When one travels to North Korea, a common observance from tourists is the absence of advertising on city streets. Pyongyang is definitely not Piccadilly Circus. The only posters you’ll find in the North are propaganda in nature, with images of socialist realism and Korean slogans, all of which terminate in bold exclamation points of glory. Tourists will therefore not find any neon blinding them with signs advertising souvenirs, phone cards or T-shirts for sale.
Pyongyang does however have several souvenir shops. Both of the hotels I will be staying at, the Yanggakdo and the Koryo, have their own souvenir stores. There is a store in its own right in the heart of the capital, known as Korea Stamp. It is fitting that the only sign overhanging the Pyongyang sidewalk is one directed to tourists, yet it is also typically North Korean in that the sign is not lit at night. Korea Stamp sells far more than just stamps. One can also purchase posters of the propaganda stamps. The most popular posters are those that are blatantly anti-American and it is the rare American tourists themselves who buy them the most often. I will be frequenting this store both with my tour group and by special arrangement on my final day in Pyongyang when I will be there on my own.
The selection of North Korean souvenirs will be limited. I have no illusions about finding DPRK mugs or placemats, and if I find a fridge magnet I will consider myself lucky. The pictures that accompany this post show mostly books in the souvenir shops. You can’t go wrong with books as souvenirs if you’re a bibliophile like me, since I usually come home from vacations with a suitcase full of reading material. One title compels me to buy it for the Irony Factor alone: The Human Rights Situation in South Korea by the DPRK Institute for the Research of Human Rights. If I find a T-shirt like the one depicted I will surely pick it up. One can even buy “track suits” like those worn by the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, but I wouldn’t go that far.
The DPRK produces an incredible quantity of recorded music, in the form of revolutionary marches and songs proclaiming eternal adoration for their Great Leader and Dear Leader. I can’t imagine any North Korean citizens themselves would have the equipment required in order to play or listen to these recordings (i.e., CD players, headphones, portable CD Walkmans) so the CD’s are intended for the small tourist market only. I would like to get a CD with both “The Song of General Kim Il Sung” and “The Song of General Kim Jong Il”, no doubt performed by the State Symphony Orchestra or the Central Military Band of the Department of the People’s Armed Forces.
The main souvenir I will buy for my family and friends will be a simple postcard. I plan to do a lot of writing, and I will mail the postcards from the North so that each one will have the added enhancement of a DPRK cancellation mark.