The statue of Kim Il Sung at Lake Samji shows him in military uniform and is one of thousands of his image throughout the country. Newly married couples in DPRK now traditionally go to lay flowers at one of the statues after their wedding.
North Korea – Been There

Making a human connection in North Korea

Photo by Robert van Sluis

North Korea – Been There Making a human connection in North Korea

Samji Lake was the site of a major battle in 1939 against the Japanese invaders and holds the second largest of all the Kim Il Sung statues in North Korea. Depicting him in the uniform of the anti-Japanese resistance, holding binoculars, it is enormous.

Robert van Sluis
Robert van Sluis Travel Photographer

The 65-feet-tall statue and the memorial park around it are in the middle of nowhere. As a place from which to start a resistance movement, that seems like a good idea. But, for a place of remembrance, it is odd. There are no roads to Samjiyong, so people can only visit by air, which not many do. Today, the weather is absolutely glorious: deep blue skies with the odd white cloud. The statue and the monuments really make an impact and the setting of a clearing in the middle of a forest only adds to it.

We are given very little in terms of explanation and quite some time to explore on our own. The smaller statues around the monument are quite realistic, showing different scenes such as groups of soldiers, soldiers helping old ladies, or a young woman mending clothes. They remind me of the World War II statues we have in Western Europe and I can genuinely admire what they stand for in terms of people's spirit.

The nearby Rimyongsu Falls are full of local holidaymakers, relaxed and having a great time. There are soldiers laughing and playing in the water. Korean families have us Westerners pose with them in their family pictures like trophies. Quite a few of the soldiers are very old, with many decorations on their chests.

The normality is striking. People everywhere just want to have some fun and be happy. But, then we are called together again by our guide and the spirit is broken. Such contacts with the locals are very frustrating. We can't get much further than taking photos of each other.

dprk-north-korea-1826

North Korea has its own motor industry but most vehicles are produced for military or industrial use, so private car ownership is low, as seen on this road between Pyongyang and Kaesong. The per capita car ownership rate is about 11 per 1,000 people; in South Korea it is 376 and 2 in Togo, the world's lowest. Photo by Robert van Sluis

Robert van Sluis

Robert van Sluis

North Korea has its own motor industry but most vehicles are produced for military or industrial use, so private car ownership is low, as seen on this road between Pyongyang and Kaesong. The per capita car ownership rate is about 11 per 1,000 people; in South Korea it is 376 and 2 in Togo, the world's lowest.

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