Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wonsan & The North Korean Countryside

A view of the countryside.
I was fortunate enough to have time to visit, not only Pyongyang, Kaesong and the DMZ, but The eastern port city of Wonsan as well. Wonsan (원산), is the capital of North Korean portion of the beautifully mountainous Kangwon province (강원도). It has seen several centuries of history as a port city, though you wouldn't know this to look at it as it remained under siege for the entire duration of the Korean War (March 1951 to 1953) with nearly nothing remaining of it by the end. Wonsan is a popular destination for North Korean holiday-makers (Yes, they do go on holiday! Many take the train from major cities or simply wait along the roadside by their farms for suitable transportation to come along. Kim Jong-il also had a nearby villa.). Wonsan is famous in the DPRK for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it's presence next to the lovely Songdowon Beach (송도원) and it's proximity to supposedly stunning Ulim waterfalls (sadly, the road had been washed out by recent rains, so we didn't get the chance to go). Other nearby sites which are much more interesting for the few foreign tourists who visit than they are for DPRK citizens are the Songdowon International Children's camp, where youths from Russia and a variety of African countries still come to spend a few weeks in the summer getting to know their North Korean compatriots, and Chonsam (천삼) Co-operative farm, one of the only working farms which foreigners are currently able to visit.

My visit to Wonsan, combined with taking the train out through the northwestern town of Shinuiju provided me with ample opportunity to enjoy views of the countryside in the southern and western portions of the country. This opportunity was made even better when we encountered a blocked tunnel en route to Wonsan and had to wait nearly an hour alongside the locals while it was cleared by the army.

Waiting at the tunnel.

The farmers about their business.

Heading to work.

Working the fields.

Local transport.

Songdowon Beach & Dive Towers

DPRK Sail Boats.

Playing volleyball with the North Koreans, I didn't join in this game (I'm notoriously bad at Volley Ball). I did join an earlier game of soccer/football (no pictures for the obvious reason that I was otherwise occupied) with some electrical engineering students from Pyongyang - two of whom spoke wonderful English!

Heading out to the pier leading to the lighthouse on Jangdeokseom (장덕섬) Island at sunset.

Most rickety suspension bridge I've ever encountered. You could hear it creaking in the wind all night long.

A rusted old boat now used as a BBQ place and mini shellfish market by the locals.

A little further along the pier, women were clamoring for us to join them in their meals.

A lone fishing boat.

Looking back along the pier toward Wonsan.

Cheonsam Co-operative Farm. One of the features of the entire countryside is the uplifting inspirational music and discussion blaring through speakers placed in all of the fields. 

Their cultural hall/movie theatre with the mosaic of Kim Il-sung's visit and on the spot guidance to the left.

Rankings and Propaganda.

Movie Poster

A close up of the mosaic. The workmanship on these is incredible.

Kids at the farm's kindergarten.

They were adorable.

Farm work.

So cute! Also trained to repeatedly shout hello at foreigners when the visit. Kind of terrifying.

These two ran over when they saw us.

A kitchen in one of the nicer homes on the farm.

Fishing back at the pier.

These kids were adorable. They'd made their own can traps.

A view of Ot No (옷노 - Clothing Lake) at the Sinpyeong (신평) Hydroelectric Project Rest House..

The Rest House's obligatory portrait of the Dear Leaders.

A resort/sporting complex used by locals. Swimming and boating are regular activities here.

The tomb of King Dongmyong (동명). Dongmyeong was the founding monarch of the Goguryeo (고구려, pre-Goryo) Dynasty. He ruled while the capital was still located in China. He died in the 1st century BC. His tomb was moved to this location in 427 AD when the capital was transplanted here. The site has since been renovated.

A shrine commemorating the life, accomplishments and myths surrounding King Dongmyeong, also known by his birth name Go Ju-mong (고주몽).

Looking back toward the entryway.

The nearby Jeongreungsa (정릉사) Buddhist Temple, also rebuilt in 1993.

Buddhism is allowed to be practiced, as is Christianity, but conversion is a state crime and those who follow either religion are not allowed party membership.

One of the resident monks.

The countryside just south of Pyongyang.

Oxen are the main source of power on the farms.

The flatter countryside to the North and East of Pyongyang, visible on the train ride out.

A co-operative farm.

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