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15th May 2012 - DPRK Trip - day 4 - Rimyongsu Falls, Samjiyon Grand Monument, Pyongyang and USS Pueblo

The next morning we again drove along dirt roads in order to get to a place called Rimyongsu Falls. Here is a very picturesque waterfall that freezes in the winter. The view from the platform at the top gives a nice overview of the village of Rimyongsu below, perfectly neat and perfectly clean.

Near the base of the falls is a hut that contains a generator that supplied electricity to the village, and the man whose job it is to maintain the pump smiles proudly as we poke around, neither of us speaking the others language. This was one of the times that our guides were nowhere close, and it just seemed so strange to be in a remote part of this country alone with a local.

Most of the roads in this northern part of the country are dirt, and the industrial revolution has yet to reach these parts. I noticed no billboards, very little propaganda and no industry. All around were people living simple lives, seemingly cut-off from the rest of the country.

views of the Rimyongsu Falls area

The next stop on today's agenda was the impressive Samjiyon Grand Monument on the shores of Lake Samji. Here you can find the largest collection of statues in the country at the site where the young Kim Il sung gathered his guerrilla army to launch their attack in the occupying Japanese Army in 1939. This site was constructed in 1979.

The statues are an impressive size and have great detail, although the light that day made photography particularly difficult.

photos from the Samjiyon Grand Monument

The last photo in the set is the view from the Revolutionary Regional Museum, which include displays that celebrate victories against Japan and the USA. Outside are some vivid models of Siberian tigers, which are the traditional symbols of a unified Korea.

A unified Korea is something that we heard about almost every day, so the direct opposites of the DMZ, North Korea and South Korea, against the wish for a unified country was quite hard to comprehend at times.

We then when back to the airport to catch our Il-18 flight back to Pyongyang,

Il-18 flight and sounds

All our drives through Pyongyang gave an opportunity to see some interesting sights as usual, before our planned stop in the city.

Pyongyang photos

We arrived at the USS Pueblo, which acts as a floating museum on the Taedong River.

Although originally built as a light cargo ship, the US Navy converted it to an intelligence gathering vessel in in 1967.

This was a ship captured by the Korean Navy in 1968 after allegedly straying into DPRK waters, and caused an international showdown with the USA. The differences in what the US deem Korean waters and the distance the Koreans patrol differs, but you would assume the US already knew these limits. The Korean's have always maintained a 50 nautical mile boundary, while the US maintains a distance of 12 nautical miles. Clearly something would give in the end.

The US reacted to the capture in a variety of ways, including a response by one member of government that a nuclear attack should be considered, while cooler heads ultimately decided that more information should be gathered.

The US had assumed that the capture was ordered by the Soviet Union, but only in recent years has it emerged that the DPRK acted alone, and that the Soviet Union wasn't too pleased about the incident at all.

The 82 crew members were held for 11 months before being released after an official written apology by the US, that included the statement that the US wouldn't spy in the future, which was verbally retracted later.

USS Pueblo photos on the Pyongyang page

Interestingly the USS Pueblo is still commissioned by the US Navy, and is the second oldest vessel in the fleet, and is the only US ship still being held captive. There seem to have been a few attempts by the DPRK to offer to repatriate the ship in exchange for high ranking talks between the two nations, but this has never been confirmed by the US, and seems unlikely to happen, considering the current stance from a US point of view.

The tour around the ship was interesting and informative with a healthy dose of the expected propaganda in the film we were shown.

Our last stop for the day was the impressive building belonging to the Mangyongdae Children's Palace. Here kids can do extracurricular activity, paid for by the state of course, in the arts and music.

We were allowed to enter a few classes where the children would put on a display of the class they were taking. The whole experience was a little uncomfortable and staged for my liking, almost like looking around a zoo.

The kids were all very talented, and of course this would be a way for many parents to give their children who show talent for something a fighting chance to progress to something other than menial work in their future. So from that point of view it's a good thing. I just don't see the need for tourists to gate-crash the classrooms.

We then had a chance to see some other sites around Pyongyang as the light got nice and the sun began to set. This included the Monument to the Korean Workers Party, which has a hammer and sickle, the traditional communist symbols, plus the addition of a paint brush, which symbolizes the importance of education for the Korean people. It represents the worker, the peasant and the intellectual, and stands 50 meters high.

Pyongyang views