I have always yearned to see the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea. Not for their most popular traditional food kimchi, the ginseng, or Koryo founder ‘Jumong’ though. But to learn more how the fiercely patriotic and war-ravaged nation of more than 30 million is able to overcome the hardships caused by the more than 50 years US-led economic embargo. Of course, part of the yearning is to experience their massive legendary cultural performances and huge parades.

Note that during the Korean War of 1948-1953, 635,000 tonnes of US bombs and explosives were dropped in North Korea. The capital city of Pyongyang was levelled to the ground with only one building left standing. Today, through tenacity and resilience of its people, it stands as a modern industrialized city.

On September 4-11, I am fortunate to have joined the delegation of Philippine – DPRK Friendship and Solidarity Society that attended the 70th Anniversary Celebration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The whole trip, however short, was an overwhelming experience. The yearning has been fulfilled.

There is much to learn from Kim Il Sung’s revolutionary thought ‘Juche’. It assumes that “man is the master of his destiny”, that the masses are to act as the “masters of the revolution and construction” and that by becoming self-reliant and strong a nation can achieve “true socialism.” This is the philosophy that provides direction to DPRK’s society.

Juche is clearly manifested in their state-owned collective farms, factories and enterprises; in their deep sense of history, appreciation of the arts and humanities; and readiness to defend the country at all times.

Social services such as education, healthcare, housing, transportation are provided by the state to its people for free or highly subsidized. Modern high and medium rises are meant for the workers, soldiers, teachers, scientists, medics, and other professionals. Farming households are provided with free housing, too.

We also visited the 38th Parallel Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjong, the site of the meeting of two Korean leaders Kim Jong Un and SK’s Moon Jae-in recently. While this zone is supposedly de-militarized, it must be the most heavily fortified zone in the whole Korean Peninsula.

Military parade sans the nukes

The spectacular week-long celebration showcased the nation’s history and heroic resistance against Japanese colonialism (1921-1945) and American imperialism (1948-present), collective resilience, fierce patriotism and their yearning for economic advancements and modernization.

One of the highlights of the celebrations is the traditional military parade where North Korea’s could probably be second to none. This year’s parade was more festive and grander but showed no nukes. This made Trump to quickly tweet “big and very positive statement from North Korea.” “Thank you To Chairman Kim,” he added. “We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other!”

Prior to the anniversary, positive steps had been adopted by the NK leadership to ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula. It began by Kim Jong Un’s announcement on New Year’s Day that he would seek warmer relations with the South. And that the North was willing to participate in the Winter Olympics held in South Korea.

This was followed by an announcement in April that Kim would stop nuclear tests and long-range missile launches. This led to a flurry of summits with Beijing and Seoul. And an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore three months ago.
As of late, Kim is set to host South Korea’s President Moon this month in Pyongyang to further discuss ways to further improve North-South relations. This includes the establishment of a liaison office in the North’s city of Kaesong (home of the most authentic ginseng), and how to move the peace process with Washington forward.

This year’s celebration saw the revival of the legendary and iconic mass demonstrations after a five-year hiatus. At one point during the show, giant images of Kim shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their first summit, in April, in the De-militarized Zone was met by thunderous approving applause from the audience at the 150,000-seat Workers’ May Day Stadium.

On our last day in Pyongyang, we witnessed the massive torch demonstration by 150,000 youths. It capped the 70th anniversary of the DPRK. One would have goosebumps seeing a sea of university and high school students carrying torches that spelled out giant charcters when seen from above the square. Simply breathtaking and spectacular.

Surely, this 70th DPRK anniversary celebration experience shall forever linger. In my heartfelt note to our NK hosts, I wrote, “Thank you DPRK. Keep inspiring the world!” #


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