Prior to leaving for the DPRK, I had kept my eyes on any news between the North and the South, especially in regards to the Kaesong Industrial Region. The DPRK had shut down the factories in this region the month prior, causing great tension between the DPRK and the rest of the world.
While impossible to fully understand what the logic was behind the shut down, outside of political rhetoric between the two sides, there did not seem to be too much worry about anything spinning out of control.
Little did I know that with just about 24 hours remaining in my stay in the DPRK, it would be the backdrop to the biggest surprise and one of the most interesting moments of the trip: ♪♬…You say you want a revolution…♬♪.
Each new day in the DPRK has had times where I thought, “this is the coolest moment”, and usually it was something relatively simple yet unexpected. On this day, there was an unexpected moment that went beyond such simplicity.
We had returned to Pyongyang from Kaesong by mid-afternoon and the plan was to make our way to the Juche Tower to spend the afternoon atop the tower for a panoramic view of the city. From there, walk around the area. However, as we worked out way into the city, our car kept getting re-routed by sudden road closures.
This was baffling to our driver and guide, as they clearly did not understand the reason behind these delays and closures. One positive, though, it did give us a chance to view other parts of the city, and watch the afternoon activity.
As we wound our way around the heart of the city and crossed the river, we finally arrived at the Juche Tower, losing about an hour due to the re-route. It was a minor concern, as the tower closed at 6pm.
Being an hour late, though, had its benefits as the light was a bit warmer nearer to sunset, and made it possible to catch softer reflections off the Taedong River.
Arriving on the viewing platform of the Tower, we saw a pretty amazing sight: Kim Il-Sung Square, which was supposed to be filled with people practicing for the “Mass Games” as I had shown in earlier photos, had turned chaotic.
Today, it was filled to capacity with red banners and chanting citizens. A loud protest.
Above: Protest at Kim Il Sung Square from Juche Tower, Below Mass Games Practice
While we did not know what the protest was for, we later found out it was in regards to the South Korean government not re-committing to talks on the ‘Special Administrative Region” in Kaesong.
There was a buzz that perhaps Kim Jong-Un would show up and give a speech, but our guide quickly said that would be impossible as he was not believed to be in the country, but the look in her eyes also said ‘wouldn’t that be special to see him speak!’
The chanting, the banners and the mass of people packed into the square was pretty invigorating and kind of emotional. To be honest, part of me was hoping that this mass protest was just beginning and soon emotions would erupt around the country and people would flood the streets demanding democracy…and we could see something powerful, similar to what had happened in Cairo, Egypt.
It did not take much to realized that the situation in the DPRK is different than in Egypt, and to have such mass protests would be disastrous. Baby steps are needed here. The voice of the people in Egypt can be heard…where as in the DPRK it has been muted for decades.
This protest, however, was exciting as there was passion. So I began begging our guide Ms. Kim to take us to the protest so we could become involved…to which she laughed and said I really was a troublemaker. No such luck.
The area of around the Juche Tower was pretty normal, no sign of the protest activities influencing anything on this side of the river. It was pretty clear that the protests were well choreographed, although it was said to be “off-the-cuff.” Any protest under a Totalitarian government I assume would have to be sanctioned, the people simply do not hold any power. Nonetheless, very intriguing.
It reminded me of films I have seen regarding protests in China 50 years ago, a bit of a surreal moment that felt like I had walked back into time…detached from all the emotion, except for the physical experience of being there.
As we continued our tour of the eastern part of Pyongyang, my attention kept being drawn to the chanting on the other side of the river… The feeling to believe in something so strongly with all your countrymen is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly rare, which makes it more powerful.
The sun is going down on all Totalitarian regimes, and the voice of the people will be heard. It is hard to argue against democracy. I do agree with Churchill who once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.”
The red banners flying freely in the wind on Kim Il Sung Square made an impact. They showed unity, and it is not so different from the Spirit of ’76 and shows the passion for freedom lives within everyone.
It is not too hard to sort through all the different cultural aspects and language barriers to see the common thread of pursuing hopes and dreams. A spirit that rings true in the populations of every nation on Earth, and should inspire us all to take advantage of our opportunities.
It is the eternal optimist in me that believes in the DPRK, when the people speak a young leader, with a grasp of the modern world, will understand that it is his job and legacy to bring these voices to the world.
It is the surest path to evolve into a stronger nation, and to give a population a new path to chase their dreams.
♬♪ We all want to change the world…♬♪
These pictures are absolutely beautiful and yeah…looks like you got your revolution after all;albeit from afar and in form of protest.Your travels make me a tiny bit jealous I tel you,lol
Looks like you had an excellent day regardless since every disappointment on this one brought a savory end. BTW it may be just the radiance of the colors and my partial take on kids 🙂 but my favorite of the photo’s is that of the children very normally;what children do.(their thing)
Thanks Dotta! I did get my mini-revolution 🙂 It never amazing me how every day of travel brings something new and exciting, and I think that has also brought about a realization that every day even in my home town can bring the same. Travel, makes me more aware, which is a lesson as having the same awareness at home will make each day just as special. Also, I do have to agree with you about kids, something about them just “doing their thing” breaks down all the complexity of different cultures making it easier to see that we are basically all the same. Cheers, Randy
Finally found time to read this in full. And OH MY WORD! Your pictures are STUNNING!!! So much color and… I love the picture at the park, especially, with all of the people riding bicycles and whatnot. Also, the pictures of the protest from above. I think you’re right that we all want to change the world, and I love the quote about democracy from Churchill. I’d agree that the DPRK needs baby steps. Revolution ain’t gonna happen overnight in country that’s been so cut off from the world…
I recently mentioned your blog to my dad, and he said, “Don’t even think about going to North Korea!” And I said, “Try and stop me!” Lol. But, seriously, I love your comment to Dotta about how even every day at home can bring something new and exciting. People are what make this world go ’round. We’ll all so different—and yet the same. That, I think, is worth writing about.
Thank you very much Jessica, great to hear your nice words. You’d absolutely love North Korea, and for a foreigner I do not think there could be a safer place…and your Dad will come around in his thinking 🙂 It is something to see all the differences around us, whether that is in the middle of Korea or the middle of my home town…always something there that can capture my attention.
For the photos of the protest in Pyongyang, I was a little disappointed that I left my 70-200mm lens in my backpack which I didn’t carry with me on this excursion as it would have been perfect to capture the square in more detail. A lesson I learn almost every time I go out on a shoot, so I am use to it. It would have been real fun to have actually been able to take part in the protest… Cheers!
I’m going to show this to my dad. Ha!
I kick myself all the time for leaving my camera at home. Often when I’m riding my bike, too, which is why I need an iPhone (though my Canon *does* take much better shots)… Nevertheless, you did a great job with the lens you had with you!
Any idea what the protest was about?
The protest was towards South Korea’s not committing to talks, but I think all is well again for a while. I hope to return next spring…although if possible to arrange a hike into one of their many nice mountains, I would jump at the chance.
superb view 🙂
First things first, amazing photos, especially the fourth one.
Re-routing can be irritating but like you said, not when you’re in a place you’re discovering. It takes you to obscure lanes where you capture the very essence of the place. All this reminds me of my journey to Kolkata, India (E). We went through narrow, hidden lanes to reach our destination because of traffic and closures. People were on the streets but for a very different reason. They were celebrating India’s victory against Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup. That is something that, I think, will stay with me forever. 🙂
It indeed is very rare when people come together, but when they do, you realize how alike we are and how similar are the things we desire.
Celebrations of the public are incredible, it is so easy to get swept up in the moment and see people how they are…and as you say, in such moments it is easier to also see how very similar we all are. The energy of a crowd is electric, and somehow it helps in communication.
There are so many great memories my friends and family have about such celebrations as the Cricket World Cup you experienced. Powerful and happy memories.
Get out from revolution, korea still having beautiful scenery like your pict above.
How awesome it is 🙂
So true, it is such a beautiful place with such wonderful people! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.
yeah! I really enjoy it,
hm I want to go there sometime 😀
This is going to sound like a really stupid question, but how did you put the notes in the texts?
Are they too prohibited to even think of forming an Egypt type of revolution? This must have been such an interesting trip!
Ha, ha…that is funny. I wrote the article in MS Word and then copied everything into the post and the ‘notes’ made it, I was very surprised. So many symbols or formatting generally can be copied direct into WordPress.
The government holds such a tight leash on the middle-class that an Egyptian type of revolution would be impossible. They really need the regime to do what Myanmar did, let freedom come into the country while they focus on military (and control…last thing the population needs is chaos). It was an amazing and eye-opening trip. While very repressed, the people took pride in their culture which was very inspiring (a South Korean via Germany was on this trip and he was clearly emotional/touched by the people ~ although severely dislikes the politics).
OH, easy then!
Oh I see. Very interesting. They tried to do a revolution like the Egyptians in Spain but to no avail. I don’t know what happened in Madrid, Valencia and other main cities, but the problem in Barcelona is that the ones that started it were all the anti-system squatters, all dirty ones that wouldn’t hold a job anyway, and so even though people were in agreement with the whole issue of the economy, unemployment, nobody wanted to “physically” join in the protests (they were camping out in the central plazas etc) because they did not want to be seen with them! It was such a bizarrely stupid situation for NOT protesting…
A really interesting post, about a world that most of us never get to see – except in negative publicity in the media. As always you have captured and processed some stunning images, Randall.
Thank you Otto.
Your photographs look ethereal.
When I hear the word ‘revolution’, I get goosebumps. No kidding 🙂 My heart goes out to these people. Communism/socialism is the most horrible, destructive, manipulative, cunning, inhuman ideology. It starts with lies and empty promises, and grows into dictatorship and tyranny.