Back in the USS, Back in the USS, Back in the USSR
United forever in friendship and labor. – National Anthem of the Soviet Union, English Version
Perhaps my first conscious memory of a world outside of the United States, or outside my hometown for that matter, is of Soviet athletes visiting Seattle for the 1990 Goodwill Games. The games, put on by American Ted Turner, included over 2,000 athletes from 54 countries competing in 21 sports. To a kindergartener at the time, the some 1,400 Soviet visitors who inundated out city were exotic and there was a sense of intrigue about them. No doubt my parents simplified the complex geopolitics of the Cold War for their five-year old into a stark Manichaean battle between good and evil. Of course, I wouldn’t have known what a Manichean was either then.
The Goodwill Games made a deep impression on at least American youngster at the time, despite a less than flattering opinion article in the Chicago Tribune. My first-grade yearbook photo, taken the following fall, shows me grinning with two missing front teeth and a bowl haircut, while sporting a dark blue sweatshirt with the flags of the US and USSR and the words: “Uniting the World’s Best”. I still remember the athletic gear of the Soviet athletes with ‘CCCP’ written in red, like in this photograph of the US-USSR basketball game featuring the young American player Kenny Anderson. I also remember wondering just how ‘CCCP’ and ‘USSR’ could mean the same thing and what a coincidence it was that ‘USSR’ and ‘USA’ shared the same two first letters.
Also unbeknownst to me, but a group of North Korean athletes also visited Seattle at the time. My first memory of North Korea would come later during the 1994 Nuclear Crisis when I was nine. As a young American boy obsessed with the history my own country’s Civil War (are there any young American boys who aren’t?) and self-identifying as loyal northern Unionist, I remember finding it hard to like the US ally South Korea. By this time I had a largely outdated 1979 National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our World for perusal and viewing the world through the lens of the War between the North and South, my natural affinities were tied to certain cardinal directions. As a northwesterner, West Germany and North Korea were aesthetically more to my liking, of course. Twenty years later, in 2014, I would travel together to North Korea with Kenny Anderson, already retired after 15 seasons in the NBA.
Having thankfully completed my entire elementary and middle school life experience in the 90’s, the following things remind me of my youth: Alternative Music, the OJ Simpson Trial, Janet Reno, the Hubble Space Telescope, John Grisham novel covers, and shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Bevis and Butt-Head, and Ghost Writer. Similar to Ghost Writer and most of the government textbooks of the time, educational media with a multicultural cast of characters also resonate strongly with me. Which is why when I came across a set of old Soviet postcards representing the culture, in stereotype, of each of the Soviet Union’s former 15 Union Republics, it felt very much familiar and close to home despite being from across the world in another era.
I found the fully intact postcard set at Beijing’s Panjiayuan Market, a veritable treasure trove with any manner of antiques and paraphernalia from China as well as the former and current socialist world: the Soviet Union, Albania, Vietnam, and, of course, North Korea.
Each of these beautiful postcard, printed on thin, rough paper, shows a representative citizen from a particular Soviet Republic. The representative citizen, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, is dressed in representative national costume of the republic amid the republic’s representative landscape teeming with representative economic activity. Surrounding the scene is a border of representative artistic pattern.
Today we present three postcards related to our tours: the postcards of the Turkmen, Tajik, and Russian Soviet Socialist Republics together with some rather shameless promotion of our own tour information to their modern day counterparts.
First is the postcard representing the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic of a woman holding a lamb in a field of cotton. Behind her roam camels amid a desert oasis of factories.
Koryo Tours runs two annual trips to Turkmenistan in the fall and spring. Our upcoming tour Turkmenistan- October Tour (September 30- October 7) will visit the capital Ashgabat, Darvaza Gas Crater, an underground lake, ancient archeological sites, the ‘Grand Canyon of Central Asia’, and Caspian Seaside. Below is a short video by one of our friends made on one of our trips.
Second the postcard representing Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. This model Soviet man, Homo Sovieticus in the flesh, holds on high the iconic hammer and sickle of the Communist Party. Behind him are the many industries of vast Russia.
Koryo Tours runs one biennial tour to the modern Russian Far East’s Magadan and Yakutia regions. Our Abandoned Russia tour (July 11-21, 2018) will go to some of the most remote parts of the world’s largest country, including former pioneer settlements, Soviet Gulags sites, and closed-cities, as well as meeting and learning about the kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures who call this region their home today.
Third we have the postcard representing the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. Here a Tajik woman picks cotton in the shadow of a mighty hydroelectric dam.
Koryo Tours runs an annual tour to Tajikistan for Nowruz Persian New Year celebrations (March 22-March 31, 2018), including the enigmatic Buzkashi Event. Next year we will start a new tour for the Dushanbe Half Marathon (April 19-26). Both tours spend time around the Tajik capital and explore the scenic mountains north of the city. Below is a short video we made of our travels.
Lastly we present a postcard from the Kirghiz Republic. Kirghiz horsemen ride among the scenic valleys and rivers that are not without their own share of local industry.
Koryo Tours has yet to run a tour to Kyrgyzstan but that will soon change in 2018. Our new Mountain Crossroads Tour (August 18-27, 2018) will start in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and travel overland into the high Pamirs of Tajikistan and ending in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. The Mountain Crossroads promises to be one of our most ambitious, rugged, and stunning trips to date.
'Turn Back the Clock Thursday' brings you views of Korea from more than two decades of Koryo Tours' trips to the DPRK (and elsewhere!) and images in the public domain.