On every DPRK tour itinerary is a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the mausoleum where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il “lie in state”.
Every visitor to North Korea must adhere to many codes of conduct but the Palace is something else – such that we were provided with a laminated 2-sided sheet of rules to pass around in the tour bus beforehand. We were expected to behave in a sombre manner – quiet talking, no laughing or joking, no handstands (the “no handstands” rule was actually mentioned several times while we were in the country, as if westerners break out the calisthenics at every opportunity – I could have assured the authorities that this isn’t a possibility for me even if I wanted to).
We could not have naked knees or shoulders on display. No hats, sunglasses, smoking or visible tattoos. Bags, phones and cameras were checked in at the entrance. The mausoleum consisted of very long wide marble corridors with travelators on which we had to stand still. I hate it when people are stationary on airport travelators so it felt like torture.
We moved around the building in lines of either 2 of 4 depending on the width of a particular area. We filed through a scanner, a shoe cleaner and a dust blowing machine. When we eventually reached the room where Kim Il-sung lay, we entered in single file groups of four. We stood at the foot of the casket, bowed. Moved to the left side, bowed. Walked around the head to the right side, bowed. No bowing at the head! Then we exited the room and entered another in which we viewed the leader’s medals, honours, diplomas, photos with international leaders and dignitaries etc. There was a further journey to Kim Jong-il’s room where all of this was repeated.
The rooms themselves were large and dimly lit with a reddish tinge. The Kims lay on their backs in glass cabinets, clothed with red blankets covering their entire bodies up to the chest. Their faces looked impressively good, just as they seemed to look in life. I had a long hard look at Kim Jong-il because I wanted to see if he wore his trademark ‘shacket’:
Only the khaki collar and top part were visible but I believe he was wearing it.
It was a very interesting experience and testament to the reverence the North Korean people display towards their departed leaders, the elder of which is still regarded as the country’s eternal president.