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P'yŏngyang , with about 2,750,000 inhabitants, is the capital and largest city of North Korea. It is on the Taedong River in the southwest of the country.
The capital has been completely redesigned since the Korean War (1950–53). It is designed with wide avenues, imposing monuments and monolithic buildings.
|POPULATION :||City: 2,581,076|
|FOUNDED :||1122 BC|
|TIME ZONE :||(UTC+8:30)|
|RELIGION :||Buddhist and Confucianist|
|AREA :||1,100 km2 (400 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||38 m (125 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||39°1′10″N 125°44′17″E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 48.80% |
• Female: 51.20%
|ETHNIC :||Korean, (small community of Chinese and Japanese)|
|AREA CODE :||2|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||+850 2|
Pyongyang was reduced to rubble during the Korean War and has been entirely rebuilt according to a design reflecting Kim Il-Sung's vision.His dream was to create a capital that would boost the morale and ego of Koreans in the post-war years. The result was a city with wide, tree-lined boulevards and monumental public buildings with terraced landscaping, mosaics and decorated ceilings.
Foreign visitors have described Pyongyang as one of the most beautiful cities they have seen; its Russian-style architecture makes it reminiscent of a Siberian city during winter snowfall, although edifices of traditional Korean design somewhat soften this perception. In summer, it is notable for its rivers, willow trees, flowers and parkland.
Structures in Pyongyang are divided into three major architectural categories: monuments, buildings with traditional Korean motifs and high-rises. Some of North Korea's most recognisable landmarks are monuments, like the Juche Tower, the Arch of Triumph and the Mansu Hill Grand Monument. The first of them is a 170-meter granite spire symbolizing the Juche ideology. It was completed in 1982 and contains 25,550 granite blocks, one for each day of Kim Il-Sung's life up to that point. By far the most prominent building on Pyongyang's skyline is Ryugyong Hotel, the seventh highest building in the world terms of floor count and one of the tallest hotels in the world. It has yet to open.
In 1955, archaeologists excavated evidence of prehistoric occupation in a large ancient village in the Pyongyang area, called Kŭmtan-ni, dating to the Chŭlmun and Mumun pottery periods.
Pyongyang was founded in 1122 BC on the site of Tangun Dynasty's capital, according to legends. It is likely that the area of Pyongyang belonged to Wiman Joseon, the shortest-lasting part of Gojoseon if both Dangun and Gija Joseon were real, which fell in the Gojoseon–Han War in 108 BC.
The area around the city was called Nanglang during the early Three Kingdoms period. As the capital of Nanglang kingdom , Pyongyang remained an important commercial and cultural outpost after Lelang Commandery was destroyed by an expanding Goguryeo in 313.
Goguryeo moved its capital there in 427. According to Christopher Beckwith, Pyongyang is the Sino-Korean reading of the name they gave it in their language: Piarna, or "level land".
In 668, Pyongyang became the capital of the Protectorate General to Pacify the East established by the Tang dynasty of China. However, by 676, it was taken by Silla, but left on the border between Silla and Balhae (Bohai). This lasted until the time of the Goryeo dynasty, when the city was revived as Sŏgyŏng (Hangul: 서경; hanja: 西京; "Western Capital") although it was never actually a capital of the kingdom. It was the provincial capital of the Pyeongan Province during the Joseon dynasty.
During the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98), Pyongyang was captured by the Japanese until the Japanese were defeated in the Siege of Pyongyang.
Later in the 17th century, it became temporarily occupied during Second Manchu invasion of Korea until peace arrangements were made between Korea and the Manchus. While the invasions made Koreans suspicious of foreigners, the influence of Christianity began to grow after the country opened itself up to foreigners in the 16th century. Pyongyang became the base of Christian expansion in Korea, and by 1880 it had more than 100 churches and more Protestant missionaries than any other Asian city.
In 1890, the city had 40,000 inhabitants. It was the site of an important battle during the First Sino-Japanese War, which led to the destruction and depopulation of much of the city. However, it was the provincial capital of South Pyeongan Province from 1896. Under colonial rule, the city became an industrial center, called Heijō in Japanese.
In July 1931 the city experienced Anti-Chinese riots as a result of the Wanpaoshan Incident and the sensationalized media reports of the incident which appeared in Japanese and Korean newspapers.By 1938, Pyongyang had a population of 235,000.
On 25 August 1945, the 25th army of the Soviet Army entered Pyongyang, and it became the temporary capital of the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea. A People's Committee was already established there, led by veteran Christian nationalist Cho Man-sik. Pyongyang became the de facto capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at its establishment in 1948. At that time, the Pyongyang government aimed to recapture Korea's official capital at that time, Seoul. Pyongyang was again severely damaged in the Korean War, during which it was briefly occupied by South Korean forces from 19 October to 6 December 1950. In 1952, it was the target of the largest aerial raid of the entire war, involving 1,400 UN aircraft.
After the war, the city was quickly rebuilt with Soviet aid, with many buildings built in the style of Socialist Classicism. The plans for the modern city of Pyongyang were first displayed for public viewing in a theatre building.
In 2001, the authorities began a long-term modernization program. The Ministry of Capital City Construction Development was included in the cabinet in that year. In 2006, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law Jang Song-thaek took charge of the ministry.
Pyongyang has a humid continental climate.
Cold, dry winds can blow from Siberia in winter, making conditions very cold; the low temperature is usually below freezing between November and early March, although the average daytime high is at least a few degrees above freezing in every month except January. The winter is generally much drier than summer, with snow falling for 37 days on average.
The transition from the cold, dry winter to the warm, wet summer occurs rather quickly between April and early May, and there is a similar abrupt return to winter conditions in late October and November. Summers are generally hot and humid, with the East Asian monsoon taking place from June until August; these are also the hottest months, with average temperatures of 21 to 25 °C (70 to 77 °F), and daytime highs often above 30 °C (86 °F).
Climate data for Pyongyang
|Record high °C (°F)||11.0|
|Average high °C (°F)||−0.8|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−5.8|
|Average low °C (°F)||−10.7|
|Record low °C (°F)||−28.5|
|Source #1: World Meteorological Organization|
|Source #2: Deutscher Wetterdienst|
Pyongyang is in the west-central part of North Korea. The city lies on a flat plain about 50 kilometres (31 mi) east of the Korea Bay, an arm of the Yellow Sea. The Taedong River flows southwestward through the city toward the Korea Bay. The Pyongyang plain, where the city is situated, is one of the two large plains on the Western coast of the Korean peninsula, the other being the Chaeryong plain. Both have an area of approximately 500 square kilometers.
Pyongyang is North Korea's industrial center. Thanks to the abundance of natural resources like coal, iron and limestone, as well as good land and water transport systems, it was the first industrial city to emerge in North Korea after the Korean War.
Light and heavy industries are both present and have developed in parallel. Heavy manufactures include cement, industrial ceramics, munitions and weapons, but mechanical engineering remains the core industry. Light industries in Pyongyang and its vicinity include textiles, footwear and food, among others. Special emphasis is put on the production and supply of fresh produce and subsidiary crops in farms on the city's outskirts. Other crops include rice, corn and soybeans. Pyongyang aims to achieve self-sufficiency in meat production. High-density facilities raise pigs, chicken and other livestock.
The city still experiences a shortage of electricity. To solve this problem, two power stations - Huichon Power Stations 1 and 2 - were built in Chagang Province and supply the city through direct transmission lines. A second phase of the power expansion project was launched in January 2013, consisting of a series of small dams along the Chongchon River. The first two power stations have a maximum generating capacity of 300 megawatts (MW), while the 10 dams to be built under second phase are expected to generate about 120 MW. In addition, the city has several existing or planned thermal power stations. These include Pyongyang TPS with a capacity of 500 MW, East Pyongyang TPS with a capacity of 50 MW, and Kangdong TPS which is under construction.
P'yŏngyang is divided into 19 wards (ku- or guyŏk) (the city proper) and 2 counties (kun or gun).
The country code for North Korea is +850.
Foreigners staying in Pyongyang can sign up with Koryolink mobile phone service. The setup fee for a SIM card and voice service will be either $80 or €80. Signing up for 3G data costs an additional €180. Fees for the mobile service are $8/month for voice and $14/month for data. The included data plan provides 50M of data. Note that the phone network available to foreigners does not interconnect with the network used by citizens.
Hotels aimed at foreigners may be able to provide Internet access, although it should be requested in advance. If you do not have Internet access and need connection the easiest option is likely to schedule a visit to your embassy.
Prices in Pyongyang
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Transportation - Get In
Sunan International Airport is 24 km north of Pyongyang. It handles a relatively small number of passengers for a capital airport, and as of 2015 has scheduled services to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Vladivostok.
International flights use a new terminal opened in summer of 2015, featuring more seating, an expanded duty-free store, and additional amenities. The new terminal imposes a $1 parking fee when exiting the lot.
Air China operates a round trip to Beijing on Mondays and Fridays, with an additional scheduled flight on Wednesdays in the summer. These flights can be purchased on-line in advance.
Air Koryo operates flights Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Both operators leave Pyongyang at 09:00 and return to Pyongyang from Beijing at 13:00 (Oct 2013).
If you are in a position to buy tickets within the country, they are on sale in the Youth Hotel's Air China office, which is situated about 10 km north-east of the city. They provide a free 30 kg baggage allowance. Tickets may also be purchased online through travel agents who typically interact with either the Beijing or Berlin Air Koryo offices. Expect to pay USD300-320 for a one-way ticket to Beijing.
There are two international train services to Pyongyang, from Beijing (viaDandong and Sinuiju) and Moscow (via Zabaikalsk, Dandong and Sinuiju). Notice that western foreigners in most cases will be denied to enter North Korea using the Moscow train service. Also, since 2013, US citizens have not been allowed on trains in the country except for those specially chartered by tour companies.
For trains arriving at Pyongyang station (평양역), foreigners will have to exit via the side door at the far end of the station from the gates. Don't join the scrum with the Koreans, as you won't be allowed to leave via the same door. If you have transported anything via freight on the train, you'll have to go back the next day to pick it up. The (not very busy) customs office is around the back of the building, and is shut between 12:00 and 14:00. There are no charges for collecting customs-cleared goods, and the bureaucracy is fairly simple, especially compared to the chaos of the Beijing railway station.
Transportation - Get Around
Tourists to North Korea will need to be accompanied by an accredited guide or guides, who will arrange where you can visit and how you will get there. However, personal visitors of foreign residents in Pyongyang are free to go around by themselves, unless explicitly told not to by Korean authorities. This can happen, but is not always the case. Foreign residents cannot use buses.
The metro system has two routes. However, if on a package tour, your short trip on the metro will be organised in advance. Only visitors of foreign residents may use the entire metro. Despite being old, the trains run quite efficiently, and are phenomenally cheap at 5 won per journey irrespective of distance. The biggest drawback to this form of transport is that the metro is only on the west side of the river, while Munsu dong — where all foreign residents live — is on the east side.
Taxis can be taken, but drivers are wary of accepting foreigners. One exception might be the Koryo Hotel, near the railway station. Expect the driver to check with the hotel that he is allowed to take you. Generally around €5 will cover a medium distance one way journey, although the rate for foreigners is USD1/km before 18:30 and USD2/km in the evening.
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Shopping options are limited. A few department stores exist but have very few things of interest to a visitor. Locals only shop from speciality stores selling groceries and other basic items. Arts and crafts and souvenirs can be purchased in places such as tourist sites and hotels. Some extremely sought-after North Korean souvenirs are metal lapel badges depicting the faces of one or more of the three Kims. They can be difficult for foreigners to acquire; it is often easier to buy them at home on eBay or similar auction sites. There have been reported cases of these badges being seized by customs at departure.
There are several competing prepaid cards available around town, which reduce the hassle of carrying money and change. The most ubiquitous and oldest is from the Trade Bank (무역은행), and is available at the Pyongyang Shop in the Embassy district. Its balance is recorded at the hard-currency exchange rate. More recently, Guangbok and some stores dealing in local currency have begun to offer a card from the Central Bank (중앙은행) with a balance of local won. The Ryugyong commercial bank also offers a card accepted by the Ryugyong shop.
There are several government-run markets, selling a wide range of foods, as well as consumer goods such as shoes and DIY materials. The majority of these products are imported, but some local goods can be found as well. The prices for local products are extremely low by western standards, and the sellers are generally honest - although prices are negotiable. These markets are identifiable by their blue, hemispherical roofs. However, apart from Tonghil market, foreigners are generally treated with caution. Indeed, do not be surprised if you are gently, but firmly, escorted from the building. There is no harm in this, providing you comply.
Tonghil market is perhaps the most interesting, as there are many relatively wealthy Koreans shopping there for items many other North Koreans are unable to afford. You need won to shop at these markets, which can be exchanged for hard currencies on the second floor. Photography is prohibited. In Tonghil, be aware that some theft does occur, although it is minimal.
The list of stores known to be open to foreigners consists of:
- Pyongyang Store. The Pyongyang diplomatic store complex has fresh milk, a duty free section, and tailor services.
- Haemaji. The Haemaji complex features a grocery store, bakery, coffee shop, and steak house.
- CanGuang. The CanGuang complex near the Koryo hotel has a grocery store, cafe, and hotel.
- Potonggang. The Potonggang complex is a 3 story department store selling food, home good, and small appliances. Local currency is used, and a currency exchange point is located across the street.
- GwangBok. Gwangbok is a 3 story shopping complex joint venture with a Chinese company. The top floor has a food court, and the second floor has locally-produced clothing. Local currency is used and can be exchanged on the first floor.
- Ryugyong. The Ryugyong shopping complex has a grocery store, furniture store, and kitchen supplies. There's also a cafe in the complex, a hardware store next door, and an electronics store across the street.
- Tongil Market. A bustling market with imported and local goods. One of the few places to buy fresh meat and produce, and with a bit of everything else. Prices on imported goods will not be significantly cheaper than at other stores, but one of the few places to shop alongside locals.
Local residents generally eat at home, and as such the Pyongyang restaurant scene is lacking. You will normally eat dinner at your hotel. There are a number of small diners in the city, but they are mostly aimed at local workers and have rather spartan fare—boiled corn, kimchi, some fish or squid, white rice. The legal situation surrounding these semi-private establishments is complicated, and foreigners are not advised to eat at them.
There are, however, several restaurants well-suited for tourists.
- Chongryu (On the bank of the Pothong River). Designed in the shape of a river cruise boat. A good choice for those fond of traditional Korean food, as over 120 Korean dishes are available.
- Dangogi Gukjib (Tongil St). The most famous place for those who have decided to try the Korean speciality of eating dog. Costs €30.
- Haedanghwa (해당화관), Okryu Taedong River Area 1 East (대동강구역 옥류1동), 678 3333. Teppanyaki-style restaurant with €30, €50 and €70 set meals. Considered one of the top restaurants in the country, the chefs have been trained in China. €30-70.
- No. 1 Boat Restaurant (Kim Il Sung Square). The only boat restaurant in Pyongyang accessible to tourists. You eat on the outdoor deck.
- Okryu. On the bank of the Taedong River, Okryu was founded in 1960 and is one of the oldest restaurants in the country and one of the few with branches abroad. It is famous for its Pyongyang-style cold noodles. €3-6.
- Ryugyong Restaurant (An Sang Taek St). Specialises in beef dishes. Recommended for meat-lovers.
- Haebangsan. Famous for ox rib soup. 5-10$.
Sights & Landmarks
- Arch of Triumph. The arch was designed to commemorate Korean resistance to Japan between 1925 and 1945 and eventual liberation from Japanese rule. The arch is modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At 60 m high and 50 m wide it is the biggest victory arch in the world.
- Arirang Mass Games (Arirang Festival). A mass gymnastics and artistic performance. The performance runs through parts of August and September. With over 100,000 performers this is, by the number of participants, the greatest show on earth.
- Children's Palace. Nearly every city has its own Children's Palace, with Pyongyang having the largest. After classes in the morning, selected (gifted) students spend the afternoon at the palatial Children's Palace to practice their art or other special skills. Children choose their area of specialisation in cooperation with teachers once they're old enough to attend (around 11) and continue with that skill every day until they graduate or they complete the area of study. Areas include: ballet, rhythmic dance, gymnastics, computer programming, singing, musical instruments, chess, volleyball, basketball, embroidery and calligraphy.
- Chollima Statue. At the top of Mansu Hill is a statue of a man riding Chollima, a winged horse, representing the economic development of Korea.
- Grand Monument. This is a huge bronze statue of Kim Il Sung, who is still officially president of the DPRK, despite having been dead for nearly 20 years.
- Juche Tower. A 170 m tall monument is dedicated to the Juche philosophy of Kim Il Sung. Don't miss the trip to the top, which costs €5 and offers a great view of the city (though, if you're staying at the Yanggakdo, the view from a top floor is similar and free).
- Kaeson Funfair (Near the Arch of Triumph). This small amusement park has a handful of new rides. You and your guides can't just wander around as you'll need a guide from the park to take you to each ride, but you will be put at the front of the queue for each one. The guide will keep track of the rides you go on and then you pay according to how many rides you went on at the end of your visit.
- Kimilsungia-Kimjungilia Flower Exhibition Centre. This centre houses two floors worth of flowers named after Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
- Korean War Museum (Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum). The War Museum moved to a new building (next to the previous museum) in 2013. Large statues and captured US planes, tanks, and other weapons are in front of the main building. The museum contains a dioramas and historical artefacts from the war, paintings of the leaders, and serves as a memorial to national war heroes. Expect to spend 2-3 hours to visit the museum.
- Mansudae. 20 m high bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. During the centennial celebration of Kim Il-Sung's birthday, a statue of Kim Jong-Il was added. This colossal display will most likely be the first thing you visit. Be aware that the locals expect visitors to this place to show respect to the monument. Your tour group will most likely lay flowers on the statue pedestal which are also available on-site for €3-10. Formal dress is expected, though not strictly required.
- Munsu Water Park, East Pyongyang.Opened in October 2013, this is a large water park complex with lots of water slides. Open to foreigners on Saturdays.€7 Indoors only, €10 Indoors and Outdoors.
- North Korean Film Studio. Where North Korean films are made, and see film sets based on Japan, Russia, China and South Korea.
- Pyongyang Circus. Closer to an acrobatics show, the circus provides a variety of illusion and gymnastics acts. At one time trained bears were featured, but they appear to be absent recently. A live orchestra is present, and the majority of the audience is local. ¥80.
- Pyongyang Metro. This is the deepest metro system in the world at over 110 m. There are large socialist realist murals in the platforms of the stations, with each station designed to embody a different ideal. A standard tourist visit for 2€ will ride from the origin Puhung station to the Arch of Triumph (6 stops) on the Chollima Line. Since 2015, it has been possible to ride the full extent of the subway for 20€, although disembarking at a couple stations remains restricted and the full tour takes several hours. 2-20€.
- Ryugyong Hotel. This 105-storey building dominates the Pyongyang skyline with its 330 m height. Construction started in 1987, but came to a halt in 1992 during the country's economic crisis in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. Construction by Egypt's Orascom Group resumed again in April 2008. It was scheduled for a partial opening in the summer of 2013, although recent information from a local guide was that it will open in "three to five years".
- Stamp Shop (Next to the Koryo Hotel on Changwang St). Sells a huge variety of DPRK postage stamps, with designs ranging from Olympic sports to Korean food to DPRK history. You can also buy postcards and postcard stamps, although mailing fees are cheaper on the second floor of the Koryo Hotel.
- USS Pueblo. The USS Pueblo is an American navel vessel captured by North Korea in 1968. Although her crew was eventually released, the ship has been kept as a museum in Pyongyang. It is still officially commissioned by the United States Navy and is its only vessel still listed as captured. The Pueblo is now part of the Korean War Museum, and is next to the main museum building.
- Workers Party Monument. This Monument is about the Workers Party of Korea. The hammer, sickle and brush are standing for the workers, farmers and the intellectuals. The ring around these the symbols represents their unification.0€.
Things to do
Normally, tourists in Pyongyang are restricted to guided tours. Personal visitors to foreign residents are usually free to wander around, though they may also be placed under the care of a guide.
- Pyongyang Marathon, May Day Stadium. The Pyongyang Marathon is a yearly event in April open to Americans and most other nationalities since 2014. There are 10 km, half and full marathon races. Although anyone can sign up, it has to be through an official tour operator, including UriTours, KoryoGroup, and Young Pioneer Tours. Roughly 1,000 foreigners were scheduled to run in 2016. USD $50-100.
- Swimming. Foreigners are allowed to use the main public swimming pool on Saturday mornings, and also the ice skating rink in winter. Be safe and avoid accidents; medical aid may take a long time to arrive.
- Bowling. Bowling is available at golden lanes for minimal cost.
There are very few bars and clubs, though North Korean beer is available at hotels. Some may also offer Chinese and other foreign beers, such as Heineken. The local draught beer is excellent, and costs from €0.50 to €1.40.
There are three main places, apart from restaurants and hotels, where foreign residents go to socialise; the old Diplomatic club, near the Juche tower by the river, the Friendship, inside the Munsu dong foreigners' compound, and the Random Access Club (RAC), run by the UN, also inside the foreigners' compound.
Provided that transport (difficult) and permission (less difficult) is obtainable, all of these can be visited. The RAC Friday nights are legendary (not in an "Ibiza" way, though), although what passed for nightlife has dwindled as foreign aid organisations have left the country during 2009.
- Taedonggang Brewery Restaurant. 7 types of Taedonggang beer are on tap (although only types 1, 2, 5 and 6 are generally available). The restaurant has a large projector typically showing Russian concerts, and brick walls that look out of place in the city. Fairly expensive for dinner, but recommended for drinks. The fries are recommended as a bar snack, although the locals prefer dried fish.
- Diplomatic Club. In addition to a pool and restaurant, the upstairs of the diplomatic club has an extensive karaoke area, and a billiards room with a small bar.
Safety in Pyongyang
Pyongyang is a very safe city for foreigners who follow the rules. Crime levels are practically zero, at least to tourists on a strictly controlled tour. However, the authorities are very touchy, and you need to watch what you say and how you say it. Just do what the guides do, praise every stop on your tour, and remember the rule, "If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all."
You should bear in mind that anyone you speak to will be affiliated with the North Korean government, and you should always respond accordingly should sensitive topics arise. You and your guide could potentially face serious trouble if you answer incorrectly, although your guide will probably bear the worst of it. North Korea is known for extremely harsh punishments which range (for the guides) from lengthy prison sentences to a lifetime of severe mistreatment and torture, while you could be sentenced to prison, deported, and banned from re-entering.
Also, the official policy is that you are not to wander around on your own. You are expected to get permission and/or have a guide accompany you if you are leaving your hotel on your own. This will vary depending on what hotel you are in. The Yanggakdo Hotel is on an island in the middle of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. Therefore you can walk around the area a little more freely than if you are at the Koryo Hotel right in the centre of town. You should always be friendly and courteous to your guides and driver who will normally reciprocate by trusting you more and giving you more freedom.
For taking photographs, one needs to exercise restraint, caution and common sense. If you appear to be looking for negative images of North Korea, the guides will not be happy and will tell you to delete any questionable images. In particular, you are not to take photos of anything military, including personnel, or anything showing the DPRK in a bad light.
Digital cameras are commonly inspected when leaving the country by train. A simple workaround is to leave a memory card with innocuous snaps in the camera and file away any cards with ideologically dubious content.
Drug trafficking and the consumption of narcotics can be punishable by death in North Korea. Marijuana, however, is legal and often found growing freely alongside the road in North Korea.
Most, if not all, tour groups to the DPRK are asked to solemnly bow and lay flowers on one or two occasions in front of statues of Kim Il Sung when visiting monuments of national importance. If you're not prepared to do this, do not even try to enter North Korea. Just be sure you always act in a respectful manner around images of the two leaders. This includes taking respectful photos of any image of them. When photographing statues, especially Mansudae, be sure to get the entire statue in the photo. Formal dress is also expected at important monuments such as Mansudae or in visiting the Kumsusang Memorial Palace.