Archive for the ‘Mass games’ Category

US tourists prepare to ‘invade’ N Korea

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Asia Times
Sunny Lee

Hurry if you’re in the mood to travel to one of the least traveled countries on the planet. North Korea says it will admit foreign tourists this year only until October 10.

That’s the latest schedule Walter Keats received from Pyongyang. Keats heads Illinois-based Asia-Pacific Travel, the only travel company in the United States authorized by Pyongyang. The reclusive country opens itself to foreign tourists only for a limited period of the year. Restrictions on Americans are even stricter. In fact, Americans are allowed into North Korea only during the Arirang Festival, a birthday party for the late leader Kim Il-sung.

As a US citizen who is not part of a diplomatic or humanitarian aid mission on North Korea, Keats has had the rare experience of visiting the secretive country 10 times in the past 12 years, starting in 1995. During the period, Keats saw the country “definitely” changing.

“I don’t know if that’s the question of being closed or open. Things are still very restricted. But the people we deal with, at least, are more flexible, more friendly, and more open now,” Keats said in an interview in Beijing before he was to fly with Pyongyang-bound American tourists last weekend.

North Koreans’ flexible attitude is reflected, for example, in the tour scheduling. In the past, the North Koreans decided every itinerary. But Keats told them some places are not really interesting for Americans, while some are more interesting. Now they are more willing to listen.

Besides, the North Korean guides are more willing to accommodate impromptu requests from foreign tourists now such as visiting a local elementary school, even if that was not part of the original travel itinerary.

The changes are also noticeable in the North Korean tour guides themselves as well. They used to be rather solemn and less spontaneous, but these days they even crack jokes in English. Keats sees it as a “nice” change.

“One of the purposes of this tour is to break down the barriers to show that we are human beings and they are also human beings. We’re not both devils fighting each other. So it’s nice to see the humanity in both sides. Humor is a good medium,” Keats said.

North Korea and the US are still technically at war with each other as a legacy from the Korean War. However, today American tourists in North Korea are not subject to any of the anti-American sentiment and rhetoric that Keats experienced during some of his previous visits.

However, all foreign tourists to the Stalinist nation must go on guided tours and must have their tour guides with them at all times. Photography is strictly controlled, as is interaction with the local people. Besides, tourists holding US passports are not usually granted visas. But exceptions were made in 1995, 2002, 2005 and this year.

Some observers are inclined to view the timing of these exceptions as coinciding with a softening in US relations with North Korea. But that actually may not be the case, because North Korea gave the green light for US tourists in 2002 – just after President George W Bush lumped it in with a group known as the “axis of evil”.

On his part, Keats has to remind his fellow American tourists that visiting North Korea is “very different” from visiting any other country in the world and tells them to be mindful of following a few rules. These include refraining from attempting to strike an unauthorized conversation with local people.

In general, the North Korean people would not appreciate foreign tourists coming up to them because “frankly, it endangers them”, Keats said. Somebody could later ask them why they talked to the foreigners, what they said to the foreigners, what the tourists gave to them.

“So I advise our people to refrain from such approach. Of course, you’d like to talk to somebody there. But most of them don’t speak English anyway. So, if you do so, you’d be putting them at risk for no reason.”

Unfortunately, Keats observed, it’s not just the country that has changed over the years, but the tourists themselves have shown some changes as well. In the early days, tourists came with some research, reading about the society before they visited North Korea. The early tourists were more knowledgeable and inquisitive. But “today’s tourists are more interested in making sure that they’ve been to this place”, Keats said.

Keats believes the idea of going to North Korea as merely going on an “exotic tour” should be discouraged. “We get phone inquiries from people who say they don’t want to be in a group, want to go out and meet local people in North Korea. If you’re so ignorant about how the society there works, you’d think you can just go and talk to somebody on the street. That’s very dangerous.

“I don’t think you have a right to create a situation where somebody there might get into trouble because of your need to go back home and brag that you talked with North Korean people. I think it’s immoral for somebody, particularly from our [US] culture, to do so.”

Keats said no American on his tour so far has been rejected an entry visa to North Korea, but added that people with certain professions would have difficulty getting in. He took an example of journalists. He said he was specifically told by the North Koreans that he would be fined a minimum of US$1,000 per journalist, if found.

For him, however, that’s not the only business risk he has to bear in dealing with the North Koreans. Last year, he suffered a financial setback after the scheduled trip was abruptly canceled after more than 200 Americans had signed up for it.

Understandably, he was not very happy about it. “The problem is that they make changes all the time,” he said. In fact, the travel-permit dates for this year were already a third revision.

Keats said the North Koreans would simply change the dates for foreign visitors and say the foreigners needed to change their arrival dates. “They don’t seem to understand that in some peak travel seasons, changing dates on the air tickets could cost additional money. I don’t think people at the top [in North Korea] really understand how the market works.”

These days, a tour to North Korea usually comes as a four-day-three-night package. That may sound reasonable for a country that is roughly half the size of Minnesota. But the devil is in the details. The first day counts from the day the tourists’ airplane departs from Beijing to Pyongyang. (Foreign travelers usually arrive in Pyongyang via Beijing.) And on the last day, the foreigners have to leave the country at 8am. But that is still technically counted as “one day”.

So, to save time, once arrived, going to the hotel usually becomes the last itinerary of the first day. After stopping by a few places on the way from the airport, tourists go directly to see the Arirang performance, which starts at 7pm.

The Arirang Festival, the high point of any visit to North Korea, is a performance by 100,000 synchronized gymnasts inside the world’s largest stadium, occasioned for a celebration of the birth of the late “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung. It depicts two separated lovers, symbolizing the two Koreas, culminating with their reunion.

In North Korea, among the lists of “must-sees” is Mansu Hill, where a Korean War memorial and statue of Kim Il-sung is located. Others include the Arch of Triumph, Geumsu-san Memorial Palace and Kim Il-sung Mausoleum, a film studio in Pyongyang, and the Korean Central History Museum. Keats has found that these are the places American tourists find particularly interesting.

He said it’s also worth watching how the local people pay their respect to Kim Il-sung at his mausoleum, who is regarded as a deity there. “From a foreigner’s eye, that would be quite a cultural experience.”

Last year, the reclusive country accepted about 20,000 visitors from abroad. The majority were Chinese and South Koreans. Fewer than 2,000 Westerners visited North Korea last year.

So, at the end of having the rare opportunity to see the secretive country, “people are pretty amazed”, Keats said.

“North Korea is a unique system. I think most of the visitors leave with a positive view of the tour, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they get to have a positive view of the country. But they learn more about the country by being there. Seeing it first-hand gives them a much better sense of what is going on there.”


Kim Jong Il’s Yacht, UNESCO, Golf, and the Taean Glass Factory

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Now available on Google Earth! 
(click above to download to your own Google Earth)

North Korea Uncovered v.3

Google Earth added a high-resolution overlay of the area between Pyongyang and Nampo.  In it, most of the Koguryo tombs listed with UNESCO are now distinguishable.  In addition, viewers can see the latest Kim Jong Il palace (including a yacht), the DPRK’s premier golf course, and the Chinese-built Taean Glass factory.  I have also made some progress in mapping out the DPRK electricity grid.

This is the most authoritative map of North Korea that exists publicly today.  Agriculture, aviation, cultural institutions, manufacturing, railroad, energy, politics, sports, military, religion, leisure, national parks…they are all here, and will captivate anyone interested in North Korea for hours.

Naturally, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds on the more “controversial” locations. In time, I hope to expand this further by adding canal and road networks.

I hope this post will launch a new interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to hearing about improvements that can be made.


North Korean Propaganda Festival May Signal Shift in Policy

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Bradley Martin

Since 2002, North Korea has invited visitors every few years to a festival featuring 60,000 dancers, gymnasts, acrobats and musicians, along with card-flippers who create vast pictorial mosaics covering one entire side of the 150,000-seat May Day stadium in the capital, Pyongyang.

The previous performance, in 2005, included noisy and bloody tableaux of North Korean soldiers making mincemeat of enemy soldiers. Last week’s Arirang production — named for a famous Korean love song — was different. Battlefield carnage was replaced with scenes of people seeking higher living standards by rebuilding factories and growing crops.

While North Korea is hardly going pacifist seven months after testing an atomic device, the propaganda shift may signal a significant change in policy, according to expatriate businessmen living in the isolated country. Now that it is a nuclear power, North Korea appears to be directing more resources to improving an economy on its knees after decades of sanctions and isolation, they say.

Korean officials “are now confident they can defend their country,” said Felix Abt, the Swiss president of PyongSu Pharma Joint Venture Co. Ltd., which recently started manufacturing painkillers and antibiotics in Pyongyang. “Their next priority is economic development.”

Consumer Goods

The policy emphasizes light industry to produce consumer goods. It was formally expressed in a joint editorial that was run at the beginning of the year in three major newspapers published by the regime, Abt said.

Getting verifiable information about policies in North Korea is still almost impossible, especially on tightly organized trips for foreigners in which government guides keep visitors on a short leash.

And if the propaganda on display during one of these visits last week can be believed, the government continues to conceive any new economic policy along the lines of a traditional, planned economy, focused on state-owned enterprises where workers are inspired to redouble their efforts and produce miracles of socialist endeavor.

The Arirang show made this abundantly clear. In an act called “Power and Prosperity,” the audience was urged to emulate “youth shock brigade” members and other working people in North Pyongan Province who recently completed Thaechon Youth Power Station No. 4 in spite of catastrophic shortages of food, energy and most other materials that became evident in the early- to-mid-1990s.

`The Power’

The performance illustrated that North Korea needn’t depend on foreign donations, said Kim Song Ho, 32, one of the tour guides assigned to foreign visitors this month. “Our country has the power to live by ourselves,” said Kim, who worked for the World Food Program’s Pyongyang office until the government reintroduced rice rationing in 2005 and told foreign-aid organizations it could manage mainly on its own.

In Thaechon, Kim said, “workers constructed a power station despite the bad situation without any help. Now the slogan is, `We will work like Thaechon Power Station workers.’ We renovated factories, built new factories and now the economy is booming more and more.”

Evidence of such economic change wasn’t included on the tour Kim was guiding. Kim said he would happily show such sites to the foreign visitor another time.

Different Conditions

The development schemes aren’t directly modeled on those of China or Vietnam, locals stressed. “The conditions of the Chinese and Koreans are different,” said Kim Hyon Chol, the 32- year-old chief guide of the tour group. “The biggest difference is that our country is not united.”

The regime has kept its propaganda options open on its military direction.

Billboards in the capital city showed a U.S. and a Japanese soldier both skewered on the same bayonet. And while there was no sequence in the Arirang show celebrating the country’s nuclear explosion or missile tests, a military parade on April 25 to which foreign residents were invited showed off a missile said to be capable of hitting U.S. bases on Guam.

At the Demilitarized Zone, which has divided North from South Korea since the Korean War armistice agreement was signed in 1953, Korean People’s Army Captain Han Myong Gil was asked whether North Korea is safer since its nuclear test. He replied that U.S. and South Korean forces had held huge military exercises even as diplomats talked of trying to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

`Hostile Attitude’

“The saying goes in Korea, `If there are many clouds, it will soon rain,”’ the 28-year-old career officer said. “We can’t feel safe until the U.S. gives up its hostile attitude.”

Han eventually responded to a question about what he thought of his government’s spending money on a huge military apparatus – – North Korea’s troop strength is the world’s fourth largest — while people don’t have enough food.

“We receive fright and oppression from the U.S., so I cannot hide that our living standard is not high,” Han said. “We were on an arduous march for a long time. Now we are very proud because we defended socialism with the military-first policy. A strong country can defend itself, but the weak will be beaten down.”


North Korea Uncovered (Google Earth)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

DOWNLOAD IT HERE (to your own Google Earth)

Using numerous maps, articles, and interviews I have mapped out North Korea by “industry” (or topic) on Google Earth.  This is the most authoritative map of North Korea that exists publicly today.

Agriculture, aviation, cultural, manufacturing, railroad, energy, politics, sports, military, religion, leisure, national parks…they are all here, and will captivate anyone interested in North Korea for hours.

Naturally, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds on the more “controversial” locations.  In time, I hope to expand this further by adding canal and road networks. 

I hope this post will launch a new interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to hearing about improvements that can be made.


North Korea Authorities, “Take Care of Kim Il Sung Birthday Presents to Citizens on Your Own.”

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

The North Korean authorities ordered that the holiday gifts given to North Korean citizens for 4.15 Kim Il Sung’s birthday, Sun Day, be distributed by each provincial body.

The leader of a people’s unit Mr. Choi of a district in Hyesan, Yanggang said in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 13th, “The order came from the center to supply liquor and sweets through the body.”

He said, “A ‘4.15 subdivision committee’ has been organized in each province and has been going down to the commercial offices and food factories to directly inspect production.” The committee is a team that exists for the people who were temporarily transferred from party and political organizations for the seasonal production of sweets for distributing to children on Kim Il Sung’s birthday

This order’s intention can be interpreted as North Korean authorities trying to raise the holiday atmosphere by sparking competition among the provinces to celebrate Day of the Sun as “the year of victory in Military First Ideology.”

”The manager who cannot even provide one bottle of alcohol is not entitled”

However, the central party provided the order without a realistic plan of action, leaving it in the hands of factory and enterprise offices.

Another well-informed source stated that, “The central party has sparked a competition amongst the provinces to see which municipality provides more.”

On the 80th birthday anniversary of Kim Il Sung in 1992, when the “Supply Diversification” competition was kindled, the news spread that Junchun Commercial Office in Jakang, to where Jung Chun Sil (a member of Supreme People’s Committee) belongs, supplied 13 kinds of socks, candles, matches, and alcohol, but most of the provinces stopped after passing out one bottle of drink.

The well-informed source also stated that more than one bottle of drink could not be distributed this time. Soju is an item which cannot be left out from the holiday provision. Each provincial organization was known to bluff. “Factory managers who cannot provide at least one bottle of drink should forfeit their positions.”

At a food factory producing drinks, 10 hours of electricity was provided and the factory entered production round the clock, but it still had difficulty due to the lack of electricity and raw materials.

Demand-driven supply is also insufficient. After supplying drinks produced at this factory to organizations of influence, coal and mine workers, and laborers who work in dangerous jobs, there is not enough for all citizens.

As a result, authorities are asking factory and enterprises offices themselves to provide the laborers. Most factories are ordering from individual home-brew traders.

Failure in “gift” production for children

In the midst of this, it has been known that units which have taken charge of production of gift-use sweets are in a state of panic.

A part of the provinces used corn taffy and substituted corn instead of flour because of the lack of candy powder (sugar). Also, provisions had to be completed by April 13 to 14th, but the production line could not operate due to the lack of electricity, so goods could not ensure within the planned time.

Until the early 1990s, the central party promised flour, sugar, and other materials, but due to the worsening of financial difficulties, it decreed that provinces themselves take care of these goods. After the 65th birthday anniversary of Kim Il Sung in 1977, North Korea provided sweets to pre-school students who are at least five-years old to 11-year old elementary school students as a way of boosting their devotions but under the pretext of “gifts.”

Defector Mr. Kim reflected, “I can remember, after going up one by one to receive gifts, approaching the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il and bowing. In 1970-1980, the snacks and sweets were at least 10 different kinds, but now, there is only corn snack and one package of candy.”


N. Korea starts mass gymnastic show to mark anniversary of founder’s birthday

Sunday, April 15th, 2007


North Korea has launched a month-long mass gymnastics show as part of festivities to mark the 95th birthday of its late founding leader Kim Il-sung, the country’s new agency reported Sunday.

The Arirang Mass Games opened at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on the evening of Saturday, with hundreds of dancers and gymnasts performing against a gigantic backdrop of mosaic pictures formed by thousands students holding up colored panels, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il did not attend the opening show on the eve of his late father’s birthday, the agency said.

The show was held in 2002 and 2005, but was cancelled last year due to floods, causing hundreds of U.S. and Western tourists to cancel their planned trip to one of the world’s last remaining communist state.

This year’s show, which runs about 80 minutes starting at 8 p.m. every day except for Sunday, is expected to continue until May 20, Western tour organizers said.

This year’s show carries special meaning for North Korea, as it will celebrate the 95th anniversary of the birth of the late leader who died of heart failure in 1994. This year also marks the 62nd anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule and the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

The first version of Arirang, named after a famous traditional Korean folk song, was held for nearly five months in 2002, with about 100,000 students and ordinary people participating.

At that time, North Korea staged a promotional campaign for the festival, calling it a “once-in-a-millennium” event. Some viewed it as an effort to gain publicity at the time of the World Cup finals co-hosted by South Korea and Japan the same year.


N. Korea to celebrate late leader’s birthday amid economic hardship

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007


Despite years of economic hardship and an ongoing dispute over the dismantlement of its nuclear arms program, North Korea is once again setting up the mood for a nationwide celebration of the country’s largest holiday, the birthday of its late leader Kim Il-sung.

Kim, the founder of the North, died of heart failure on July 8, 1994, and his son Jong-il took power afterward in the first hereditary succession in a communist state. The junior Kim was officially named successor in 1980.

The celebrations follow weeks of festivities to mark leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday on Feb. 16, but they also come amid a dispute between Pyongyang and Washington over the North’s first steps toward ending its nuclear weapons program by mid-April.

A mass gymnastics event called “Arirang” is to begin in the North’s capital Pyongyang next Sunday to mark the 95th anniversary of the birth of the late leader, which falls on April 15, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday.

The Arirang festival was held in 2002 and 2005, but was called off abruptly last year due to floods, causing hundreds of U.S. and other Western citizens to cancel their planned trip to one of the world’s last remaining communist states. North Korea said it will organize the event in April and August every year.

The anniversary comes amid a stalemate in international negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear development program, which is adding to the country’s economic difficulties that followed nationwide floods and droughts and ensuing famine in the mid-1990s.

On Feb. 13, North Korea promised to shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and allow international inspectors back into the country within 60 days. In return, North Korea would receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea.

But the latest round of six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, broke down in Beijing last month when North Korea refused to participate in further meetings unless its frozen assets at a U.S.-blacklisted Macau bank were released.

The impoverished country has depended on international handouts to feed a large number of its 23 million people, but continues to mobilize massive resources and people to celebrate the late leader’s birthday, known as the “Day of the Sun.”
In a recent meeting with U.N. World Food Program officials, a North Korean vice agriculture minister acknowledged that the communist country has a shortfall of about 1 million tons in food and called for aid from the outside world.

National committees in many countries, including China, Cambodia, Indonesia and France, have been established weeks ahead of the holiday to prepare celebrations and other commemorative events marking the birthday of Kim Il-sung, who the North calls the country’s eternal father and president.

Kim Jong-il rules the country with an iron grip, but officially he is only the chairman of the National Defense Commission and general secretary of the Workers’ Party. He reserves the office of president for his late father as a way of showing his filial piety.

The North is officially headed by its titular leader Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament.


Kim Jong Il: The Great Economist and Athlete

Monday, March 19th, 2007




Check out his revolutionary platform on Youtube




Promo for the World Festival of Youth and Students


Mass Games and Americans in Pyongyang this spring

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Koryo Tours
March 2, 2007

North Korea has finally confirmed that the Arirang Mass games will be hosted in Pyongyang during the period of April 15th – May 15th this year, we also expect the event to be repeated from August to October but this is not definite yet.

It has also been announced that US citizens will be accepted into DPRK at this time, the only other opportunities Americans have had to travel to North Korea have been in 1995, 2002, and 2005 also for Mass Games events, there are the usual added limitations for US tours (3 night stays as a maximum, must fly both ways from Beijing) but it remains the most fascinating chance of your life to visit a truly enigmatic place to see the kind of event that only the North Koreans can pull off, please see tour dates and itineraries on our website


Mass Games in the KCNA News

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Developing Background Stand Arts on New Ground


The background stand arts of the mass gymnastic display has broken a new ground in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The background stand arts made its first appearance in the mass gymnastic display “Song of Liberation” in Juche 44 (1955) by displaying a few words with boards. After then, it had made a signal development in the course of creating mass gymnastic displays including “Our Glorious Motherland,” “Holiday of August,” “Era of Workers’ Party” and “Our Brilliant Motherland.”

The mass gymnastic display “Era of Workers’ Party” showed the pictures of flying Chollima (winged horse), fish and torch in combination with words for the first time. And the mass gymnastic display “Under the Flag of Workers’ Party” spread the picture “Arduous March” on the whole of the background, thus showing the content of the work in a persuasive and visual way. They made the background large-sized, rhythmic, symbolic, three-dimensional and scientific.

In particular, the mass gymnastic display “Chollima Korea” registered a signal development in the background stand arts. It successfully reflected on the background such moving pictures as beaming national emblem of the DPRK, red flag of the Paektu forest, beacon, molten iron pouring out of blast furnace, 3,000-ton press, tractor, excavator, fish and patterns of cloth.

The greatest success made in the background stand arts was that it reflected the image of President Kim Il Sung with high graphic depiction for the first time in 1964. Now the background stand arts depict the noble images of the three generals of Mt. Paektu.

In the mass gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang,” a “Kim Il Sung Prize” laureate, the background stand embossed the ideological and thematic content of the work and realized the intensification and concentration of the depiction, thus breaking a mysterious phase of the visual arts.

The application of laser illumination and large-sized projector adds beauty to each scene.

Even foreigners lavished praises on the ever-changing and largest background which led the audience to ecstasy.