Looking in the other direction from the top of the Tower of the Juche Idea, the Central District of Pyongyang is dominated by the Grand People’s Study House on Namsan Hill on the west side of Kim Il Sung Square. Built in 1982, it has more than 600 rooms, covering about 100,000 square metres, for reading, lectures and “Q&A sessions with intellectuals”. The Grand People’s Study House has space for 30 million books (my guides didn’t know how many there actually were) and up to 12,000 people can use it each day. When someone wants a book, they order it from a librarian, who calls it up from the library via an “inertial remote carriage device.”
In this picture you may be able to pick out the lines of hundreds of people standing in Kim Il Sung Square in front of the Grand People’s Study House. They are practicing for the annual celebrations that are held on October 10 each year which is ‘Founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea Day’. When I was there in mid-September, the whole city seemed to be preparing for this big event in which everyone in the country participates. Everywhere I went there were hundreds of people on foot and on bicycles going to and from practice sessions being held in different parts of the city – all carrying batons with brightly coloured plastic streamers attached to one end.
Shortly after taking this photograph, we drove along the road through the middle of the square. I asked if we could stop and take a photograph of the people practicing, but I was advised that the working people do not like to be photographed.
The building with the yellow roof that looks like an inverted cone, behind and slightly to the left of the Grand People’s Study House, is an ice rink, and between the two there is a large gymnasium. There are an amazing number of stadiums and gymnasiums in Pyongyang. On Chongchun Street in the Mangyongdea District alone there are another eight gymnasiums at least as large (for volleyball, basketball, weightlifting, handball, table tennis, badminton, athletics and ‘combat sports’) as well as a football stadium, taekwondo hall and an indoor swimming complex. Pyongyang is one city that could probably host an Olympics Games without having to build anything new – but not that that is likely to happen in the near future!