I have to say I wasn’t prepared for this. While we had seen numerous large mosaics on our trip to North Korea these mosaics surpassed all others and are truly amazing both in terms of quality and size. Yes, that is a 9 storey apartment block behind them.
When the mosaics were erected in 2012 to mark the centenary of the birth of Eternal President Kim Il-sung, the Korean Central News Agency referred to them as portraying images of the three commanders of Mt Paektu “Comrade Kim Il-sung, the father of the nation”, “Comrade Kim Jong-il, the son of guerrillas” and “Comrade Kim Jong-suk, an anti-Japanese war hero.”
Mt Paektu is North Korea’s ‘Bethlehem’. According to official records, it was from a rustic log cabin at the foot of this mystical, indeed holy, mountain that a young Kim Il- sung led the fight for Korea’s independence from Japanese imperialism. It was also here that his son and future leader, Kim Jong-il, was born. Russian accounts have it that at the time of Kim Jong-il’s birth, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk were hiding in Russia and that is where the future Dear Leader was born.
Sinuiju’s bronze statue of Kim Il-sung, in the aptly named Kim Il-sung Square, was under renovation when we visited, like the railway station next door. By this I mean they were in the process of adding a statue of Kim Jong-il. I wonder if the Great Leader was also getting a facelift or change of clothing as he did on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang when the statute of his son was added there.
Were it not for this renovation we would have paid our respects to the Leader here via the laying of flowers and bowing before the statue, as we had by this stage of our trip become very accustomed to doing. Instead our respects were paid at these mosaics. On arrival, and before photos could be taken, we had to procure a bunch of flowers and lay them at the base of the mosaics and bow, showing our respect for the Leaders. This done, and having moved back from the mosaics far enough to fit them in for a photo, we turned around and low and behold our flowers had disappeared!
We had just proven what we suspected all along, that flowers placed by tourists at statues, etc in North Korea are recycled. The vendor had, without us noticing, followed us up to the mosaics and as soon as we turned away, having laid our flowers, she recovered them to resell to the next visitors. We remarked on this to one of our guides who went over to the vendor and very obviously chastised her for removing the flowers before we had left.
Interestingly these mosaics are located to the south of the main city of Sinuiju at the entry to what looked like a new satellite town. Our guides explained that this satellite town was to be the new Sinuiju. The old city was moving as, apparently, the water table was such that the city could not be built up or developed any more. The higher water table on the North Korean side of the Yalu River was later used as the reason why Dandong had large buildings (skyscrapers) while Sinuiju, a few hundred metres, away didn’t. I wonder if the water table is to blame for the other stark differences between Dandong and Sinuiju like electricity, cars, shops, cafes, restaurants, fashionable clothing, etc. in the former and a distinct lack of anything in the latter. If in fact the city is moving I also wonder why the train station is being rebuilt in its present location and why the Great and Dear Leader’s bronzes are not being erected in the new Sinuiju. Me thinks me asks too many questions and wonders too much.