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Photographer's Note

This photo was taken outside the International Friendship Exhibition in the Myohyang mountains.

The exhibition halls were first opened in August 26, 1978. There are six stories and over 355,200 sq. ft. / 33,000 sq. m. of floor space. They contain approximately 100 rooms showcasing the over 200,000 gifts that have been presented to President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il over the course of 50 years or more. There are gifts from 150 countries and other parties. The U.S. has a modest, single display cabinet that features a cigarette box from Air Force One presented by Jimmy Carter, and another gift from “the religious leader” of the U.S., the Rev. Billy Graham. Other rooms display an armored car and an armored railway car given to President Kim Il Sung by friends and/or admirers in the former Soviet Union.

The Myohyang Mountains are one of the five celebrated mountains in Korea. The whole area is very beautiful. The mountains are 150 km. drive northeast from Pyongyang through the Yoldusamcholli Plain, known as the “granary of the western coast” of Korea, past the Yonphung Reservoir, the “sea in the mountains,” and finally alongside the Chongchon River, noted for its clear blue waters. The name Myohyang comes from the scent of the juniper plants that grow in the area.

I had a bit of luck with this one: I was intending to photo the doors and guards and one of the local guides just happened to sail through at the right time.

In the frame itself you can see the local guide flanked by two ceremonial soldiers. Note the nickel-plated AK-47s. The doors are made of bronze, each weighing several tonnes. Moving them is like pushing a heavy truck down a gentle incline.

I think the photo is a good metaphor for the country as a whole. So much of Joseon is locked away and jealously guarded, but scratch beneath the surface - not too hard, mind you - and you're sure to catch a glimpse of a little bit of hidden, long-preserved beauty. The small smile on the guide's face as she slips between her guardians tells a big story. ;)

If you're interested in checking out more photos of North Korea, I've got a photo essay of the DPRK at:

ghosttreemedia.com

btl, rjb874, kloppenborg has marked this note useful

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