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Published: November 4th 2011
view from restaurant no.1
"Early up and you go early to bed, that's the way for a little farmer boy". Those are some words from a Danish song and that one sure goes for North Koreans as well. Maybe it is a kind of shock treatment, to keep us in a drouse through our stay as the hotel phone alarm goes off at 6:30 like South Korea just invaded Pyongyang. But no, it's the Chinese's time to get up and get in the bus.
I ate breakfast alone in an almost empty restaurant no.1, which is the restaurant, where western people eat. This is where I saw a buffet, so this is where I eat. But where was everybody? In this buffet there was pancakes, toast, butter, jam, porridge, twisty donut bread and a guy only to make omelettes. And there was coffee. Instant coffee, but coffee. I finished my second round of omelette on butter on toasted bread, sipped my second cup of instant coffee, and headed out to find my tour group. They would not leave without me before making a very very thorough search of the hotel.
I found my tour group in a big sizzling room far away from restaurant no.1. Here there was no pancakes, toast, butter or guy making omelette. There was a big nasty Chinese breakfast buffet and there was Johanna and Yunjun sitting at a table eating it. This made me feel like the savvy traveler, even though I had walked in on the wrong buffet by chance and that I thought I had belonged there. Eating there the next two days made me the savvy traveler though. Mmm... illegal North Korea buffet.
Chinese people in a tourbus stacks in the front of the bus contrary to Western people, who zombie-like always stagger towards the back of the bus. This meant that we were four people with 12 seats. Still my North Korean guide was always sitting next to me. Never sitting next to Johanna. I wonder if they took me as a spy or a reporter, because that cute guide was always sitting not further than inches away from me. That made her my guide, and no longer our guide.
Guide had great news, when we met in the bus. My visa application was not properly filled out, so maybe I could stay to become a moviestar. And I must say in defence of NK that they contrary to all other Asian cultures have a gist of understanding of sarcasm. Our guide actually joked along for as far as double reverse psycology. Impressive.
2 1/2 hour busride back in the direction where we came from in a very modern bus on a very little modern road. That was a rollercoaster ride. The guide asked us to talk about our country. I was honest and told her that I too came from a socialist country, but that we were allowed to travel. I told her about the tax-system and that we could save up some money after we had paid our taxes. I defended my country's policies, but even she - the North Korean - thought that a 40 percent tax-rate was a bit over the top.
The first place for sightseeing was also the overall most eyeopening. The friendship palace, where all the presents Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il have recieved from other countries are placed, is used to promote NK as a country that everybody just loves! "Look kids, Denmark gave us this picture of a flower. This means that this country thinks that North Korea is a great place."
And boy those kids looked deprived of qualities that we both loathe and love seeing normal kids. The spark in their eyes, curiosity, the urge to play. Gone. We saw them walking in straight lines, quiet, heads bowed and fearful of the foreigners present. I wonder which effective measures that the teachers use to keep them that way. If they could bottle those paedo-skills - whatever they might be - and export it, there would be a whole world of buyers.
The exhibition in itself is exuberant and way overrated. Visitors need to put a cover over their shoes, so that they dont need to clean the floor in this palace of present. These shoe covers actually reminise a floor wipe to make the visitors get the job done. Furthermore it is not allowed to take pictures of the mostly worthless presents inside there, which makes the pretentious awe even more ridiculous and even more funny and tongue-biting.
Some memorable things from the exhibition includes a big vase with Lenin's face on it, a collection of old tv's from the 80s, a village carved in ivory, sabres from Saddam Hussein, a big grinning crocodile statue holding some cocktail glasses, a picture of Kim Jong Il holding hands with the Hyundai CEO, a Michael Jordan-signatured basketball and 200,000 other mostly worthless presents.
We were taken through a kafka-like maze in this palace basement, where all these presents were sorted by continents and countries. The final stop was an uttermost curiosity.
A room only exhibiting the waxfigue of the late president Kim Il Sung and everyone had to bow. I did not bow because my Danish media exposed ego would not allow me to, but that move was more ignorant than fair. The bow represented respect not just to the NK leaders but also to the NK people and my cute guide. Like I would have respected some Africans by doing their dance or the Mongolians by eating their uncomestible cheese.
A note to the exhibition. We were not allowed to stop and look thoroughly on the exhibition. We were dragged through and everytime I wanted to see something, my guide instantly bitched and gave me some evil, but still cute, looks.
After a hiteous cold Korean lunch in a fancy hotel we headed back to the capital and everyone in the bus fell mysteriously asleep while my guide and I stayed awake to commense one of the most memorable conversations of my life. A conversation about lovemaking.
It dawned on me that I had brought no presents for our guide and nothing to substitute for a present either. As I scover my bag for something that looks like something that could be an excuse for a present I feel a small square-shaped box in the bottom of my bag. I realized that the day was saved. It quickly seemed as if the whole trip was saved. I help up the little red box I had purchased in Dandong a few days earlier and asked her if she knew what it was. She was quizzed to say the least. I started explaining.
"You know if you want to have sex with your boyfriend, you can use this and still no babies". Then I handed her my generous present and she refused to touch it. She was completely disgusted and refused to even put her fingers on the package. I offered to open the package to show her the inside. She also refused me to do so as if hell was sealed and boxed in this little package.
I told her that it's a very handy accesory, because she would not have to worry about getting pregnant with her boyfriend before they got married and still have sex. But for her that was not an issue anyway. She did not intend to have sex with her boyfriend anyway. At least not until she could call him husband. To her, pre-marital sex was taboo even though she and the majority of her fellow citizens are atheists.
I taunted her a bit about that, even though she was the one to be proud and not I.
Also, I told her about drugs. How different drugs have different funny effects and different tragic consequenses. And AIDS. I told her about AIDS in Africa.
They have a very good university in Pyongyang, but it seems like they do not teach them everything.
Guide (did I mention she is only 23 years old?) raised the next question. What do people think about our country. I told her what people think about North Korea and mainly what they think about Kim Jong Il. She had never heard that Kim Jong Il should be lying to the population or any story about Kim not managing the country in the best interest of the NK people. She knew more about NK than I so it was quite easy for her to dodge any of my claims. It was her claim that Kim Jong Il is a great leader and there was not much I could do to make her think otherwise, if I even wanted her to think otherwise.
What our itineary told us to do next was the thing I had looked most forward to. The School Children's Palace performance. I had heard about this and since we missed the Mass Games season, this was our big piece of Korean culture on this trip.
Those school kids were damn talented. I have never seen anything like it I must say. Their acrobatics were flawless and their voices extraordinary.
Only a sudden powerout during a harpe performance marred the display.
A girl age 10 baffled everyone with her amazing voice which was on par with Edith Piaf. Other girls gave a stunning display of dancing, while playing instruments in colorful outfits, not resembling at all the street fashion in Pyongyang.
They must excercise this from a very young age many hours a day to get their performance up there. Those kids are ready for Broadway.
What a show.
As the show ended, all the Chinese tourists flocked on stage to take photos with the kids. They grabbed them, they lifted them up and forced them to stand in position for their NK photo souvenir.
This happens every Tuesday and Friday. I was disgusted.
Next we saw the impressive Arc of Triumph (60m). I told Guide that there was one in Paris (50m) which was made before this one. She told me that this one was bigger. NK 1, the World 0.
We ended up in a restaurant where we had to cook our own tasteless food in a pot of boiling water in front of us. Fulfilling yes, but where is the taste NK? I would too get to be very skinny if I would be fed this really boring food.
Back at the hotel I had to fill out a new visa request. In a feverish fatigue I started out by filling in the date of today as my birthday and my guide shouted in vain as if I had pulled out the box of condoms once again. This was not funny as this was the only application sheet available. The older guide who were responsible for our whole group pulled a very cunning move. With a tip of a metalobject erased the ink from the paper, so I could write my real date of birth on the sheet. Was this woman merely a guide. Perhaps a McGuidevor muah-ha-ha.
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