The Globe Trottin' Mr. Rollins: Henry Rollins Visits a Dead North Korean Leader, Ponders the Relationship Between State Communism and Scientology, and Finally Finds Time to Chill Out in Mongolia (also, HR's Musings on Jimi Hendrix!)
[The one and only Henry Rollins will be contributing a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every Friday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
Maura Lanahan Our eminent columnist, Mr. Henry Rollins!
This installment includes Henry's trips to North Korea (yep, North Korea) and Mongolia, his musings on the one and only Jimi Hendrix, and the awesomely annontated playlist for his KCRW BROADCAST #81 for tomorrow, Saturday 9-18-10. For more details please visit KCRW.com and HenryRollins.com]
So, there I was a few days ago, attending the Mass Games in Pyongyang, DPRK. Thousands of North Koreans performed in synchronized perfection. The display was truly awesome and overwhelming. No doubt, you can find footage of this online. It's bigger than you think.
The scenes changed flawlessly and relentlessly for an hour and a half. Thousands of youth in the stands created constantly changing imagery by use of colored cards. They showed us images of the bright future of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the one man you can thank for the greatness to come, the hardest working man in North Korea and the star of the show, The Great Leader, Kim Il Sung.
As I sat in the massive one hundred and fifty thousand capacity May Day Stadium, watching this dazzling assault on my senses, I had a small revelation--this is what Scientology has to be like.
Sightseeing around the Pyongyang area is a funfest that should not be missed. We went all day, eleven hours minimum. Every few feet, there's an image of Kim Il Sung to look at or sometimes bow towards. The biggest to-do was checking out Kim Il Sung's corpse at the mausoleum.
It's a solemn and extremely strange experience. My two guides and I stood in silence as we went on the slowest moving sidewalk you have ever been on, no walking allowed. I timed it. Six minutes and eleven seconds.
We were taken into a large room with a huge statue of Kim Il Sung, music swelled behind the statue and the mood lighting was in full effect. Then, we walked over a machine that brushed the bottoms of our shoes and then through the blower, presumably knock whatever particles may have inadvertently settled on us that could possibly disturb the Great Leader's eternal rest. Finally, we walk around a large glass box holding what looks like an old man partially concealed under a blanket. We made a bow on three sides of this thing. Minutes later, back on the moving sidewalk and back into the light of day. Trippy.
My two guides were extremely friendly and despite not a lot of English exchanged, we got along very well. One of the things I found confusing was the sheer amount of agriculture that we drove by day after day. There seems to be no shortage of food stuffs and even flying over the country on my way back to China, all I could see was green fields.
I know I was only shown a very small part of the country, of course but it made me wonder how anyone could be hungry there. I remember talking to an elderly British fellow in the breakfast room at one point and he brought up the same thing. He's a farmer and said that the land there is perfect for growing. I have a feeling that if there's any bad parts of the country, they weren't going to let me see them. What I don't understand is how much the guides knew and what they are told to tell me.
Back in Beijing was like landing back on planet Earth after a long time away. Just walking down the street to Tiananmen Square on my own, without having to ask if I could take a picture was a noticeably liberating experience. I don't think there's any place in the world like the DPRK. If you want to check out something completely different as they say, you might want to go. I hope to get back there next year.
From Beijing, I went up to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia for a few days.