Yanggak Island Discs:
The Mansudae Fountain
Park and 'Snow Falls'

Side B (2) of Korean Gramophone Record ㄱ – 56224 / ㄷ – 275025 Track 5: <<눈이 내린다>>

The Fountain Park

Don't go chasing waterfalls / Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to / I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all / But I think you're moving too fast - TLC

The Mansudae Fountain Park is one of the first stops on most Pyongyang city tours. Visitors usually take a quick stroll around the park - full of schoolchildren playing in the artificial pools and water falls as well as wedding couples out for photographs in the warmer months, almost totally abandoned in the cold - before purchasing flower bouquets to present at the next, and much more impressive stop: the Mansudae Grand Monument, the huge bronze statues of the DPRK leadership.

Yet the fountain park may be the second most underrated sights in Pyongyang (after the Korean Stamp Museum) and deserves a slow stroll to appreciate your surroundings. Once the traditional centre of the city, the Mansudae area today gives a good introduction to the Pyongyang's unique architectural history from medieval to modern times.

Ancestral Halls

Just across the road from the fountain park, nestled among a grove of trees, are Sungin Hall (1325) and Sungryong Hall (1429; rebuilt 18th century), dating back to the Koryo and Ri Dynasties, respectively. These buildings are among the oldest in Pyongyang and were traditionally used to hold ancestral ceremonies for Tangun, founder of Old Choson, and King Tongmyong, the founder of the Koguryo Kingdom. The two halls provide contrasting examples of simple Koryo architecture and the more ornate designs of the following Ri Dynasty. Both are rarely visited by foreign travelers.

Kim Il Sung Square

To the southwest of the fountain park one can catch a glimpse of Kim Il Sung Square, first opened in 1954, lined with government ministries dating back to the same era. The design of these ministries, as well as much of the residential and commercial buildings in Pyongyang's Central District, took their inspiration from the Soviet Union. Typical Soviet motifs of harvest and industry adorn building facades and decorative columns. The building of this era have high-ceilings, giving an a pleasant open feeling, but are also inefficient to heat in winter. For this reason, in the coming years we are likely to see ongoing construction around the Kim Il Sung Square area as older buildings are renovated or replaced.

Pyongyang Schoolchildren's Palace

On the small hill to the northeast of the fountain park, is the Pyongyang Schoolchildren's Palace. Opened in 1963, this centre of extracurricular activities in the arts, sciences, and sports was built on the former site of a colonial era grade school and is referred to as a 'palace' according to the aphorism of President Kim Il Sung that "Children are the kings of the country". The Pyongyang Schoolchildren's Palace dominated the Pyongyang skyline for over a decade until a wave of construction in the late 1970's and early 1980's. There is a second, larger and more modern, schoolchildren's palace in West Pyongyang's Manggyondae District.

'Snow Falling'

The Mansudae Art Theatre lies directly to the west of the fountain park. Built on the site of an old factory and opened in 1976, the theatre was designed as a modern facility incorporating both socialist and traditional Korean design. The fountain park was originally built as an extension to the theatre grounds, but the growth of trees over the past decades has broken the original continuity.

The large white sculpture of women dancers in the middle of the park depicts our song for this week: Snow Falls, a song first performed in the neighboring theatre. You can listen to the 1970's vinyl version at the Yanggak Island Discs Sound Cloud and also watch a video of the performance above.

The Grand People's Study House

South of the fountain park is the Grand People's Study House which overlooks Kim Il Sung Square and serves as Korea's national library, a correspondence / continuing education college, and a research centre. This massive neo-tradtional building was opened in 1982.

Changjon Street

Rising behind the schoolchildren's palace is modern Pyongyang's downtown of high-rise apartments and commercial spaces of Changjon Street, completed in 2012. Changjon Street, sometimes referred to as 'Dubai', marked the start of a new wave of residential construction that has continued with Mirae Future Scientist Street (2015) and Ryomyong Street (expected opening in 2017).

Yanggak Island Discs is a regular posting on songs from old North Korean vinyls. Follow the Yanggak Island Discs Sound Cloud for more recordings of featured songs.

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