The Palace

This day is auspicious even if it is gray. This is Sunday, and like all other Fridays and Sundays, Kumsusan Memorial Palace is open for Korean and tourists to pay respect to Kim Il Song.

The Great Leader’s body lies in state in a mausoleum built inside the palace. After walking miles and miles outside, inside and underground, through seen and unseen detectors and checkpoints, dressed in our best Sunday clothes, we all finally get to pay respect to the embalmed body of the Great Leader. The music and words coming out of the loudspeakers are appropriately solemn and thoroughly adoring. When we get to the body, we advance in rows of 3’s and bow North-Korean style (hinge at the hips, body and head in a straight line, hands and arms stiff alongside the body, hands brushing the thighs) not just once but three times around the resting body. One cannot help but feel a measure of humility fueled by the dignity of the moment. In fact, the whole experience is far more powerful than the visit to Ho Chi Minh’s or Lenin’s bodies.
We are surrounded by huge, elegant rooms of grey marble. This used to be Kim Il Song’s palace and it is now his mausoleum. Kim Jung Il grew up here but does not live withing these tall, austere walls.