The 8km long, $4billion, West Sea Barrage across the mouth of the Taedong River was completed in 1986. It was designed to manage water levels in the Taedong River and alleviate irrigation and drinking water problems in the region. The exact location for the barrage was, we were told, personally selected by the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, – engineering, hydrology and geology being but a few of this great man’s limitless talents.
Foreign critics of the project claim that the increase in the level of the river and resultant loss of arable land contributed to the severe famine conditions that North Korea4 experienced in the late 1980s and 1990s while others, fancifully, contend that it was constructed to stop foreign warships making their way up the river to Pyongyang.
Clearly a major engineering feat for North Korea, the Government is keen that tourists see it (a classic example of socialist tourism) hence our long detour en route back to Pyongyang from the Demilitarised Zone. That said we did also have a stop at the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities on the 2-3 hour journey to the barrage from the DMZ.
Even former US President, Jimmy Carter, was taken here to view the barrage – by none other than Kim Il-sung himself. We had to make do with our government guides from the Korean International Travel Company (KITC).
We were already running late after a very big day so it was around 5pm when we got to the barrage. When we did arrive two ships were passing through the locks. As such, we had to wait for well over an hour before we could pass through and cross the dam wall. While we were required to stay on the bus, and no photography was permitted, we did have a good view of the lock gates in operation and the ships passing though and out into the West, or Yellow, Sea. The lock gates area is indeed impressive and hosts three lock chambers, and 36 sluices, allowing the passage of ships of up to 50,000 tons. The photos attached were (legally) taken from the small museum located on the Nampo side of the locks.
While we waited to get through, the guides were presented with a bit of a dilemma – the call of nature. A few of our group needed to go to the toilet! What was to be done? Toilets were situated through the locks and as a big ship was passing through one of the lock gates there was no way forward and they clearly couldn’t have tourists wandering around in this sensitive area. After some discussion between the guides and local workers a solution was found. Armed with torches, our needy tourists were escorted into the unlit bowels of a ship moored along side the road a couple of metres from the bus. After a bit of searching loo’s were found and everyone was relieved!
Having finally passed the lock gates we called into the museum (located on P’i Do island, a small islet in the estuary) where, given the lateness of the hour (it was starting to get dark and we were still some way from our hotel), we spent only a short time. Time permitted us to view the large picture of one of the Dear Leader’s (Kim Jong-il) visits to the barrage – he provided regular advice and guidance to the engineers and solved all their difficult construction issues. Alas, we didn’t get to see the (apparently amusing) video on how the courageous and loyal workers heroically built, in a tireless revolutionary spirit, the barrage in record time due to their love for the Great Leader and thinking only of the everlasting prosperity of the Fatherland. The museum contains a few fairly uninteresting models and lots of tributes to the Kims, all of which were trumped by the toilet facilities for those of us who didn’t venture in the bowels of the ship earlier on!
On top of the museum building is a quite nice looking lighthouse/ monument resembling an anchor but, off course, everyone was more interested in getting photos of the barrage, which we were now permitted to take from the elevated location of the museum. We were also afforded a nice view of a Yellow Sea sunset.
On leaving the museum we made our way across the estuary atop the dam wall which also has a train track. It was now dark so we could not see the indomitable spirit of self sacrifice made by the military and civilian workers for the prosperity of the nation, apparently (according to our guide), evident in every part of the structure. The lack of light did not however prevent us noticing the distinct lack of traffic on the barrage, as per everywhere in the country. Interestingly there were lots of cyclists and pedestrians making the 8km journey across the barrage.
For the poets among my readers, I will leave you with the official poem written for the barrage.
‘O shine for all centuries to come;
Great monument of the 80’s built
By our design, our technique, our strength;
The great creation made in our own way.
Only a great leader
A great party can conceive the idea.
Only a great people can build you
West Sea Barrage, the world’s greatest.
Rise high to symbolize the power of self-reliant Korea
And tell and retell the everlasting achievement
Of our Great Leader
Forever and ever and ever.’
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Nampo, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Ryonggang Hot Spring House – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Nampo – North Korea’s Industrial Region.