On my way to living history

I am scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang on April 12th, 2012, a couple of days before April 15th. The date is not random—the Korean tourism agency strongly suggests that travel to the DPRK coincides with major a historical or political event. Fortunately, with a rich modern history, the DPRK’s calendar is full of dates of significance. These include for example the Korean New Year in January, Kim Jong Il’s birthday in February, the military foundation in April, May workers’ day, victory day in July, Liberation Day in August, and the mass games in August/September.

4/15 banner in Pyongyang

As the birthday of founder and President Kim Il Sung, April 15th is probably the most significant dates of all. Koreans get two days off to celebrate and express their appreciation for the Great Leader. Facilities are often fixed or upgraded, new buildings unveiled. All towns are decorated with slogans, flowers and large banners. People wear their nicest clothes for the occasion and carry Kimilsungias and Kimjongilias, special breeds of orchids, respectively pink and red, cultivated and named in honor of the leaders. A massive flower show in Pyongyang displays stunning Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia arrangements on two stories. The nation lines up to bow in front of the leaders’ statues and pay their respects.

This year’s anniversary is of even greater significance—it is the President’s 100th birthday and the scale of the celebration is believed to be unprecedented. Nobody is sure what to expect, given the unique ambivalence of the situation. Continue reading