialists attempt to dance in Moranbong Park

Apologies for the month long absence, but I spent June doing the following: laying in bed with a nasty bacterial throat infection, packing up all of my belongings, moving from Arlington to Alexandria, unpacking all of my belongings, looking for jobs, etc. etc. More on that later this month.

Anyways, below is more footage from our tour DVD. You will be able to see our group of U.S. Imperialists attempt to dance with the locals in Pyongyang’s Moranbong Park. This is likely the only footage you will ever see of me dancing due to the fact that I am a horrible dancer.

pin it button North Korea’s Funniest Home Videos: U.S. Imperialists attempt to dance in Moranbong Park