Koryo Tours’ groundbreaking Architecture tour travels the entire Chollima line on the Pyongyang Metro and visits a residential apartment!
By Daniel Levitsky, April 2014 In April 2014, after many years of waiting, a group from Koryo Tours were able to visit the inside of a Pyongyang apartment, and to see for the first time ever how Koreans in Pyongyang live within the confines of their own homes. The flat we visited was located in one of the newest blocks in the city, completed at breakneck speed last year beside the April 25th House of Culture in the centre of Pyongyang. Flats became available for occupation in 2013 as soon as the building was completed, and we were taken to one which is lived in by the family of a teacher at Kim Il Sung University. Following a visit to the university itself, we drove to the flat with a member of university staff, who took us up the flat, watched by fascinated children who were playing in the yard outside the entrance to the block. We were all delighted and excited to be climbing the stairs and entering the lift for this unique, unprecedented opportunity. Once we got inside the flat itself, it was obvious that this was one of the largest, newest flats in a ‘normal’ block in the entire city, but it nonetheless provided a fascinating glimpse into everyday living conditions and family life in Pyongyang from a perspective which has never been possible before. The flat was fairly large, consisting of a spacious hallway, a large, light, open-plan living room and kitchen area, and four other rooms (excluding the bathroom), all of which were fairly large. The bathroom was very modern and also a good size, and the flat had a small balcony which offered wonderful views of central Pyongyang in all directions. Our hosts (the Kim Il Sung University teacher and his wife) were fairly relaxed and friendly, and were very keen to be hospitable, offering us cider and sitting and chatting with us in the living room about their family and work for quite a while. The kitchen, though not huge, was impressively modern, with good amenities and an open breakfast area, and all the rooms had family photos up and other bits and pieces dotted about to make them ‘cosy’. The block also had a large ‘rest area’ on the 30th floor, which had large balconies looking out in all directions across the city. We spent some time here taking photos, and were told by the building’s concierge that people use this space at weekends and on summer evenings. Our visit to the flat and rest area concluded, we descended in the lift, and as we emerged on the ground floor encountered two other residents of the block in the form of an elderly lady with what must have been her grandson. They at first were very surprised to see us, but quickly smiled and stood watching us leave the block, as fascinated and wide-eyed as us by this unprecedented visit. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge)
As well as this exciting tour of Pyongyang apartment, our group also became the first company to take foreigners on a tour of the entire first line of the Pyongyang metro (the Chollima Line, opened in 1973). For many years foreign tourists were only able to see two stations on the system, Puhung (Revitalisation) and Yonggwang (Glory), which are two of the most elaborate stations on the system and form part of an extension at one end of the line opened in 1987. Over the last few years tourists have been allowed to ride further, from Puhung to Kaeson (Triumph) station further down the line, travelling six stations down the line. It was only possible, however, to view the platforms at three stations, Puhung, Yonggwang and Kaeson. Last week, however, our group were the first to be able not only to alight and see the platforms at all the stations between Puhung and Kaeson, but to be able to travel for the first time beyond Kaeson station to the end of the Chollima Line, thus becoming the first foreign tour group to travel along this section of the system, and to see the line’s final two stations, Chonu (Comrade) and Pulgunbyol (Red Star). This meant that we saw, for the first time ever, the stunning decoration at Tongil (Reunification) station, consisting of beautiful bronze reliefs down either side of the station’s central hall depicting glorious socialist construction in the North on one side, and hardship under US occupation on the other. These images come together at the end of the hall in a striking, colourful mosaic showing an imaginary scene of a reunified Korea, complete with celebrating Koreans and idyllic landscapes in the background. Other stations had simpler decoration and smaller central halls, but all contained mosaics small and large depicting images related to the station’s theme, both in small circular form down the walls and in large-size images covering the entire wall at one end of the station hall. Our extended tour also meant that we were the first to see station where it is possible to change from the first line to the second (Chonu), whose central hall has staircases at either end, one for changing to the Hyoksin Line, and one to exit to the street. Next Architecture Tour will run in October. View > Images of all the ‘new’ stations which we visited can be found below, click on the thumbnails to enlarge.