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Part 3: Back in Pyongyang

The main questions of our travel was still when and if we could have the opportunity to meet real people and get at least a few impressions of the daily life in North of Korea. With our question and answer games of the guides and the Vice President of this intended special touristic zone at the border to South Korea, was always to hear that we were welcome to show and tell the rest of the world how it really looks in North Korea. That the world has a impression about North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), but until then it wasn't clear what we could see in Pyongyang and if we would have the opportunity to shoot freely and if we could even have the opportunity to interview 'real' people there.
By the way, the same agency who arranged our travel was trying to advertised in blogs and webpages targeting foreigners in China to get more tourists for their travels. The same agency promised that its possible to meet normal people and to take picture of the real DPRK, but at the same time they are no longer allowing journalists on their travel. Maybe a result of our tries to get some footage of the real life in North Korea?
The travel by bus back to Pyongyang brought the same impressions but in reversed order, bonjour tristesse:

City in the DPRK

Vast empty landscapes with no ore just a few signs of agrarian efforts, therefore no leather shoes and no steak on the plate. Gray and wet concrete housing, people driving their bicycles without any rain cloth through the pouring rain, the unavoidable flat tire of one of our buses are the entertainment we had atleast and the Chinese revolutionary karaoke videos from the television of our Hyundai bus that is made in South Korea. Therefore, we had something to accompany with our von Malaysia imported peanuts that we bought against starving in this long travel without any catering.
The arrival in Pyongyang showed us that the hotel was not located in the romantic old center and we could not visit a local restaurant. The concrete structure fit for foreigners was insulated on an island of the Taedong River but with a nice city view, at night of course there is not much to be seen. It looked like there was a brownout allover the place, just a few government buildings got some deco lightings which proved that there was electricity but just not enough and not for everybody literally spoken.
First thing to do in the hotel was to shoot finally the official interview with the Vice President of the Special Touristic Zone. We did it twice at this evening because he was not satisfied with his answers of our (now 2 days in advance informal question and answer games rehearsed) questions. Which was ridiculous because the whole interview was in Korean and subtitles weren't fit for subtle differences, but we had a big break through. And we did get the permission to film whatever we wanted on our tour the next day in Pyongyang to show the real DPRK, unbelievable but true.

cafe stop sign in the DPRK

In the history of the DPRK we we're the first foreign media to report with no restrictions! There were more revealing information about the new touristic zone, first was the real step into the freedom of communication because there would be Internet and free landlines future leisure seeking peoples in North Korea. But our conclusion of the answers were, that 'mates' from the South of Korea were not included in the efforts to bring in the new cash flow from this very special zone.
Despite of the big words and promises, we we're really concerned on how to get our material out of the country - uncensored. In the morning, we had the first attempt from our so called guides to have a look at some pieces to the camera we did in front of our leisure paradise hotel. And they were now after us, asking for a look of those standups but we needed something to eat urgently.
The hotel (I remembered more then 38 floors high) was a bit worn out and not many floors seemed to be occupied. But they had souvenir shops and - what was more important – some restaurants. We spent our dinner at the Chinese one (because the official dinner was long time over and I did refused to eat cold leftovers) where we had the pleasure to eat finally, again warm food.
After dinner the plan was to have a shot at the casino, were the income for the country via gambling is inforced. But of course there were no pictures allowed, so we took a shot with hidden camera of the 50 or so One-Banded-Bandits standing kaput in the reception of the casino. They must have had a hard life!
Back in my hotel room, I tried to have a relaxed evening watching BBC and German Deutsche Welle. Yes, it is possible to have uncensored television but just when you are in this hotel and willing to support the DPRK with cash via souvenir buying or gambling.

Morning in Pyongyang

The morning view in Pyongyang out of my hotel window was simply amazing. There you can get the feeling back in times were cars wasn't invented yet. Saw a group of students walking under a red banner to their working site to build up houses for ten thousand people (we were later explained) At 5am my colleague supposed to jog together with the reporter of Washington Post and also to meet people but she missed it. We also learned later that this highrise pyramid building in the picture below is the tallest building in Pyongyang. The tallest structure in the city is the uncompleted 330-metre (1,083 ft) Ryugyong Hotel. This hotel has 105 floors and encloses 361,000 square metres (3,885,772 sq ft) of floor space. The original plan called for crowning it with seven revolving restaurants. (Wikipedia)

Pyongyang at dawn

After breakfast our guides were again after us to have a look on the piece we had taken in the camera, we finally gave it to them. Good thing that they didn't complain about the pictures nor the content, what was in German. While preparing to take off in our tour to Pyongyang we remembered that we were promised to film on whatever we wanted, so we started to do this out of the driving bus. And later we passed by to one of the construction sites and we were interupted few times because they dont want us to take videos. I don't know what was wrong on taking shots in a construction site but never mind, so I filmed the empty streets of Pyongyang instead. There were of course some cars like in big luxury cars and military trucks but in total, not much going on on the streets. Pyongyang looks like a 'normal' capital city with not so much pedestrians. They also drive in the subway which they bought from our former German Democratic Republic, but when you look closer to it you'll already see the cracks on the buildings and many of them looks like they wont get out of the state of being under construction. Aside from that, you could also see nice big parks with lots of greenery and in one of those we made our first stop.

Birthplace of Leader of the DPRK

We were given the honor to see the reputed birthplace of Kim Il-sung at Mangyongdae Hill (the picture above) implanted in the midst of a park looking amazingly new. Our Chinese tour members were spending their money in exchange of North Korean flags and other patriotic souveniers and everybody was really in a good mood, so we continued our tour in more landmarks.

statue in Pyongyang

This picture was taken in the plain center and it proves that North Korea loves their soccer players as much as we do in Germany. I had unfortunately no time to figure out more about that because at that moment our guides were already chasing us to get back to the rest of the group, but I think we only took the promised of the Vice President of this special zone so we sneaked away to get some more real footage like people waiting in a 100 meter line for their bus, the "sexy" traffic police woman, who dressed sexy to attract the drivers of the few cars and to slow them down, plus we got pictures of the real people and even experienced that some of them were smiling on us. After our guides had chased us down, we were allowed to take some more shots from the highlights of architecture and traffic devices before we had to drive to the next stops of our revolutionary tour.

Electric bus in Pyongyang

This picture proves enviromental friendly transportation which also possible in bigger cities. No other cars on this photography taken in the plain center though!
Next stop was in a Revolutionary Momentum were our Chinese tour members were allowed to pay there tributes and laying down some flowers. Meanwhile in the bus, our guides with their securities were having discussion concerning the sneaking that we did so we decided not to do it again to secure the material/footage we got at that time. Even if we did not shoot anything special, it was clear to us that we were already overstepping what for our guides were allowed and that they would be later in trouble to justify our behavior.
The last highlight of our tour was a stopped to shop and again our Chinese troup members went crazy, but of first we had to pay 30 Euros each person for the photography permission fee. Nothing is for free even if you have payed already 4000RMB for the tour itself. Afterwards I also went for shopping and bought some stamps for my collection:

stamps from the DPRK

The rest of our trip was fast reported. We had no problems to bring our footage out of the country. We were not even asked by our guides for them to look at it again. While we were driving back I was asking our guides some practical questions like how they communicate with each other, because I learned what I had seen that certain people got mobile phones and of course all our guides had them, connected to an intra phone net. I also asked about the electricity question, which I didn't dare to asked earlier which was easily answered. They said that they have a shortage especially in winter, which is obvious. I was also wondering how the houses are heated and found out that they have all floor heating and the hot water comes from thermal power plants. But I personally had more feeling that the latest answer was again more one of the category of 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination'.
Finally, we had our passports back before we went through the immigration in Pyongyang and also had our cellphones back when we landed in Beijing. I had no stamp from the DPRK in my passport and could not keep my tourist card. But I think I got a lot of unique memories. For all who like to make a trip like this should have a look out for the offers of Koryo Tours. But do not expect that you will have any contact with the 'real' inhabitants besides your guides and the waiters and waitresses of the hotels you will stay.