North Korea resumes construction on world’s most hideous hotel

North Korea

North Korea is the hermit kingdom; a strange land of mass games and dear leaders trapped in a 1950’s communist time warp. While they may not have modern supermarkets or PlayStation 3, North Korea does have one of the tallest hotels in the world, and it looms high above Pyongyang like a tribute to the ill advised whims of dear leader Kim Jong Il.

According to USA Today, The pyramidal Ryugyong Hotel began construction in the late nineteen-eighties and was spearheaded by Orascom – an Egyptian architectural firm. Construction of the abominable structure was halted after the fall of the Soviet Union. Without Soviet subsidies, North Korea could not afford the expensive project. Today, the 105 story building is again under construction and may cost as much as two billion U.S. dollars to complete, or 5% to 10% of estimated North Korean G.D.P. Relative to American G.D.P. terms, it would be like the United States sinking over a trillion dollars into a hotel project.North Korea The windowless and hollow structure stood vacant for decades, just towering above the city. It is a metaphorical monument to a country plagued by its own agitprop claims of supremacy and the central lunacy that drives this madness further. The North Koreans even spent years denying the structure’s existence, removing it from photographs and excluding it from maps of Pyongyang. Too much shame, it seems, in the very obvious failure.

When completed, the Ryugyong Hotel will have 3000 rooms and roughly 3.9 million square feet. The original plan entailed three wings rising at 75 degree angles capped by several revolving restaurants and an observation deck at the hotel’s pinnacle. For a country that just opened its first burger spot last year, it is very ambitious stuff.

Many architects in the international community are questioning the suitability of the project. Bruno Giberti, a professor at California Polytechnic State University’s department of architecture, called it “the worst building in the world.” The European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea deemed the structure irreparable almost fifteen years ago, citing curving elevator shafts. From a humanitarian standpoint, a nation filled with malnourished children could probably make better use of the estimated $2 billion project.

With elevator shafts more crooked than Kim Jong Il’s epic golf game and decades of structural decay, the “ghostscraper” faces a long road to accepting its first guests. North Korea plans to open the hotel to coincide with the posthumous 100 year birthday of Eternal President Kim Il Sung in late 2012.

flickr images via John Pavelka

Video of the Day – Inside North Korea

North Korea is undoubtedly the most difficult country in the world to gain access to, especially if you’re a journalist aiming to produce a video about the reclusive nation. For months, the travel bad boys over at VBS.tv corresponded with North Korea’s representatives to arrange a guided tour of the infamous Mass Games.

After being selected as one of the only groups to cover the event, VBS Founder Shane Smith and director Eddy Moretti were taken on a journey that gets more bizzarre by the minute. From the streets of Pyongyang, to the International Friendship Museum, to deserted banquet halls – it’s worth watching the entire series to get a rare look at a country that rarely exposes itself to the world.

Do you have clips from an epic investigation of your own? Found a video online that inspires you to travel? Share it with us in the comment section below and it could be our next Video of the Day!

Five American-style North Korean restaurants for foodies

This may not have been the case a few years ago, but Pyongyang is definitely on its way to becoming a culinary destination … well, maybe not. Nonetheless, it is pretty wild that the self-isolating regime has let slip some pretty wild information about the dining options available in the capital. If you can finagle a way into North Korea and somehow get yourself a bit of freedom to move, there are now some interesting restaurants for you to visit.

Swing an eating trip to Pyongyang, and you may find yourself munching on the familiar. There are several western-style restaurants popping up in this strange city, so eating like a local may mean eating like you’re home.

Let’s take a look at five restaurants in Pyongyang and how you could scarf that grub in style:1. Okryu Restaurant: just opened last week, this soon-to-be hot spot garnered a mention by the Korea Central News Agency, which means its launch was intended to be made public. The claim is that this place can accommodate thousands of customers, so live on the edge and skip making a reservation.

2. Samtaesung:
a relatively new addition to the Pyongyang culinary scene, this burger joint is open 24 hours a day and still recommends making reservations to pick up your food. This is a place to see and be seen, especially if you’re tight with the regime: Kim Jong-il‘s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is said to benefit personally from all the cash spent there.

3. Pizza (no name given): dine on pies with ingredients shipped in from Naples and Rome. The first North Korean pizza parlor is said to have been created at the request of Kim Jong-il himself, so you know the quality is going to be top notch! So, without a name, how can you expect to find the place? Ask where the pizza joint is; it’s not like there are dozens.

4. Beach (outside the city): get outside of Pyongyang, and you still have some options. In Wonsan, at the beach, you can find even more pizza. Just remember to wait at least 20 minutes before jumping back into the waves!

5. Cubby’s: this is the restaurant that never happened in Pyongyang. Originally the dream of a New Jersey BBQ joint owner, plans to expand Cubby’s to Pyongyang were explored. The owner, Bobby Egan, befriended some North Korean diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York City and even took a few trips over to his buddies’ homeland. Alas, according to his recent book, the plans for a DPRK franchise never came to fruition.

[photo by John Pavelka via Flickr]

Former chef to North Korean dictator dishes on change prospects with Kim Jong-un

It looks like Kim Jong-un will follow in the footsteps of his father, Kim Jong-il. This succession plan, of sorts, will extend the Kim dynasty in North Korea to a third generation, separating the top dog even further from the supposed revolutionary exploits of the country’s first leader, Kim Il-sung.

With new blood, of course, the question of change is inevitable. Under Kim Jong-il, there have been brief, constrained flirtations with some activities that could be described as capitalism, particularly in the depths of the famine that struck the nation. Marketplaces for privately grown or procured goods opened, resulting in a black market in plain sight that was subject only to occasional government intervention.

So, can we look for Kim Jong-un to loosen the family’s (allegedly) merciless grip on the country? One man doesn’t think so.

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Kenji Fujimoto (not his real name) used to be a personal chef to the current dictator, and despite the pseudonym, sunglasses and bandana – all to conceal his appearance and identity, for security reasons – he somehow finds the media when it’s time to comment on his former employer.

Fujimoto told reporters in Seoul last week not to expect too much too soon. The Wall Street Journal does report that there is long-term hope, however:

Kim Jong Eun, the dictator’s third son who’s emerged as his likely successor, will ultimately have to open up the country, above all, to feed people, Mr. Fujimoto said. But the younger Kim won’t be able to do so in the near term because of his fragile standing in the party.

“He will have no choice but to continue policies set by his father at least for several years,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “So it’s not until a decade later when a policy change, if any, would materialize.”

The chef escaped from North Korea in 2001, without being able to take his wife and two children. He has since written four books about his experiences in the DPRK.

Fujimoto watched the next leader grow up, telling the Wall Street Journal, “I’ve seen him since he was seven, and he always took the lead when he played with his brothers, and his strong leadership disposition was clearly visible.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

New Pyongyang restaurant opens to rave reviews

Forget Manhattan, Pyongyang seems to be the hottest spot for new restaurant openings. Sure, there seems to be a new dining option popping up in New York City every time you blink … but that’s to be expected! When new options come to North Korea, it’s a bit more noticeable.

Only two weeks ago, word hit the west about a new burger joint in the North Korean capital, called Samtaesung, with links to Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui. Well, there’s now another hot spot in the city, according to the Korea Central News Agency, the official “news” mouthpiece of the regime.

The KCNA reports that a 6,000 square-meter restaurant, Okryu Restaurant, was just finished. Apparently, it can handle thousands of visitors and “is a catering centre for providing best service to people.” This is a start that would make most capitalist restaurateurs salivate!

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And, as is always the case with the North Korean media, it only gets better:

With the appearance of the elegant, magnificent and exquisite restaurant, a good combination of national, classical and contemporary architectural styles, the area of Okryu Restaurant has turned into a street of catering facilities built in a peculiar Korean architectural style to be proud of.

The opening was celebrated with a ceremony last Friday, and some major people were in attendance: “Jon Ha Chol, vice-premier of the Cabinet, Ryang Man Gil, chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, officials concerned, soldier-builders, officials and employees of the restaurant.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]