Saturday morning and the VIPs rolling out of Yanggakdo Hotel in Mercedes and buses.
Us common tourists had no reason to hope for military parade access, yet it was impossible, looking out the hotel window at the ‘hardware’ lined up, to not imagine that somehow we would end up with a front row seat.
We boarded the bus and were taken to a front row seat…or sorts. All the tour groups were shunted out of the city center to keep us out of trouble. We entered a tourist restaurant and were ushered to a room with a grainy TV broadcast of the parade and told, at 10 am, to enjoy an “early lunch.”
Though maddening to be so close yet so far, watching the live broadcast was an interesting prelude for the day. When jets showed on the screen for an overflight, I dashed outside to see them streak across the sky.
When the formal parade wrapped up, Kim Jong-un, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and other dignitaries saying their goodbyes, our Uri Tours guides let into action of the whispered phone calls in which all tourist business is conducted. They coordinated with the authorities and other tour groups to gain access to a road intersection where the hardware would roll out of Kim Il-sung Square for viewing by the general populace. Our guides had to sweet talk police at several travel stops and got us an awesome spot with the sun at our backs, while we smugly looked at the other tour buses opposite with the sun in their eyes.
Seeing parade participants on their walk home showed the human element of the orchestrated parade, collars unbottoned in the heat, parade implements dangling from tired hands.
The soldiers rolled by in ever-larger vehicles. There were units equipped in Korean War vintage uniforms and vehicles. There were tractors representing farmers units in the Korean war. Many were baby-faced, some were students and children. Following it all were buses of veterans. NK News provides a guide of the hardware using pictures taken from virtually the same spot.
With the cheers and smiles on this brilliant summer day it was hard to ponderer the grave geopolitical situation of the Korean peninsula. The beaming soldiers waving to crowds belied the purpose of the vehicles they helmed. The only wake-up calls were from the acrid smoke and the spluttering tank oil as the throngs crowded in close.