Pyongyang Museums

While in Pyongyang our tour group visited many museums. I enjoy looking at every exhibit no matter what kind of museum I go to, and unfortunately, travelling with a group does not allow one much time. The group element combined with having not only our two assigned guides but also one additional museum guide made it excessively obvious that we were being escorted through the corridors of North Korean history without enough time to appreciate much of it. I say this in full acknowledgement of my prima donna “don’t rush me through museums” attitude, as I realize having enough time to visit a museum is entirely a relative concept. On past holidays through Europe I have spent full days–even multiple days–exploring cities’ museums, sometimes arriving at opening and staying literally until closing time. Upon reflection I am aware that our tour group did in fact spend a long time in each museum we visited, however no time could be long enough for me, and I would easily say yes to a return trip to any of the museums we went to in order to see different exhibits the second time around.

The electronics and industry hall, part of the 3 Revolutions Exhibition complex. The Saturn building is a planetarium where I saw exhibits pertaining to North Korean exploits into outer space.

The first North Korean satellite.

Vinalon, a synthetic fibre made from limestone and anthracite. Vinalon is the Miracle Fabric of the DPRK. From the 3 Revolutions Exhibition.

CNC, the Miracle of Technology. From the 3 Revolutions Exhibition.

In past blog posts I have mentioned a couple occasions where I felt scared while in the DPRK. If I was asked to recall any other such moments, I would mention the occasions when I was left abandoned in museum rooms after my tour group had moved on. In retrospect I wonder how this could have occurred at all–and multiple times at that–since the guides are there to ensure that everyone stays together and no one wanders off. However in my case I didn’t wander anywhere; I just stayed where I was while everyone else passed me by. I spent a longer time looking at exhibits and everyone moved on through the labyrinthine corridors and darkened hallways. I always caught up with them and perhaps because I was faithfully at their heels the guides didn’t feel the need to hang around just for me.

Momentary occasions of museum abandonment [1] seem to last a lot longer than they really are, especially if you’re being abandoned in North Korea. There was only one time when I was isolated from my group such that I felt I would get in trouble for being found in the museum on my own. I cannot recall where this occurred, as the cookie-cutter museum experiences all tend to blur into one. I had lingered in one particular exhibit hall while my group had left. I couldn’t find them and it didn’t help that the corridors were all dark. Outside the hall were two corridors as well as a staircase and I couldn’t hear where my group had gone to. I was fully aware that if I attempted to look for them I might very well end up making myself lost. Purely by chance I decided to go downstairs and that is where I found my group poking about another room. I walked in and pretended that everything was cool and saved myself from the inquisition.

An airplane from the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. This war is also known as the Korean War. 

Tank from the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Shy war museum guide. I followed protocol and asked her if I could take her picture first.

Airplane captured from the American imperialist aggressors.

Airplane no longer in the hands of the American imperialist aggressors.

American imperialist aggressor pilot surrendering to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War victors.

The Great Leader and Hero of the Revolution Marshal Kim Il Sung planning victory in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War.

The exhibits in most of the museums, including the Railway Museum, were all in Korean, which was no surprise. My group was joking at how little of the railway we actually saw in the Railway Museum, since room after room was ostentatiously festooned with portraits of the Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong Il and items of his or that he had himself used, paying tribute to his greatness. One entire room was devoted to his own published works and foreign press appearances–and not a train in sight. We felt that we had seen a Kim Jong Il Museum where “railway” was little more than an afterthought. 

A rare train in the Railway Museum.

Gaudy plush interior in the Great Leader’s private car.

Portrait of the Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong Il, one of dozens of such portraits wholly out of context in the Railway Museum. He is smoking up a storm amidst all that paperwork.

The Railway Museum is the perfect place to learn about the Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong Il and to read all his international praise.

Selected works of the Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong Il, translated into many international languages. The lime green edition third from the left, second row from the bottom is the English translation Socialism is a Science. The lighter green edition second from the left, top row is the Finnish Joukkokeskeinen sosialismimme ei kuole, which has been translated as English as Our Socialism Centred on the Masses Shall Not Perish. Where else to find such revolutionary literature but the Railway Museum.

[1] A new meaning for MOMA

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