PART 2 !
Upon boarding, I was waved in the direction of my seat with a smile, and it was up to me to find my seat. Akin to much that is North Korean, the flight was orchestrated, and efficient. Nonetheless, there was a certain degree of humanity within the flight attendants- previous reports put them down as 'actors playing their role effectively'- on my flight, this was not the case. Although not chatting at length with anyone due to the restrictions that apply to all citizens of the DPRK, they still were friendly and rather attentive.
After buckling in into my seat, LCD
screens popped down from the roof of the cabin. Then the safety announcement began. It started something along the lines of this:
'' Under the wise leadership of the Supreme Leader, our dear leader Kim-Jong Il, and his magnificent application of Songun politics, this flight has been made possible today. Let us all ask for the dear leader's blessing.''
Then it went into the regular fasten your seat belt, no smoking announcement, etc.
Screenshots from the safety announcement
Within minutes of boarding, the door was closed and the aircraft commenced its taxi towards FNJ's solitary runway, as the announcement continued to play
The civilian helicopters previously seen closer up, as P-633 taxied past them. They are nearly surly VIP configurations for the North Korean elite as well as visiting heads of state. They are unlikely (almost certainly) not for Kim Jong-Il's use due to his fear from flying (which was confirmed by our guides).
The runway we would find ourselves on within minutes
Finally, take off. The aircraft did not stop prior to lurching forward, instead, we simply sped up from taxi speed to full thrust on the runway, with quite stringent power prior to the nose lifting up, pointed skyward.
The load on the aircraft was quite impressive (probably 90%-95%. This was due to the very high number of tourists on board (as well as the fact that this was the only way out or in North Korea [other than CA
flights on certain days and a North Korean citizens only train ])
If you strain your eyes on the last photograph, you may see a network of dirt roads. According to our guides (which were from the Culture Department of the MOFA) it was to enable tanks to run across, nonetheless, little truth can be taken from that- it is nearly certainly due to a lack of funding. However, inter-city highways, which lay empty, could quite rival the best highways of the world. North Korea is one of the poorest nations in the world, yet, when one compares the country with other places of similar wealth, their shear efficiency- with the money they have, what they have built is outstanding, although sad.
As the flight hit its cruising altitude (there were no announcements to how high, however my guess would be 31,000 feet) the rattling of the food tray could be heard. It was time to try the infamous 'Koryo Burger' (ronic that such a staunch anti-American state serves the staple of American food on their flight, eh ? This ironic hypocritical approach sums up the North Korean government quite well). With a smile, I got my flabby sandwich. When asked for my drink, I chose the 'cherry' (DPRK soft drink) simply because I wanted to try a North Korean specialty one last time.
My Koryo burger- I would not go as far as calling it disgusting, yet the meat tasted very bland, almost like bread, and the bread itself was not fresh by any respect. Due to this, after a few bites, I stopped eating it. The soft drink was okay, but in no way was it excellent. However, it's hardly fair critiquing the food here- its the experience of even being able to experience it in the first place that is exhilarating. At that point in the flight a sudden great-fullness overtook me. A sentimental person, this was no surprise, but I realized just how great-full one must be to be able to be on this flight, to have visited the DPRK and seen it from such a rare prospective. To have gone to both poles, to have seen so much in the world at such a young age. My emotional moment was cut short however, as the LCD
screens whizzed down from the bulkhead to start playing the in-flight entertainment- surprise, surprise, it's government propaganda. What would have been quite infuriating on a longer flight was the fact that there were no headphones- just like the musical racket of Korean People's Army songs that would play well beyond midnight in Pyongyang, the sound was played through the aircraft's rather crisp PA system. On a short hop from FNJ to PEK
however, it wasn't infuriating. It was fascinating (being able to experience it, not the propaganda itself).
A glimpse of the 'in-flight entertainment'
Leg room was more than adequate, although should the longer flights to DME
resume, it may have been to limited.
Probably the world's most valuable in-flight magazine. Filled with articles parsing the DPRK, this is the official English language news magazine of the DPRK. If I found this on a UA
or any other airline's flight I would have been downright appalled. Yet its contents were incredibly interesting for someone like me- a piece of print from a time that the rest of the world had long passed. Its cover story was the introduction of a mobile phone network in the DPRK (its been in place for years, but the government finally had enough monitoring equipment in place to allow the public to use it).
The Korean section of the paper, and the dear dictator Kim Jong-Il
The dear leader, Kim Jong-Il- a man who is responsible of depriving his people from the most basic of human rights. The people around him are carrying notes so that he can give them 'on the spot guidance'- basically he gives them 'improvements' and they must carry them out to the word.
Unlike the inbound flight which was a brilliant opportunity to take great photographs, the whether on JS151 was not helping.
Somewhere around the DPRK/PRC
the obligatory toilet shot (again, it was clean and adequate for such a short flight)
The Perm Motor that was powering our flight
The view from the window
A North Korean passenger gets something from the in-cabin baggage compartment. Unlike the previous flight, this one had a substantial amount of North Korean's aboard, in both economy cabins.
Although I had no idea of knowing, I believe somewhere around the mountain ranges on the border between the DPRK and the PRC
we hit heavy turbulence. The seat ahead of the person sitting next to me started to shake violently, ending in the table tray falling off. As a flight attendant came to see what happened, she apologized, laughed, and caried out a quick fix. On landing, when the fuselage was shaking once again, it un-did itself (the fix being a tad too quick), and the poor chap next to me had to hold it in place until we arrived at the gate in PEK
The culprit, a fallen screw, being held to the camera by my seat-mate.
Note the missing screw- the seat-mate is holding the tray in with his legs.
Finally, approach into Beijing. By now, an immense happiness started to set in me, and I am sure it was the same for all members of our group. Loosing our freedom fully for 11 days, and being in a place of substantial danger was not pleasant, at least emotionally. Being so far away from everything that we knew, everything that we loved. Being away from the world that we all are used to- the year 2010, the modern world. Seeing Beijing open up underneath us was a feeling I cannot describe- the feeling that the finish line is finally near. An emotion that many have killed to obtain. The emotion that is freedom.
As the crackle of the speakers came on, announcing our landing, we started to loose altitude at an alarming rate. Too fast. So fast, that my already infected ears suddenly burst closed against the pressure- many other passengers held their ears. Eventually, we leveled off. However, for me the damage was done- the ear ache began, slow at first, but eventually it'd find itself in a crescendo that would end up with a visit to the ER
of a Beijing hospital, and a bout of medical drugs as a souvenir. I never have a problem with ear pressure during landings- however, with already infected ears, dropping the aircraft in what was much more akin to a military monouver than anything else ( that would have never happened in any other airline unless it was an emergency- I am a very experienced flyer, and last time a fall like that took place was on a GF
flight that ended up with the aircraft being written-off, in AUH
, 1997)- even my ears could not stand it.
you can just glimpse a Chinese river below
This all-too-familiar approach into PEK
had a much greater feeling this time.
The beautifully imposing T3
Passing an AC
B772 in the final moments of our flight... closer...
very close now ! ...
Touchdown! ... welcome back to 2010
Aircraft at PEK
... here a CA
At the gate we were greeted by a KLM 744- the bright blue did much to awaken my eyes, a welcomed change against the Communist grey blandness they had become accustomed to.
The passengers take their hand baggage
After all the passengers left the plane, I spotted the Captain. A friendly and approachable fellow, I greeted him, and told him I was a private pilot. He looked interested, and we had a nice chat. He said he was from the Korean People's Air Force (explains the landing monouver) and simultaneously flew in the air force as well as did the civilian flights for JS
when called upon. Today was one such day. His early training had been done in a Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer, dating back to 1946. After I asked if I could see the cockpit, he agreed, throwing my heart-rate to around 5 million bp/m- how many people could claim to have flown on JS
, let alone seen its cockpit. As we approached the cockpit, however, a stewardess barked something in Korean to the captain, and he looked back, gave us a very friendly smile and apologized, stating that it was not possible. It would be a rare happening on another airline when a stewardess contradicts a Captain so openly in front of passengers. Nonetheless, much of the DPRK is governed by ranking in the Korean Worker's Party, rather than seniority in a certain position- so had she been higher up in the party, it was probably alright for her to do that, then report the Captain had he let us into the flight deck. Gutted, I walked away, taking one last look at the magnificent rare bird that also had done my ear drums in (quite literally).
One last look at P-633... it has a beauty, a regalness that no narrow body, not even the 757 (bar perhaps the 707) had.
We were back to the future- the North Koreans were now people from the past. I saw a great scene ahead- a North Korean man wearing the traditional Communist agricultural suit, in the modernity that is China. I tried to translate it into a photograph, but with half-half results.
We were nearly home.
The Bird's Nest the night we got back from FNJ.
TRIP REPORT: NORTH KOREA WITH LOVE: AIR KORYO PYONGYANG-BEIJING
Everyone, please advise me how to make this tr better, more readable and enjoyable. Next I plan to write up my CA
flight in J PEK
, connecting to GF DXB
also in J. In that I would cover Beijing and Shanghai a little better- also, if you want more information or photos of Pyongyang itself, I would be happy to write a summarized report when time allows.
Thank you for reading !
[Edited 2010-12-22 06:19:06]