Today we had a choice of two activities for our pre-lunch stop. After lunch we would continue on to Orang airport for our return flight to Pyongyang. Having a choice in North Korea, and in particular one that results in the group being split in two, is rare but was made easier here in the north east of the country as we had additional local guides and we were travelling in two smaller buses. Our normal large bus was not suited to the roads in this more mountainous part of the country but then again neither was one of our smaller buses though that’s a story for another review.
Our choice was between a short walk at the Jipsam Revolutionary Site or a visit to a hot spa, both in the vicinity of Kyongsong where we would be having lunch and both three hours drive from Hoeryong. As you may have already suspected, given the title of this review, I selected the short walk at the Jipsam Revolutionary Site. I was very happy with my choice, as were those who chose to go to the spa.
The Jipsam Revolutionary Site is located right on the beach, adjacent to a small fishing village, some distance south of Chongjin, the provincial capital of North Hamgyong Province. It was lovely to be back by the sea again and to be able to stretch my legs after the rather bumpy and uncomfortable three hour bus trip.
As we arrived a group of local visitors was marching out, armed with their red coloured note-books and pencils which would have been used to record learnings from their visit. While they look like military personnel they are not. It is quite common, throughout the country, for work/youth groups to dress in khaki attire and march around in military style formation.
Our short walk (about one kilometre return) would take us along the coast – away from the village which we were not allowed to enter – to a viewing pavilion on a prominent headland.
Soon into our walk I was eager to find out what revolutionary activities made this site so special. Our local guide was very quick to oblige me with the detail. Being in the north-east of the country it came as no surprise that Mother Kim Jong-suk, wife of Kim Il-sung and mother to Kim Jong-il was an active player. I will not go into detail about Kim Jong-suk here as I have adequately (some might think , excessively) covered her in my Horeyong reviews, to which you might want to refer.
In relation to this site, now a memorial area, our guide advised us that Kim Jong-suk (with the prepubescent (she did not use that term!) Kim Jong-il in tow), Kim Il-sung and their merry band of guerilla fighters landed here by sea. On doing so they were confronted and attacked by a significant number of occupying Japanese fighters. Needless to say, given Kim Jong-suk’s exemplary skill as a marksman and the guidance and advice of a sagely Kim Il-sung, the enemy was quickly defeated.
While the guide omitted to tell us when this heroic event took place, why our heroes chose to land on this particular beach and indeed why they were out on the water in the first place, or what they did when they defeated the Japanese she did point out a well from which the guerillas quenched their thirsts and the pulley device they used to pull their boats ashore.
Incidentally, pulley devices like this are still used today and are quite effective, negating the need for a group of people to manhandle heavy fishing boats up beyond the high-tide mark were jetties are not available, which is generally the case.
Moving down to the rocky shoreline our attention was drawn to a couple of artefacts in the water.
The first of these was a rock containing a bullet hole. Apparently a small target had been affixed to the rock, some distance from the shore, and in a display of her shooting prowess Kim Jong-suk fired one bullet from her revolver hitting the centre of that target with absolute ease. Lest the visitor might miss the great revolutionary’s mark it has since been surrounded by a painted white circle.
Close by, the second item of interest in the sea was a grouping of, clearly different, rocks. Unfortunately I cannot remember (perhaps I too should have taken a notebook and pencil) the significance of these particular rocks but they are clearly important enough to have warranted a short formed pathway such that visitors can admire them up close – something not accorded to the rock used by Kim Jong-suk to display her marksmanship.
Moving on along the shoreline, our guide invited us to look at the sea and reminded us that we were looking at the East Sea and not the Sea of Japan as the rest of the world, with the exception of South Korea, erroneously calls the volume of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Both Koreas argue that the sea was called the East Sea by everyone, until Japan occupied Korea (1910 – 1945) and decided to change its name to the Sea of Japan, at which time Korea was not in a position to object. Japan argues that the Sea of Japan has been the common internationally recognised name since at least the beginning of the 19th century, before its annexation of Korea. Both North and South Korea are united in their efforts to have the sea renamed to the East Sea (or one of a couple of variations on this theme).
Similarly both Koreas dispute the naming of the Yellow Sea on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and refer to it as the West Sea.
Our walk continued on along the rocky coast-line and was extremely pleasant affording us views out over the ‘East Sea’ and back to the picturesque fishing village with its collection of fishing boats lined up along the beach, with many being readied for the next nights fishing. The string of lights on many of the boats indicated that they are used for squid fishing.
We were told how this particular village benefited from ‘on the spot guidance’ on how to improve their fishing activity, delivered by an expert in the field, Kim Jong-suk. The advice which lead to vastly increased productivity and prosperity for the village was of such a high standard that in 1947 Kim Il-sung decided that his further guidance to the fishermen was not required. Instead be delivered his wise counsel to another village a little further down the coast – a village we would visit (from a distance) after lunch.
In addition to fishing from boats, local fishermen fish from the rocks. We passed a few such fishermen as we moved on to the lookout. It didn’t strike me that they were catching much but rather they were out for a quiet break from village life. One man in particular looked very relaxed as he puffed away on his cigarette while looking out to sea. I wonder what he and the others were thinking.
We finished our walk at a pavilion perched atop a headland thus affording us fabulous views north and south as well as out to sea.
Looking at the floor I did (and do) wonder if the lookout is a repurposed military gun turret. I will leave that thought with my reader but suppose that the North Koreans would be entirely capable of hiding a former military use from visitors, if they wanted to.
When I returned to the edge of the village, via the same path, to reboard our bus I saw the man in the picture below tending a garden to the rear of a building. I wondered if it was a private or communal garden. While the country’s Juche and socialist philosophy dictate that everything be shared and that all production, including agricultural, is collected and distributed by various organs of government there has been a significant growth in private activity across the country – especially in small scale markets and in agriculture. In North Korea no productive (or marginally productive) land is left uncultivated and this includes people’s gardens. As such, this may have been a private garden for the sustenance of a family with any excess produce being sold in a local market. Since Kim Jong-un has come to power a blind eye has been turned to small scale private enterprise like this – perhaps an admission that the state distribution system does not always work. Such private enterprise was absolutely stamped out by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
When everyone came back to the bus it was time to go for lunch, prior to brief stop at another revolutionary site (where Kim Il-sung gave the on the spot guidance referred to earlier) before continuing on to the airport for our flight to Pyongyang.
For my next North Korea (2018) – Kyongsong review click HERE