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where the preserved body of Kim Il-sung was on display. It was him alone at the time

Time:2019-12-11 03:16Shoes websites Click:

North Korea kumsusan palace of the sun kim il-sung

The 'Free Willy' shoes, purchased in a market in Seoul, disintegrated while on a tour of North Korea.

The "Free Willy" shoes, purchased in a market in Seoul, disintegrated while on a tour of North Korea.  

By Jon Dunbar

When packing for vacation, it's good to be prepared, because you can't exactly run home and get whatever you left behind. This goes especially for North Korea, where even the possibility of buying a replacement is highly unlikely.

A great deal of preparation went into both my North Korea visits, in August 2010 and September 2018. But there was one eventuality I hadn't prepared for properly, both times.

Ahead of my first visit, I'd bought a pair of sporty-looking running shoes from Moraene Market in western Seoul. I figured they'd be good for the trip, even though they were hilariously obvious bootlegs ― New Balance knockoffs called "New Sports," in which the big N logo was backwards, and the tongue inexplicably displayed the words "FREE WILLY."

It seemed like immediately after we reached North Korea, my South-bought shoes started to disintegrate.

The first full day of our trip started with a morning visit to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the preserved body of Kim Il-sung was on display. It was him alone at the time, but now he's joined by the corpse of his son Kim Jong-il who died in December 2011.

Meeting Kim Il-sung is a somber affair, even 16 years after his death. Unlike the DMZ where you could wear whatever you wanted, there was a dress code. I brought along a dress shirt and clip-on tie for this occasion specifically.

From the parking lot, we entered an underground complex where we rode a moving walkway for a great distance.

Finally we reached the palace structure itself, with giant statues of Kim Il-sung and halls built at a scale suitably large enough that you could imagine the statues had room to get up and walk around comfortably.

We were given personal audio players that narrated for us. If you're familiar with the vocal style of North Korean news announcers, frantic and blusterous, it was the same, only delivered in a male voice in English. He talked mostly about the North's narrative of how Kim Il-sung's 1994 death devastated people around the world.

The whole time, my Free Willies were squeaking on the marble floor, loud enough to wake the dead.

To enter Kim Il-sung's refrigerated room, you must walk through a massive arch that basically serves as a blowdryer, knocking any particulate matter off you. It had all the tension of going through airport security combined with the solemnity of a funeral; Kim Il-sung is almost a god to North Koreans and this would be the absolute worst time for a faux pas.

Then once we entered, Kim Il-sung was right there, lying in his glass coffin. It was dead quiet, except for the squeak of my Free Willies. We were guided to his feet, squeak squeak, where we bowed to him. Then we proceeded to his left side, squeak squeak, and bowed again, then went over by his head, squeak squeak, where we were told not to bow ― I guess he couldn't see us from that angle? ― and once more to his other side ― squeak, squeak for a third bow.

I felt like I was representing South Korea poorly, especially as North Koreans seemed to especially favor these smart, efficient blue canvas shoes that probably last for years.

By the time I made it back to China, the soles of my Free Willies were peeling off, and every step I took became a challenge.

For my second visit, I bought more practical shoes from Dongdaemun Market, another bargain-bin shopping experience. It was a shorter trip and they were holding up well, until the day before I was to take the train back to China.
When entering a flooded public washroom on the North Korean side of Panmunjeom, I found my shoes inundated and quite odorous.

Back at the Yanggakdo Hotel that night, I scoured the basement shops for replacements while the bus waited to take my group to the Mass Games. There actually were shoes on sale, but nothing large enough for me.

Then someone found a pair of Chinese-made slippers, made of a woven wheat-like substance with a somewhat rubbery sole. They seemed hardly suitable for travel, but anything was better than the DMZ bathroom water shoes.

I wore the slippers to the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium to see the Mass Games, and they didn't let me down. I wore them the next day as I boarded the train, and these shoes got me all the way from North Korea, through China, back to South Korean soil and all the way to my home in Seoul.


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