Friday, May 18, 2007

Turkey: Lake Van

On Lake Van 60F and clear

This is a spectacular lake the size of Connecticut and the largest in Turkey. The water is so full of calcium that one cannot drink it, though it is lovely for washing clothing without soap!

Yesterday we had a long boat ride to islands with 9th and 10th Century Armenian churches, those stone, forceful, almost angry looking, totally round buildings. In one there are still magnificent frescoes which escaped the Islamic iconoclasts. Faces looking terribly strong and unsympathetic with glaring eyes which follow one about. There are luxuious blue colors from crushed lapis. It was a world-class day of being a tourist!

This town is famous for its fluffy white cats each with one blue eye and one green eye. Also for it's Kilims and wrought silver jewelry made of a finer quality than sterling and lovely. There's also some enticing ancient and reproduction urartian (earliest Armenian) jewelry with fetching little stones and almost primitive pendants attached. Unique.

As our time in Eastern Turkey draws close to its end, I have so many conflicting impressions. the area is some richer than I thought with a more European-like infrastructure in places. Roads vary from pre-Interstate USA to almost-Interstate. One valley is prosperous with good farmhouses, the next rather wretched with houses of stone which look as thought they grew out of the earth. The people are largely minorities and always have been. The Laz on the coast and some ways inland from the Black Sea. The Kurds from Ardahan and Kars onwards - handsome and welcoming. The PKP - the illegal Kurdish group - seems to be absent and many places display Turkish flags as often as one sees the Fleur de Lys in Quebec.

What astounds me is the countryside. As I have written one minute it is Tirol; the next the high green plains of Nevada or Central Montana; the next volcanic scarred earth with massive obsidian strews; the next high peaks such as Ararat rising from the flat or rolling plains; and now Lake Van, the tidal inland sea.

Travelers should see this land. It cries for tourist money and again the people are nothing short of beguiling. We skirted the Georgian, then Armenian and then Iranian borders and there over the mountains is Iraqi Kurdistan - an area which badly seems to frighten the locals, as it does Ankara. Bush is so detested here that I am almost careful about admitting being American where in the recent past this was such a badge of glory in Turkey.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Turkey: Van

66F and a splendidly cloudless sky. Sitting on the terrace of an nice hotel here looking at sunset...

We arrived in Kars, went to the very interesting castle which overlooks this town of Orhan Pamuk, to the stern looking 9th C. Armenian Church, which an atomic blast could not touch. The hotel is boutique and inviting and rather luxe.

Early yesterday morning, we left through high Montana-looking plains on to the Armenian border. Almost flush on it is Ani, one of the great ghost cities - like Pagan, Angkor, Ephesus or Karnak - with bronze age roots and great enrichment during the Urartian times (that being essentially Armenian). The place is on a long moor almost surrounded by a gorge, with buildings and ruins from almost all periods: from an Armenian cathedral of great unfriendliness to a minaret which rather beguiles. The place is alive with birds including storks in migration. Hardly a soul there, which added enormously to its' ghostliness.

It is a site I will never forgest as I listened to the spirits... One could see Armenian troops on the hillside beyond - all terribly fearful of the Turks (who want Armenia about as much as we want Haiti).

What a staggeringly fine last couple of days. After leaving Ani the landscape changes once again into very volcanic, vast green fields filled with billions of black rocks. And suddenly, what is that whipped cream ball in the sky? Of course, it is Ararat 100km to go and it's presence dominates the horizon. We could ask the keenest traveler where they were and Turkey might be the 50th on the list. Little dwarf chalets in teased wood abound, smoke coming out of them and perfuming the air.

Armenia is just next door and just over the river. Suddenly the border is Persia - heavily fortified as though the Turks expected something untowards. Fields are cultivated in quite impossible places. We climb higher and the slopes of Ararat are visible. We see scores of nomads with their tents. The Basques of Nevada and highland Montana come to mind. Huge flocks of sheep worked by huge, fluffy, mean looking Turkish highland sheep dogs.

Ararat is closer and odder and from each angle we watch it it changes shape and mood. The north side is proasaic. The east side is rapturously eerie. The west merely volcanic and snowy.

We overnight in an awful, spartan hotel in the town of Doğubayazit - a hotel with of all things pink TVs and plaster of paris kittens in each room. It is gagaland.

We go this morning to the supposed site of the Ark... all statistics... some fanatic from Nashville having found the probably spurious calcified coral. I thought all coral was calcified. And petrified wood. Today to the odd and beautiful shores of Lake Van, which is the size of Connecticut. All is well in this country of Kurds with Iraq just over the mountains.

Turkey: Hoppa on the Black Sea

Hoppa....we have a lovely dinner of Black Sea fish and superbe mezze, including delicious Tarama, Aubergine three ways, terrific fasulya (rich local beans done to death with a tomato sauce and paprika), lost of Raki and all is very well indeed.

Set on the border with Georgia, it is teeming with women who have slipped in from Georgia, Ukraine and mostly Moldova - "ladies of the night" earning the touch Turkish Lira.

Yesterday we drove inland to high mountain country just off the coast to ruined massively strong circular Georgian churches and to the provincial capital of Artvin, which is built on the side of a steep hill. It is a university town of some charm and crazy angles: Nothing is right or left, rather, it is up or down!

A splendid lunch of stuffed peppers and aubergine, home made ayran. Then we headed into utter drama, first sort of high desert country a la New Mexico featuring side roads to old typically Georgian monasteries and churches which appear undestroyable by even the most fantic Islamist. Next we had a complete change of scenery. It is HIGH Tyrol. Much snow, wooden villages, lovely little tarns. People in Bodrum are swimming and they are skiing up here! On to Ardahan through countryside which looks like high moorland - a bit like Mongolia with high steppes. SUCH variety of topography in such a short space.

I'm writing from a boutique hotel in Kars set in an old Russian house. It is utterly bequiling and all is well. I think of Orhan Pamuk and Snow.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Turkey: Trabzon

Kars May 13th.....65 degrees....Brilliantly sunny with snow in the hills

I am in the city of Pamuk's Snow and the time in Turkey has been earthshakingly interesting for me. Trabzon is quite messy and ugly, but the hotel was good. The Sumela Monastery about 2okm inland in deep green mountains with spring cascades everywhere is a stunner...14th C.... now being beautifully restored from its Greek roots bythe government.

As we drive along the Black Sea coast, we are on a new four lane highway which is made on reclaimed land and is very ugly which is such a pity becaues the coast is lovely. We turn off frequently up long valleys to alpine-like stettings with lakes and wooden chalets. Quite unexpected. The people here are mostly Laz, which is a kind of nationality which has Georgian roots but which chose Islam. We arrive at the rather scraggly border town of Hoppa for overnight in a hotel decorated off of a run-down tourist town in middle America.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


May 10 at the Goodwood Park

The national museum here has reopened after 3 years of renovations and I am psyched to see it this PM as it has the finest, most definitive collection of jade in the world.

Singapore Airlines is wonderful as everyone tells class was just fine....not quite filled from Bali (tourism is badly off there).

My room here overlooks the pool, is massively deco with odd torchieres, quite stunning...I can't IMAGINE staying elsewhere....compared to the Goodwood Park Raffles is so affected...breakfast is the best I have ever had in the Orient. As usual Singapore looks done to death.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bali III

Awoke today to a brilliant fierce rain everything in this luxuriant garden where I live is glistening, the humidity such that I think I am growing ferns on my forehead....
Some (typically pontifical?) reflections about Bali....really random:

Coffee: the very best I have ever tasted....ultra-rich, aromatic, seemingly able to stand by itself without a cup....yet prepared in the Italian rather than Turkish fashion...a reason for coming here.

The food: so very suitable to the climate...most cuisines are (the dutch excepted)...macerates bits of chicken, fish, shellfish, lamb, beef or pork (remember in the largest of all Islamic nations Bali is hindu of a sort) served with rice and bits of very good veggies...spinach and scallions are local wines but a decent local beer....also arak....not a GREAT cuisine in terms of Malayan or Vietnamese but pleasing enough.

The people: here I go being Alfred Rosenberg again: agile, good looking, smiling, quick......seemingly very good natured (I still can't fathom the genocide of the local Chinese in the 60s).

The countryside: yes, possessed by artistic touches in almost everything...ugly hindu stuff - little totems all about...hard to judge age as everything weathers quickly in the humidity. the abundance of flowers everywhere...the one I could not identify in this magnificent hotel garden is the frangipani....may 500,00 blossoms hereabouts....the smell is floral and sandlewood.

The hotels: Bali probably has more A+ boutique hotels than anyplace else, even more than London or Paris...many of them are spectacular.

The tourists: mostly Dutch, Japanese, Australian, Italian and Singaporean.....and yet in this little computer room (3 computers) a guy came in earlier, said hello, introduced himself...ask where I was from...turns out he has just bought a pied de terre condominium next to my building!! I remember my mother's adomintion to always wear clean underwear.
I leave for Singapore tomorrow AM and then to Istanbul for parts of E Turkey unknown....

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bali Today

Bali Monday May is breezy, hot and very humid....drying out is a bit of a chore.

Yesterday I hired a car and an affable driver to drive way up north...past the gorgeous (yet very isolated) Amankilla on the coast...into deep mountains on one- lane roads with dizzying drop offs. The green of this island simply mesmerizes. The flowers are rambunctious.....and, I remember reading something in an anthropology class of yore that the two peoples on earth (according to the writer) who have incorporated forms of art into their daily lives are the Tiroleans and the Balinese. Certainly the religion here, a form of hinduism in the largest muslim nation in the world, exudes art....much of it is ugly but when it is not it is a joy.

We were far away from tour buses and commerce......far away from rapacious children asking for bon bons and school pens....on back roads where a foreigner is a real rarity I felt. My driver got the spirit just right that I needed to go where few others went. His English was superficial but extant, remarkable for a guy who probably did not go past the 4th grade.

There are small signs of progress: all roads are paved, new schools (elementary for the most part) have cropped up in the backest of back country...people smile, are physically slight but very well built and a lovely light caramel color with regular features....rivers rush by, people are bathing and washing clothing in is a Gaugin-ish scene. I have a hard time resolving the hideous violence which took place here in the early 60s...that period in local history as shown in that epic film The Year of Living Dangerously when a collective madness seems to have struck Bali----the Balinese going on a heinous rampage in which most of their Chinese population (at least 100,000 were murdered in mini-genocide.

I kept remembering the adage that "one death is a tragedy while many deaths are a statistic".....I suppose people with evil and effective leaders can be led to do grievous things. Bali seems a place where history should not be studied very closely. There are tiny elements in the past: a deserted Dutch church here, a Chinese cemetery there.....Still Bali absolutely enchants with p
oinsettias and bouganvillas, hibiscus, huge yellow flowered bushes, magnolias and the lotus dominating the landscape....where art IS a part of life from the way the watermelon slice is presented at breakfast to the way the bed in turned down at night. There are far worse places.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Reflections on the DPRK

Bali, Saturday 5 May 07....80 degrees...light refreshing shower....I have had plenty of time to ruminate about the extremely intense experience of being in North Korea.

When I have pondered Korean history, there has always been a strong factor of paranoia. For a couple of centuries the whole world called it the "hermit nation" and before that the Chinese used such a term for a couple of thousand years. The question I ask myself is how much the DPRK is political/contemporary/odd and how much of it is simply Korean. The times I have been in South Korea I feel sometimes as though I am talking to people through a scrim.

I think without the USA the DPRK could not exist today. It has no real friends. China seems really frightened of a DPRK meltdown with millions of refugees fleeing into Manchuria. Putin's Russia though only pays lip service...and the poor DPRK has almost nothing the world WANTS. It is touching to me that the apex of national pride is a fabulous halftime show. It is as though America's raison d'etre came from the Super Bowl, the Rockettes or the Rose Bowl parade. They build sturdy roads and buildings, they embalm well, they put uniforms on about 1/3rd of the citizens starting with adorable little girls all lined up and marching in their cute sailors' outfits. But I swear without the USA and our imperialism there would be very little reason for the DPRK to exist. Their national unity is absolutely defined by paranoia in the real sense. Witness the canonization of the the PUEBLO....witness the hundred or more times a day we hard about "American imperialism"....and to some extent they strike me as oddly on target. What purpose do our 40,000-odd troops in the south serve for America? If the DPRK melts down, it is Russia, South Korea, China and to a much smaller extent Japan that will be affected. Why are WE Americans propping up this particular "evil empire"?

Oh lord, I guess since the Korea war we've been on an imperialistic crusade. How loathed America is in most parts of the world. How we ache for people to follow our form of democracy which shows them no elan or spirit of good.

I wanted so badly to talk to someone in the DPRK about all of this. I posed the obvious question: if America removed troops from South Korea, would the military domination of life in the North be reduced. Certainly it would be. I don't look for them to give up the atom bomb...why should they: it is the only thing that plays into their national psyche and sets them apart. Some day I figure Korea will be unified: the south will be the industrial engine, the north will provide the cadres for the national guard.

I wish everyone could see the DPRK. It is as fascinating and odd as a two headed calf at the country fair. It is like no place else in travel. It is what travel is all about!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Return from Oz

The early morning departure from Pyong Yang was predictably frenzied, as are most departures from impoverished places. After much ballyhoo, paperwork, jostling about with luggage and finally check in, we headed up to the departure hall, which was decidedly serene. Of course there were only two arrivals and two departures scheduled that day, you see.

Arrival back in Beijing was culture shock in reverse!
It is odd to be back in Beijing and feel like I am suddenly on Michigan, colors, people, signs, advertising, traffic.........coming out of Pyong Yang feels a lot to me like getting off a longish ship voyage: The earth seems unsteady suddenly. Some of our circle gather at the Club Lounge at the Peninsula for a drink to compare notes. Odd to be speaking freely again without concern for our minders! And yet we're in the heart of the world's largest Communist regime! Onward to Bali for some much needed rest and rumination...We crammed a lot into a short amount of time!

Final Day in North Korea

Our last full day in North Korea took us north of the city, across more baren landscapes to the "mountains". First stop is the International Friendship Museum, consisting of two monumental concrete replicas of ancient Korean temples - each housing room upon room of gifts to the Fatherly Leader and The Great Leader. The buildings belied their contents as the cavernous rooms were just that - caverns dug deep into the hillside. There was no time to see all of the 10's of thousands of gifts - Herend china from Hungary; Czech crystal; Soviet trophies and plaques from every imaginable ministry; rail cars from Stalin; even a crystal paperweight from "the mayor of New York circa 1985".... Does Ed Koch have anything to say about that?

After lunch, we left the fresh air of the mountains - along with it's mysterious blue hues (fog?) - and headed back to the city. The afternoon was packed with illuminating visits to the "Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum", the aforementioned Juche Tower (capped by it's illuminted red plastic flame), the Pueblo Spy Ship, a stamp shop and a book shop! The museum was predictably devoid of relevant exhibits - except an extraordinary revolving platform (!) placed at the center of the world's largest circular diorama which, of course, depicted the routing of the American Imperialist Aggressors from Kaesong during the war. And of course the Pueblo was another mandatory stop scheduled to give us our fill of the North's version of events.

Some of the group headed back to the Mass Games for another go and others went to "the coffee shop"... which amazingly enough sells western foods such as pizza and hamburgers. I opted for the opulence of our island hotel.

DPRK V: DMZ and Kaesong

After our visit to the mausoleum we drive south towards Kaesong, the only large DPRK city which escaped destruction in the war. IT is a terribly good 4-lane interstate quality road.....enroute we stop at a rest stop built over the four lanes like an Italian Autogrill. Only 4 flights of stairs to reach the service area. In 160 kms to Kaesong we pass: 2 dogs, 5 tractors, 5 motorcars and 4 trucks. The country's economy is sub desparate. The land is heavily cultivated - in fact cultivated in areas which are truly not arable. It is VERY sad....exaccerbated by the fact that they haven't a friend left in the world...the USSR has disappeared, China fears a Mariel-boatlife invasion of poverty stricken Koreans...sad sad.

Kaesong...a city with some few blocks of the OLD Korea..but still surrounded by the Ceaucescu buildings of the new Korea....we drive to the DMZ...fairly dramatic! I have been on the southern side which is even more lots of spring flowers bloom...we go to the huts where treaties were signed...the DPRK calls it the Korea-American imperialist war....they erect vast monuments to their "victory" which is no more true of course than OUR victory (how long has it BEEN since the US has won a war...well I guess we knocked the heck out of Grenada).

An army major escorts us through the zone, spewing forth visceral propaganda the entire time, eventually becoming redundant and easily tuned out. One perk on the North Korean side is the site of the signing of the Armistice. Tourists on the south side cannot access this hallowed ground. Later we are taken (at great length) to a hillside - again passing mile after mile of parched farmland - from which we can observe through military scopes the "concrete wall". According to our hosts the wall stretches coast to coast. At least from here we can see a garrison perched on the hill opposite us, undoubtedly staffed by soldiers looking back at us!


April 29th in the DPRK.....the GREAT highlight today was the mausoleum of Kim Il Sung. We found out later that we were the first American tourists ever permitted to enter this hallowed place!

One goes to a secret reverie away from the city...there are a myriad of buses who have brought in 500 women naval cadets, 1000 members of the peoples' army and so on...everyone looking very tidy...marching...resolutely...the nation seems to LOVE to march....the building is low lying and involves a tremendous amount of seems awflly important that everone be prepped for the holy occurence to follow. I walk a while and then revert to a wheel chair, thanks to the accomodating guide, Pak. It is fitted for butts from the DPRK (people on this side of the DMZ are said to be 27% smaller than people in the South) any rate when I squeeze my foul rear into the wheel chair I strain it...when I stand the chair adheres to my is all rather funny but seems to break the solemnity of the place.

One walks about a half mile and then gets on moving sidewalks....another half mile and then a turn and another...the music builds in is oddly reminiscent of the Miss America pageant if staged by The World's Largest Funeral Home. We eventually enter the penultimate room....we make little obeances...we are all terribly touched...then we enter the sanctum...there is Kim il Sung looking like a waxy Herbert Hoover.

The Koreans are so touched that they weep....we form into fours and stand for exactly 35 seconds on each of the four sides of the bier....we are all solemn ...we bow....a nice, gentle though were were bowing to a minor satrap in someplace like Cooch Behar.....we walk out (I being wheeled)....we go into a room of the treasures bestowed on the great favorite is an honorary degree from a spurious American university (I think it was "Kensington"... the zip code in LA was listed on the certificate). It is graustark, lala land, nuthaven. It is terribly impressive and believe me deMille could not have done better. One leaves more drained than revivified...and yet, for certain, these people of the DPRK have produced effects that the Medicis never dreamed of.

DPRK III: Arirang Mass Games!

What to say about a combination of Cecil B de Mille, the church of Rome, Armageddon, the Hiter Nuremburg Rallys and the Cirque de Soleil - all to the 30th power? No wonder they let us Imperialists in!

Picture a round vast stadium...100,000+ spectators, 20,000+ card turners on the far side, 120,000 (!) participants.....picture a round semi-domed, huge stadium with a deliciously kitschy chandelier.....a full house....and suddenly the card section goes into motion....they can create everything from vernal woodlands, to color codes, from steam engines and rhodedendrons and naval vessels to cute little kittens (of which we saw none in the DPRK) is fabulous FABULOUS mechanized kitsch on our far side. We boggle. Then come the 120,000 participants.....girl scouts, nymphettes, guerillas, bathing beauties, cows and horses, sweet little pullets, bellicose soldiers, 8 year old gymnists,
femme fatales, wooden soldiers, acrobats, more acrobats, more acrobats...death defying...marvleous syrupy music plays...then marches, spirited peppy ones...the colors of the rainbow - mostly just "off" natural. Neon green is a biggie...also neon ochre. One is thrilled and thrilled again...people swoop in from every angle across the enormously vast space.....moments are full of Bambi-like touching simplicity: Aren't we dear in the DPRK?

It makes the Superbowl Halftime Show look paraplegic. It is loud. It is utterly thrilling and at the end we all are drained. We have danced and pranced and cavorted. We have been the uniting railway between South Korea and the DPRK. We are exhausted. We have seen the great single show that human beings can produce. The only problem it occurs to me is that animation has it beat and that makes it so very very sad. IT is like nothing on earth!


We are met by our chief guide Pak, his apparent minder Li, our driver, one person who seems to watch the minder and our "group videographer." American groups are rarer than the gills on a camel. We board a good Japanese-built bus (comfortable but with typically little kitschy touches: mini-chandelier-like droppings above the windows) for the drive into the city, first through heavily cultivated rolling country, the first fresh greeens of Spring, a great number of flowering fruit trees....bucolic, pretty and welcoming. Lots of noise from the guides about this and that though no surprises.

We are told that we will be the Pak group becuase to call us the "American group" could conceivably cause hostility on the part of the locals. I doubt this but what do I know. Suddenly we are in lego land...but lego land with huge and at times obscene differences.
Pyongyang looks like no other city in the world: the average person lives in apartments from 5 to 25 stories.....and judging by the balconies they are extremely spare and tiny. There are thousands, literally thousands, of such buildings to the visual horizon. They seem better built than the gruesome crumbling Soviet-style high rises of yore. At times the city seems irradiated: where ARE the people? THEN we see a line of about 1/2 mile long at tram and bus stops...all waiting, quietly, politely and there is something vaguely terrifying about the order.

There are the bumptous HUGE public buildings....usually with little bits of kitsch stuck here or there on them....great vast alienating squares (often with statues of the local legends but also of archers, figure skaters, animals...looking oddly like soap sculptures....on the bus often music is a combination of martial music and tinkly-sentimental ditties, often with female singers (or maybe they are castrati?) wailing forth.

There is the pyramidal 105 story unfinished hotel; the Juche Tower with a plastic flame on top.....there are two or three truly hideous squares; a giant arch of triumph (if one looks at the real history of the DPRK one would be hard pressed to find the triumph); the landscaping is often pretty especially in Spring.

THEN as a special treat we are taken to the "square of squares" something Disney and cecil B DeMille could hardly improve on: a bevy of martial statues and bas reliefs leading up to the 80 time larger than life SHINY brass monsterous statue of fearless leader Kim Il Sung. We buy flowers, stand in front of the statue, make a slight bow (to show our respect). I wonder then if the flowers aren't recycled to the flower will never know.....THEN to the hotel. The hotel is 47 stories and it has an apparently inert revolving restaurant on top. (My son, Tony, later confirmed it does indeed revolve- at a snail's pace of course.) It feels very late-Soviet. Among its amenities are a bowling alley, a casino (about as lively as a funeral home), several restaurants.

Most service staff here is Chinese (under some kind of arrangement with a businessman in
Macao) was the DPRK does't relish having their citizens having intercourse with foreigners.,..and especially not Imperialists from America.

We go upstairs to our slightly bleek but absolutely ok rooms: two lilliputian beds, a bathroom with bathtowels rather the size of diapers, a tv (which astoundingly has BBC as an option!)....I am on the 22nd floor with a nice view of the river, the legoland beyond including the Juche Tower with the red plastic flame on top. Dinner is the first of meals in the DPRK which vary from vile to "I'm surprised that it is not vile" is included....service is swift...condiments odd...some dishes we couldn't quite identify but that's our ignorance.

Something looked greatly like whale blubber with chocolate chips, another if bok choy in a sea of orange liquid which was piquant to the 3rd power...then there is pickled fish.....that night the bread was a jelly roll.

THEN it is time for the ARIRANG GAMES and these are so spectacular, so truly mind bending that I want to write a separate entry about them.

First Report from the DPRK

It is May 1st, Beijing, sunny and cool.

We just arrived back on Air Koryo's Ilyushin 62 jet from Pyongyang, an arrival back from Oz as surely as Dorothy's.
Let us start at the start....all five of us had a briefing at the Beijing office of our capable tour company and also met 16 other Americans who would join our group. They were a good cross section, all younger than I am (most people are), some very young, generally tilted to the left... the type of keen traveler one would expect for Oz. ...we were given to usual admonitions: not to photograph without asking advice of our guides/ dress respectfully. We later learned that North Koreans are some of the tidiest dressers on earth..perhaps with a military influence...women in suits, wearing heels and looking "Sunday going to church like". Let's just say there were variations on variations of olive drab, grey, navy and brown!
THEN Saturday the 28th was D-DAY and our Peninsula Hotel group was taken from Central Beijing to the airport....with all of us having little rushes of adrenalin. There it was: the Koryo Airlines check in counter. Then boarding the Russian built IL62, a 4-jet plane...the Air Koryo stewardesses dressed to the nines in the national dress, a billowing silk skirt which is waisted slightly oddly across the chest. Very pretty women. Tom and I get the upfront treatment: canapes (peanuts), a gelatinous rice with mystery chicken, some kim chee (the national condiment), sweet bread (almost always in the DPRK the bread is sweet), various soft drinks in lurid colors (sort of lava lamp colors), DPRK beer (slightly flat but rather good as our mainline brands) or a wine which tasted like Welch's grapejuice with an alka seltzer.
We flew over the loess hills of North China....about 45 minutes out did a quick turn and were then obviously the Axis of Evil's air space.....below the land rather severe, the reservoirs looking seriously dry. We descend. Pyongyang's Airport has enormously long run ways.....we land nicely then pass several mothballed domestic aircraft. We are the only international flight at the airport: there are 8 a week compared with circa 2300 for the same period at Seoul's brilliant new Inchon Airport.

The Terminal building is about half the size of old Little Rock Adams Field with some Stalin architectural flourishes here and there. We are bussed in from the craft to the terminal building where there is one baggage carousel moving slowly, oh so slowly.....I would judge that our plane has held circa 150 people and the baggage claim took 50 minutes. Notable freight coming off the plane are numerous leaking sacks of grain! The airport terminal is rather eerily silent. I begin to sense a sort of national paranoia which is going to be reaffirmed time and time and time again. We are here!