In Korean Peninsula, North Korea

By Eva Bartlett originally published by In Gaza, and Mint Press News.



The Pyongyang International Football School opened in 2013. The complex includes a massive stadium and a school teaching all subjects, with football as a focus for the roughly 200 students. Different classes practiced their skills outside, doing warm-up drills to energetic music. When years ago I lived in Korea’s south, practicing Tae Kwan Do I warmed-up to similar drills.


Students at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace playing the traditional Korean instrument, the kayagun. Listen to their performance here.


In Pyongyang Middle School. Students spoke in English of the universal desire for peace, one girl urging people to struggle for peace. On the issue of North Korea’s weapons, one teenage boy said: “We make intercontinental ballistic rockets, not for invading other countries but for our national defense. To protect one’s country, the country must have a powerful defense. To my questions about the U.S. sanctions, a girl replied: “The sanctions are not fair, our people have done nothing wrong to the USA.” Another boy spoke of the silence around America’s use of nuclear bombs on civilians: “Why do people all over the world give us sanctions? Why just us? Why can’t we put sanctions on the U.S.? It’s not fair, it’s totally wrong.”


In a hallway in the Middle School, a poster encourages students to alert authorities if they come across unexploded ordnance (UXOs). Our host, Kim Song-Nam, said: “We’re still discovering old bombs, for example when we dig to lay the foundation for a building.” This article noted the discovery of nearly 400 UXOs near an elementary school playground, that farmers periodically come across UXOs, and that the cleanup period may take longer than 100 years. At the Pyongyang War Museum, we learned: “There were 400,000 people in Pyongyang, and they dropped more bombs than that on the city.” 428,000 bombs, according to the museum guide.


Students playing football outside the Middle School.  Watch the clip here.


Pyongyang’s Science and Technology Center, completed in 2015, is an expansive structure heated by geothermal energy, and with drip irrigation-watered live grass on inside walls. Its more than 3,000 computers are solar powered, the library has books in 12 foreign languages, and a long-distance learning program enables people from around the country to study and earn a degree equivalent to that of in-university studies. Watch a tour of the center.


Student in the aquarium section of Pyongyang’s zoo. While the zoo was well-maintained, by far most interesting was watching the human interactions, from schoolchildren to adults. Koreans returned our smiles with deep, genuine smiles. Watch a clip from the zoo.


The Okryu Children’s Hospital is a six-story, 300-bed facility across from Pyongyang’s towering maternity hospital. U.S. sanctions on the DPRK prevent further entry of machines like the pictured CT scan. While defiantly proud of the health care system, Dr. Kim Un-Song spoke of her anger as a mother: “This is inhumane and against human rights. Medicine children need is under sanctions.”


The Children’s Hospital provides classes to inpatient children to continue their studies while in hospital.


Dr. So-Yung (60) works in the tele-consultation department of the Children’s Hospital. “We have contacts with provincial-level and county-level hospitals, mostly about children’s diseases or illnesses. When they have difficulties with diagnoses, they request consultations from this hospital,” he explained. “I cannot suppress my anger about the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other countries. Yet, generally, it doesn’t affect our health system. We have a solid health system, we are giving proper treatment to people and are producing our own medicines.”


While walking up a path to the Pakyong Waterfall, over 100 km south of Pyongyang, I met a group of men and women grilling meat over a fire. At the waterfall, other picnickers ate grilled meat, fish, boiled eggs, kimbap (“Korean sushi”), and kimchi (fermented vegetables), drinking beer and soju (alcoholic drink). Having lived in South Korea, this scene is one I saw countless times along the sea or in the mountains. Watch clips here and here.


Beneath a tree near the waterfall, soldiers took turns being photographed with the waterfall as a backdrop. Later, they repeated at the waterfall. Watch here.


A group of men sit and chat near the base of the waterfall. Watch kids playing nearby here.


North Korea has suffered harsh periods of drought and starvation. The long-imposed brutal U.S. sanctions and destruction of the country don’t help matters. Yet, traveling over a hundred kilometers south from Pyongyang, we passed endless lush fields of corn and rice.


Plots of land surround houses in the Jangchon Cooperative Vegetable Farm. Homes are equipped with solar water heaters, and use methane gas for cooking. Song Myong-Oh moved with her husband from Kangnam county to the farm. Outside their home grew eggplants, peppers, corn, and herbs. Of America’s threats against North Korea she said: “Although we don’t want war, we are not afraid of the US.”


Inside the child-care center of the Jangchon Cooperative Farm. The cooperative also includes a cultural center for meetings and events, and rows of greenhouses.


At the Kaeson Youth Amusement Park inside the city one night, I interacted with people and tried out some of the rides. The park was packed with families and children, including a group of 14-year-olds who had visited multiple times. A schoolteacher from Nampo City said she frequently brings her students to visit. A young man next to me on one of the rides filmed with his mobile. With an entrance fee of 200 North Korean Won (about US $0.22), the lines were long. Photo: A second amusement Park outside of Pyongyang.


Under colonial Japanese rule, Pyongyang Silk Factory laborers worked in unsanitary conditions. When Korea gained independence, conditions were gradually modernized and improved. The present-day factory is clean and well lit, with water coolers throughout. The 1,600 workers work eight-hour shifts, with financial incentives to those who exceed their quotas. A nursery provides childcare, and unmarried women have accommodation on site, with a cafeteria and sports and leisure areas.


Fruit stand seen in Pyongyang. Small stands this size also sell snack food, sweets, water, sodas, beer, and ice cream.


A revolving bar and restaurant at the top of Yanggakdo Hotel overlooks a modern, rebuilt city. The DPRK receives tourists from around the world — especially China and Japan, but also South Koreans — and is continually opening up areas for tourism. The potential for more American tourism was recently stymied with the September 1, 2017 U.S. travel ban.


At Panmunjom, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), one learns the North Korean side of history, including the over 8,400 ceasefire violations by the United States. One of many notable such violations was the espionage vessel, the USS Pueblo, now on display outside Pyongyang’s war museum. North Koreans on several occasions proposed to have peace treaty talks, with “no positive response from the U.S. side.”

This is something former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has visited the DPRK three times, confirmed — saying he had met with Kim Il-Sung in 1994 “in a time of crisis, when he agreed to put all their nuclear programs under strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and to seek mutual agreement with the United States on a permanent peace treaty, to have summit talks with the president of South Korea.” Carter maintained Kim Jong-Il pledged he would honor these promises.

In a hall near the DMZ, photos depict 2000 and 2007 meetings between North and South discussing reunification, as well as the support of the people in both South and North. Our guide at Panmunjom noted: “On July 7, 1994, the day before he died, President Kim Il-Sung was looking through documents regarding reunification. He devoted his whole life to this.”


Pyongyang’s metro is a three-minute escalator ride below ground into a series of marble stations with elaborate chandeliers and beautiful wall paintings. Passengers ranged from well-dressed people, women in nice dresses and high heels, and others in casual blouses and slacks. Mosaics and engravings depict scenes of farming, construction, factories, rebuilding. Riding the metro costs the equivalent of a few cents. The tour group, Uri Tours, writes that half a million people ride the subway daily. Watch a clip of the metro here.


One of our hosts, Kim-Young, holding the flag of the DPRK. Behind her, the Juche tower, so-named after the dominant philosophy of self-reliance. Our other host, Kim Song-Nam, explained: “The Juche philosophy was created by President Kim Il-Sung. Man decides his own destiny, we rely on our own resources.”



EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

Recent Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Start typing and press Enter to search

Translate »
8th Enlarged Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central CommitteeRussia, China have a shared vision for North Korea