Inside North Korea's big birthday bash
To mark what would have been the 100th birthday of the North Korean founder, thousands came to Pyongyang to view elaborate displays. Most North Koreans got three days off for the party.
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The speech came amid repeated Western demands to suspend the testing of nuclear capabilities and long-range missiles in exchange for food aid, after the North's defiance in the form of a missile launch days earlier. But despite the failure of the country’s third attempt to launch a rocket to send a satellite into orbit (a failure that was, in a rare move, acknowledged by state media), the celebratory mood has not been spoiled.Skip to next paragraph
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Wearing their signature red ties, members of the Young Pioneer organization, teenage students, trekked to the city center for the Day of Sun celebrations, which are most extravagant in the capital of Pyongyang with festivals, games, music performances, dance shows, and parades. The commotion has contributed to traffic problems, another rarity in the city.
A teenage North Korean girl waiting to cross the street with her classmates said that she had walked nearly two hours to reach the part of town where they could see the soldiers passing by, expressing that she and her friends were “happy, happy.”
“It’s an important day because today is the 100th birthday of General Kim Il-sung,” she said through a translator, smiling shyly before being ushered away for interacting with non-locals.
At Mansudae Grand Monument, meanwhile, locals arrived to pay their respects to the late Kims at the newly unveiled site, where Kim Il-sung’s statue, some 85 feet tall, shows evidence of a recent facelift – literally. While his body remains unaltered from the time of its erection at the site in 1972, the entire head has been replaced granting him an expressive smile, and a pair of glasses – more “happy grandfather” than strict national leader now. A new bronze figure of Kim Jong-il stands amicably at his father’s side.
Another key landmark is the Tower of the Juche Idea, which symbolizes the national philosophy broadly defined as national self-reliance. Workers rigged the 558 feet-tall structure that resembles a lighthouse with night lights, where fireworks exploded above it in bouts of grandiosity.
The pyrotechnic shows are meant to reward the people, whose everyday lives inside the recluse nation are far removed from the sights of such grand overtures, according to locals.
Throughout the celebrations, however, tour guides, restaurant workers, hotel staff – students and volunteers of all walks of life – who have been recruited to serve the occasion, are missing the chance to spend the biggest holiday in North Korea for decades with loved ones.
Among them, a teacher, who has been drafted to help “mind” visitors during the days-long holiday, is one of many North Koreans working round-the-clock.
“I would prefer to be with my family,” she says.
* Editor's Note: Our correspondent in Pyongyang could not be identified for security reasons.
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