The Day of the Sun


Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
April 15, Juche 105 (2016)

Rise, children. Shine. On this day, the clouds never darken our skies. Rejoice in the 104th dawn of the Eternal President.


Highly impressed by his noble love for his compatriots and his great generosity, the businessman bowed deeply to Kim Il Sung and said sincerely, “Your Excellency Kim Il Sung, you are indeed the God of all the Korean people.” –Anecdotes of Kim Il Sung’s Life, Vol. 2


His earthly body lies in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, encased in glass and bathed in the soft red glow of perpetual sunset. In another chamber lies the Son of the Sun, the Shining Star, General Kim Jong Il. Two days ago, I passed through those immense, silent halls. The only sound was the faint whir of the moving walkway that transports the living deep within. Photos line the walls. Material for contemplation. There he is inspecting farms and turtleneck sweaters and overhead projectors. Has another smile ever held such radiance? Everything in this world is astonishing and delightful. Every little thing.

In photos and paintings, the General is often with the Eternal President, pointing at something out of sight. The President’s response is, as always, a luminous smile. Something truly wondrous lies forever beyond.

When asked why the General almost always wore sunglasses, one of our guides replied, “It is because his eyes were often red, so the people were worried that he was too tired. He wore them so that we would not worry.”


The fog that has obscured the city over the past few days has indeed dissipated. The diffuse morning light casts a faint shimmer on the massive bronze statues at Mansudae Grand Monument. Rows upon rows wait for the invitation to approach and pay their respects. Women in traditional dress. Men and women in military uniform. Schoolchildren. Tourists join in, out of respect for their guides.


A hammer for the workers, a sickle for the farmers, a brush for the intellectuals. All of them encircled by the unity of the Leader, Party, and people. Just below it: living, blazing color. Sound and movement are executed with fierce precision. Our group spreads out behind the crowd of locals. Curious glances on both sides. Our Western guide begins to clap in time to the music. The noise reverberates through the silent crowd.

I flinch. “Do they like that?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

Before his words are even finished, the locals follow his lead. It is an instinctive reaction. Eyes awaken. Faces brighten. They only needed to be reminded that it is an option.


Bloom, delicate creation.


Kimilsungia is not simply a beautiful flower of nature; it is a flower that symbolizes the greatness of President Kim Il Sung, who illuminated the road ahead for the world by means of his Juche idea, and a flower that has bloomed in the hearts of the people in the era of independence in honor of a great man. It gives our people an infinite dignity and pride in living and waging revolution in Kim Il Sung’s motherland, and inspires them with determination to devote their all to the consummation of the cause of Juche pioneered by him. Because it grows in the hearts of mankind and blooms among our faithful people, it is so beautiful, so ennobling and so precious. There are tens of thousands of varieties of flowers on the earth, but none is as meaningful as Kimilsungia.  —  Kim Jong Il, “Kimilsungia Is an Immortal Flower That has Bloomed in the Hearts of Mankind in the Era of Independence”


An afternoon stroll through Moran Hill Park. Beyond the wedding parties and picnicking families, I perceive her glow long before I can discern her features. The music hovers above the crowd, so ethereal that it’s almost imperceptible. One long breathless sigh. Arms float through the air like the wings of drowsy butterflies. Some of us are coaxed into the gentle fray. I am caught off guard. Self-conscious. I need some of what they’re drinking.


The crowd has swelled with curious onlookers. I stare into my partner’s aged face and imitate her movements. When the song finishes, she shoos me back into the crowd.


The Mass Dance has just begun by the time we arrive. Once again our guides encourage us to join. I shake my head. Not again. She grabs Felix, the Venezuelan in our group, and leads him to a dancer. A spasm of panic seizes his face. He puts his hands on his hips and steps forward, out of time with his partner. He shakes his head at himself. Even so, his incorporation into the languid rotation causes no agitation. By the time he has come full circle, he is beaming. He waves at me and mouths, Photo, please! I aim my camera his way until he is once again swept away. Even the reluctant eventually fall into step.


I lay my camera down and gaze into the swirling rainbow, mesmerized by the effortless harmony. Spin, turn, churn. Serene gears in a reliable machine. A somnolent order. When the music takes on a military tone, the men perk up. Arms and legs stiffen. Otherwise the steps and gestures have the indolence of flowers swaying in a soft summer breeze. Dreamy smiles, half-closed eyes. When everyone cooperates, there is no need for fervor.


Wistfulness washes over me. Now I wish that I had joined in. The gentle motion seems so soothing. What would it be like to lose myself in the masses? For an instant, I allow myself to feel the profound relief of surrender. Gooseflesh rises on my arms.

Don’t you remember? You tried, all those years ago, to join the fold. To be normal. You failed. Your kind always ends up banished. Efficiently eliminated.


Somehow, we missed the fireworks. As compensation for our disappointment, we have come to Kim Il Sung Square to take some photos. Red signs smolder against the black sky. For days, we have seen large groups of people sitting in the squares. White caps, red caps. They are preparing for the torch-light parade that will take place during next month’s Worker’s Congress, the first such event since 1980. As soon as we reach the middle of the square, a military guard appears. He speaks to one of our guides and then marches away. “We have to leave now.” She beckons to those who have wandered off.

From out of the darkness beyond the square, they materialize. Many voices melded into one. A chorus of joyful unity. We pause, spellbound. After they pass, we move along. Another group jogs out of the darkness. A more forceful chant: Do it in one strike!

Some of us march alongside them and join in the Korean chant. They look over at us in surprise and break into laughter as they disappear, once again, into the night. Never once breaking stride.