By Alek Sigley, Tongil Tours founder and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
This is a Diary Entry from Sunday the 17th of June, 2018
After sleeping in a bit, I went down at about 11am to find Han Sol, my Korean-Canadian friend in the Foreign Student Dormitory who is completing his undergraduate degree at Kim Il Sung University. It was a Sunday and to break routine, we had decided to go outside somewhere that neither of us had been for lunch. I had heard of a restaurant that had kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, so I got the name from friends so that I could tell the taxi driver to take us there. Taeposan Restaurant (대보산식당) it’s called.
We went outside to hunt for a taxi. Being Sunday, a lot of people were outside relaxing. In our neighbourhood we saw two pet dogs. First a tiny puppy with a group of middle aged women fawning on it. Second something that looked like a shiatzu, with long white wispy hair. Its master, a teenage girl in school uniform, sat on a roadside park exercise machine with her Children’s League red scarf dangling around her neck, lazily watching her dog run to and fro.
It took us longer than usual to find a cab, perhaps because it was Sunday. When we finally found one we had to share with another passenger, a young woman. She got off nearby and the cab driver then took us right to the restaurant. It is located next to Kim Chaek University of Technology on the bank of the Taedong River, just opposite the Yanggak Island International Hotel where most tourist groups stay.
We entered the building that the taxi driver pointed us to and on the ground floor on the right there was indeed a small room with several booths and a conveyor belt in the middle. At the back was a backlit sign with pictures of sushi, by which stood the chefs as they prepared the food. Being a Sunday, the restaurant was full.
As in other sushi restaurants the plates are colour coded according to price. By the tables and at the back of the room were price charts matching each colour to a number. The red plates were cheapest at 100 won ($1 USD), and ranged in price up to the black plates at 280 won ($2.80 USD).
We took our seats and had some sushi, some from the conveyer belt and some from the menu. We had artic clam, shrimp, tuna, and a few other plates. As if to remind us of where we were, a plate of tteok (Korean glutinous rice cake) came gliding down the conveyer belt. The sushi was washed down with two bottles of Japanese sake, served hot from a porcelain pitcher. I have had better sushi in Pyongyang, but nevertheless it was an interesting experience just to have conveyer belt sushi in Pyongyang.
After we walked to Mirae Scientist’s Street to check out the Naegohyang store. Naegohyang is kind of like a local version of Adidas in that it sells sportswear and sports equipment, branded with its distinctive logo. But Naegohyang also produces a range of other products from t-shirts, cigarettes and ashtrays to pens. We exited Taeposan Restaurant, crossed the road and walked along the bank of the Taedong River opposite the Yanggak Island International Hotel down to Mirae Scientist’s Street.
After about ten minutes’ walk we ended up at Mirae Scientist’s Street where there was a little square with a large TV screen with a Korea Central Television (KCTV) feed placed outside. People were lounging around on the benches outside watching a movie. “It’s like a drive-in-theatre”, remarked Han Sol. “Yeah, a walk-in-theatre”, I added, and we agreed that it was not a bad idea. Not far we saw an electronic billboard outside of an electronics store advertising the latest Arirang smartphone models. For a moment I wasn’t sure if I was in New York or Tokyo.
We arrived at the Naegohyang store at last. From the outside it looked rather nondescript (all stores here pretty much do due to paucity of advertising), with nothing to indicate its location but a small sign with its logo with the words “Sporting Goods Store” (체육용품상점), but inside it was new and chic. We looked at the Naegohyang branded items. They had everything from exercise clothes, shoes, caps, pouches, backpacks, sweat towels, table tennis tables, tissues, ping pong balls, soccer balls, volleyballs, batteries, hot water bottles, cigarettes and liquor, lamps and even a baked goods section.
They also sold Adidas and Nike items (clothes, shoes, backpacks), some for around $100 USD apiece. And at the back there’s a little grocery store that sells a lot of Japanese snacks, some of which had been recommended to me by my wife.
They also have display cases selling table tennis and badminton rackets (Chinese brands). Han Sol was impressed by a treadmill with a desk built in, so that you can run while studying.
I ended up buying a short-sleeved exercise shirt ($12 USD), a towel ($7 USD) and a baseball cap ($1.5 USD), all with the Naegohyang brand, and some Japanese drinks and snacks to satisfy the thirst we had worked up during the walk there. I began to think that this shop is a great place for gifts that are more authentic (i.e. that locals also buy and use) than the stuff they sell in hotel shops, which are produced for tourists. The branded plastic bag they packed our purchases in listed another store in East Pyongyang, not too far from the diplomatic compound, which I’ll hopefully check out some time soon.
After paying we sat on these chairs which we felt were too just too hipster to be in Pyongyang, and relieved our thirst with the beverages we had just bought. Just outside the store they have an electronic billboard. It was advertising Naegohyang liquor, and the upstairs area where they have table tennis and a Naegohyang restaurant (I later heard from friends that they have good Bulgogi there and that it’s one of those places where you place your order from a tablet computer). An LED sign outside also advertised the restaurant, a café, and a pharmacy. Overwhelmed from a day of surprises however, we decided to head back home, and leave those for perhaps another day.