THE PHANTOM PYRAMID OF PYONGYANG

By Mira Soyza

North Korea’s hubristic vision which left behind a country far in the dust

APR4_80_Zone Out_LOWImagine walking into an underdeveloped town where the buildings are made of old post-war concretes and water-stained walls. You see rows of square, box-like residentials and pavements that are marred by cracks and chips — and then in the middle of all that backwardness stands a modern skyscraper encased in a facade of wealth.

That is Ryugyong Hotel — the wonder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea for short.

If you can’t see past the rigid state-controlled system, food and power shortages, and shabby concrete dwellings from the Soviet Era, the 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel is quite a surreal sight—the story behind its construction is also nothing short of unusual.

Thirty years after the Korean War, while the North struggled to pick up the pieces and rebuild as a nation, their Southern neighbour was doing far better and was already far more prosperous. In 1986, a South Korean company completed one of the tallest hotels in Southeast Asia, the Stamford Hotel in Singapore—it is believed that this accomplishment displeased the competitive North. The sentiment was further aggravated when South Korea was given the honour to host the 1988 Olympic Games.

Feeling peeved and at the same time challenged, they wanted to prove to the world that they too have the capability to be economically self-reliant – especially now without the backing from Soviet Union or China. As a response—under the regime of its first president, Kim Il-Sung—the construction of the 330m Ryugyong Hotel in its capital Pyongyang began.

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