East Pyongyang then and now, the sounds of midnight construction, and the 'Christmas Evacuation' of 1950.
East Pyongyang Then and Now
This second to last Thursday of 2016, we start a running series of Throwback 'then and now' photos from our trips to Korea over the last 23 years.
Today we have a shot looking northeast from the observation deck of the Tower of the Juche Idea down over East Pyongyang. East Pyongyang is a largely post-war expansion of the city, traditionally centered on the west bank of the Taedong River, and has a concentration of factories, universities, hospitals, and foreign embassies, along with the residences all of the above. The residents of the East Bank are, rather generally speaking, more down-to-earth, practical, direct, and tough compared to their image conscious and cosmopolitan neighbors to the west.
Since we first visited in 1993, East Pyongyang has undergone some notable changes. Most apparent in the photo above is the addition of pastel colors to the local apartment blocks. The year 1995 saw the addition of the iconic stone hammer, sickle, and writing brush of the Monument to Party Foundation. More recently the construction of the Ryugyong Health Complex, Kumrung Leisure Centre, and Munsu Water Park have added a range of entertainment options for East Pyongyang’s residents.
The Sound of Midnight Construction
If the cold of winter has you down, it may be worth remembering just how unpleasant summers can be, especially in Korea. Korean summers are both hot and humid, so much so that construction often takes place throughout the night instead of during the day. Our Yanggak Island Discs has a recording of a construction team singing in the darkness while they work on a summer's night somewhere in the countryside around Pyongyang amid a chorus of crickets and frogs.
The Christmas Evacuation of 1950
This week marks the 56th anniversary of the US Army X Corps' 'Christmas Evacuation', also known as the 'Miracle of Christmas', from the port of Hungnam in the face of a massive North Korean and Chinese winter offensive. The evacuation took place December 15-24, 1950, following the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the hill country north of Hamhung.
The winter fighting of 1950 in northeastern Korea was some of the most brutal Korean War, taking place in subzero temperatures and largely over mountainous terrain. This stage of the war remains particularly strong in the memory of all participants. Last month The American Experience ran a new episode on the Battle of Chosin, and there are major feature film productions now in the works in the both China (长津湖之战）and the US（17 Day in Winter) set for release in 2018 and 2020, respectively.
The highlands above Hamhung are an exceptionally beautiful and rugged landscape with their dense deciduous forests and pristine mountain lakes set among slopping mountain valley after mountain valley. The region is reminiscent of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North America and since traditional times has been considered one of the 'Eight Great Sights of Korea' (조선팔경). Yet in the winter of 1950, the very same terrain was transformed into one of the most harrowing battles in history for all involved: Korean, Chinese, American, and British.
Map credit: The X Corps in Korea, December 1950 by Richard W. Stewart (1991).