There is a recurring motif which appears all over North Korea, but its most prominant incarnation is a bold statue by the banks of the Taedong River. A peasant's hammer, a farmer's sickle and the intellectual's paintbrush (or is it karaoke microphone?) all crossed to show the unity of the people's spirit... or something like that. The statue is an imposing structure, with the three figures leaning forward with their instuments in hand, as if they were captured approaching the finishing line of a bizarre relay race, perhaps a demonstration sport at the '88 Pyongyang Olympics which were not to be. It's hard not to feel some sort of kinship with the idea of solidarity when it's conveyed in such a powerful way. Below the statue kids played joyfully, no doubt subconsciously becoming aware of their future as good peasants, farmers and intellectuals.
Nearby is the Tower of the Juche Idea, a tall, narrow monument with a depiction of a flame on the top. Juche is the Korean philosophy of self-reliance which has been the guiding principle of NK since its foundation, and supposedly allows the individual to reach their full potential in the spirit of forging their own destiny. Whether the philosophy itself is a success is highly doubtful, but what's not at all doubtful is that as a philosophy it makes a damn fine statue. Full marks to the creative team who sought to embody the notion of Juche in architectual terms. Inside are panels contributed during the 1970s by DPRK's sympathisers around the world. As perhaps North Korea's greatest export (well, that and possibly high grade heroin) Juche has attracted the attention of many great minds around the world, who have formed themselves into Juche Study Groups and even proponents of that grand area of study: Kimilsungism. Many of the signs are in a variety of European langauges, and there is a predominance of groups from India and Africa amongst the plaques on the wall - colonialism clearly created some unusual global alliances.
Elsewhere in town is the Arch of Triumph, which bears a fitting resemblence to its counterpart in the Democratic People's Republic of France. You'd be wrong to confuse the two, though, since the Pyongyang construction is three metres taller than its Parisian duplicate. The Triumph which has been Arched is not in fact triumph over the south in the Korean War, but is instead triumph over the hated Japanese, who controlled the entire Korean peninsula for a short but painful period in the first half of the twentieth century. Hatred of the Japanese is still strong in DPRK, and relations between the two are icy. Mind you, there have been many Japanese coming to Pyongyang over the years, although they generally come when kidnapped by DPRK spies and depart as a pile of bones decades later, if at all. Such anti-Japanese sentiment is not limited to the north, however, with many South Koreans also holding bitter memories of Japanese occupation.
Those truly committed to the spirit of Korean communism often pay their respects at the monument for the founding of the Korean Workers Party. Formed immediately after North Korea itself popped out of the womb of the Second World War, the KWP has controlled NK politics in government in much the same way that its equivalents around the communist world have done. This rounded, concrete structure features messages of hope and solidarity etched into the stonework, and even features representations of South Koreans (or as NKers would say it, south Koreans) joining in the struggle for communism across the Korean peninsula. Clearly the artist had not guaged the attitude to communist solidarity amongst many Seoul-dwellers.
From a young age, North Koreans are indoctrinated with a narrative of their own history which combines truths, half-truths, fabrications, wishful thinking and lies. Whilst this prosess is not at all unique to North Korea, and indeed happens in any society with an awareness of its own history, the NK version of its own story is strained in its truthtelling. In much of the telling there is a nub of truth, around which is constructed a highly subjective and partisan mythology. To maintain the credibility of this mythology, the monuments are necessary to act as tangible evidence of a truth that never was - 'a reminder of the greatness of the KWP', or 'a celebration of the rightness of Juche', despite that fact that such greatness and rightness never actually existed. So does the truth really matter, or have multiple retellings become more powerful that the fact itself?