If you need a hill, overlooking the city, preferably at the end of one of its main avenues, on which to erect massive statues of the Great Leader and, later, the Dear Leader and you don’t have one, what do you do? Well, naturally you build one, and especially so in North Korea.
And so the good people of Hamhung hauled in, we were told by river, 300,000 tonnes of sand and earth to create Tonghung Hill, at the base of Mt Tonghung, initially for the statue of Kim Il-sung which was erected here in 1970, as a sign of the Great Leader’s respect for the workers in this great industrial city.
A further 3,000 rocks were brought in, some from the sacred Mt Paektu, to create the artificial waterfall still seen below the statue today, if rather heavily covered in plants and other greenery.
Some years later when visiting his fathers statue, Kim Jong-il remarked on how the base, which comprised a number of stones was looking unkempt due to dirt building up between those stones. He advised that it would greatly assist with cleaning if the base were to comprise one stone. Acting on this advice the original base was, in 1981, replaced by a single piece of granite weighing some 700 tonnes! As shown in the pre 2012 image below the granite base was shaped to represent Janggun Peak, the highest peak on sacred Mt Paektu.
I have got ahead of myself.
After breakfast on our second and final morning at the Majon Beach Guesthouse we set out for Wonsan, about three hours south of Hamhung. However, there was one very important thing that we had not yet done in Hamhung and we were going to rectify this prior to leaving the city. That thing was visiting the city’s statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and paying our respects to the Leaders.
I was dressed in shorts – an absolute no-no for the solemn activity we were about to embark on. While this would not normally have been a problem, when we came to Hamhung we did so in small buses with limited space so we were asked only to take clothes, etc for a couple of days and put our main bags onto our regular larger bus which we would transfer back to in Wonsan (later that morning, as it was). Yes, you have guessed it. I did not pack any long pants and everyone else in our group, whose attire would not have looked ridiculous on me, had only packed one pair, which they were now wearing!
I spoke to our Western and senior local guide and profusely apologised for my inappropriate attire indicating that I would be happy to remain on the bus while the remainder of the group visited the statues. After much deliberation the guides decided that I could indeed visit the statues in my, not too short, shorts as we were also going to look around the hill more generally and enjoy views across the city from a pavilion on the hill and they did not want me to miss out on that.
Not wanting to offend or get the guides in trouble with any on-looking authorities that might be around I continued to insist that I was very happy to miss out on this activity even though, in reality, I was not as a couple of South Koreans (on Canadian passports – so permitted to enter the country), one of whose family was formerly form the Hamhung area, were going to lay the customary flowers on behalf of our group, as we paid our respect to the Leaders.
I think, though he didn’t say it, our senior local guide wanted me there to witness what really was a rare and momentous act of friendship between North and South Koreans at our group level, especially as Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in would be meeting and shaking hands on Mt Paektu a few days later.
After some discussion we came to a compromise position that both I and the guides could live with. When the time came to pay our respects to the Leaders I would stand back, behind the remainder of the group, such that the Great and Dear Leaders would not have to avert their eyes, at the sight of my bare legs!
Everyone happy, but me still somewhat embarrassed, we proceeded towards Tonghung Hill (also called the Tonghung Revolutionary Site) while the guides told us about the recently built Sci-Tech Library which we had parked outside, and the adjacent regional history museum.
The Sci-Tech Library appeared to be a mixture of architectural styles we had seen in Ryomyong and Mirae Scientists Streets in Pyongyang. It was also almost certainly inspired by the impressive Pyongyang Sci-Tech Complex, one of the most iconic buildings of the Kim Jong-un era, as evidenced by the stylised hydrogen atoms, or planets with rings, on the roof and the model of a helium atom (two electrons) in front of the building.
Moving up Tonghung Hill towards the statues of the Leaders we saw a group of revolutionary youth league members making their way into class off to our right while enjoying views across the beautifully tended and luscious gardens towards the viewing pavilion on our left.
Soon we arrived at the statues of the Leaders where prior to being able to take photographs we paid our respects with me keeping to the rear, as agreed. As alluded to above, on this occasion the customary placement of flowers was done by two South Korean’s from our group, accompanied by our senior local guide in what turned out to be a rather emotional event for both parties.
Prior to breaking up to take photographs our guide recounted the story of how, following the death of Kim Jong- il a Manchurian crane was seen flying round the statue of Kim Il-sung (who then stood here alone as pictured above) three times before alighting on a tree where it stayed for quite a while, with its head bowed in mourning, before flying off in the direction of Pyongyang. This is but one example of the numerous extraordinary natural happenings that occurred throughout North Korea on the death of both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
Respect paid and photographs taken, we moved on to the viewing pavilion from which we had excellent 360 degree views.
I walked back to our bus with our senior local guide. On the way we came across a few young children playing. I remarked on how nice it was to see the kids enjoying themselves in the park.
The guide looked me in the eyes and with tears welling up in his own eyes responded –
“You know, Albert, in 1950 American bastards slaughtered thousands of children just like these, right here in Hamhung.”
I didn’t need to say anything. The guide changed the topic of conversation, we returned to the bus and left Hamhung.
This is my last North Korea (2018) – Hamhung review
Start reading at the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Hamhung reviews – HERE