Paying my respects / Mount Paektu

During my trip I will have the opportunity to view the embalmed corpses of both Chairman Mao Tse-tung of the People’s Republic of China and of the DPRK’s Eternal Leader and Hero of the Revolution Marshal Kim Il Sung. Chairman Mao lies in state at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square in Peking. The Great Leader Kim Il Sung lies at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. The protocols for visiting the North Korean memorial palace require me to pack a change of formal clothes, including shoes. Adult male visitors must wear a shirt and tie and long pants, and running shoes will not be permitted. Visitors to the palace see the Great Leader lying inside his glass coffin, and must bow at each corner as we encircle him. No photographs are permitted as cameras are surrendered before one can enter and to ensure one’s “purity” while in the presence of the Eternal Leader, I understand there is a system of wind jets that clean your shoes and blow the dirt off you before you enter the sacred chamber.

Pyongyang is the showcase capital city, which was totally rebuilt after the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War. I was planning on bringing two pairs of shoes anyway, and would simply feel out of place if I was walking around the capital in runners. While I don’t believe that I, as a hard currency-carrying foreigner would be denied entry into any museums or stores if I was walking around the capital in a T-shirt and shorts, I most certainly would not make a very favourable impression of myself with the guides. Tank tops are out, too, and I will have to make do with short-sleeved shirts with collars. I will be permitted to wear T-shirts and short pants as we travel to remote areas in the north near the Chinese border. The Koryo Tours travel company recommends that visitors bring running shoes since there will be some hiking involved, as we explore Mount Paektu on the border with China:

Mount Paektu has mythical and holy significance in Korean history. It is regarded as the ancestral home to the Korean people, and is even the birthplace of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, as the Northern authorities tell us. At the summit is a beautiful crater lake, known as Heaven Lake in English and as Ch’ŏnji in Korean. I will be gazing out at this wonder of nature on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the USA.

I will be applying for my Chinese visa this Thursday. I will need a dual-entry visa, since I will be entering the country on two occasions. It will only take a week to be approved for a Chinese visa, versus five weeks for the DPRK.

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