Well, it was the tallest in the world when I saw it, but in September 2010 the Azeris completed a 162 meter flagpole in Baku, giving them the world record (although lately it has encountered a bit of structural trouble). I guess that news hasn’t reached Kim Jong-Il yet, because surely he would continue the trend of “everything’s bigger in the DPRK.”
This flagpole, which sports a 600lb DPRK flag, is situated at the entrance to the DMZ “village” of Kijŏngdong, which is really nothing more than a Potemkin village built to extol the luxurious living enjoyed by DPRK citizens. During the 1980s, a “flagpole war” erupted between North and South Korea, in which each country tried to best the other by building taller flagpoles until South Korea relented after realizing how ridiculous such a competition was.
The above photo is of the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall. Located approximately 60 kilometers from Beijing, the Juyong Pass section, which was first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), played a vital role in the city’s defenses.
If you find yourself in Beijing, then a visit to the Great Wall is a must. I would also recommend wearing comfortable clothing, as the climb can be quite strenuous. (My guide, however, climbed to the top while wearing fashionable sandals – not quite the best shoes for the 1,700 uneven, slippery steps to the top of the mountain, but whatever). If you have a choice between the Badaling and Juyongguan section, you might want to choose the Juyongguan section, as there are typically less tourists there than Badaling.
The Great Wall is far older than the Ming Dynasty, and can trace its origins to 221 BC, during the Qin Dynasty. The Great Wall was originally built out of rammed earth, wood, stone, but upon the ascension of the Ming Dynasty, stronger materials such as brick, tiles, lime, and stone were used when constructing the wall. This particular section, along with Badaling, has been renovated extensively. The majority of the wall is actually in disrepair due to erosion, vandalism, removal of portions of the wall for city/town development, and the use of wall materials for construction.
Although I’m a Southern California native, I’ve always thought Northern California, and specifically the Bay Area, is the better place to live (despite the incredibly high cost of living, of course). Visiting San Francisco can be quite expensive as well, but if you know where to look, you can find some inexpensive lodging and dining options. Roomstays.com, for example, is an online booking assistant for hotel properties that has some great deals on hotels in San Francisco, including the Parc 55 Wyndham and Westin St. Francis, both conveniently located in Union Square.
Once you’ve made it to San Francisco, be sure to check out the top five activities to do in San Francisco. I highly recommend the tour of Alcatraz, and afterward, ordering a sourdough bread bowl full of steaming hot clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you are looking for an excellent cup of coffee, try Blue Bottle at the nearby Ferry Building. For dinner, check out an authentic Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (note: if the menu is in Chinese, and the restaurant is full of locals, eat there).
There are a variety of tour companies in San Francisco, but it is an easy enough city to navigate that you can go without one. Public transportation is quite easy around San Francisco, and pay parking is plentiful, albeit expensive, if you insist on driving.
Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il (The “Great Leader” and “Dear Leader”, respectively) watch over the departure lounge at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport.