North Korea: Day 3 – Military Parade and Mass Games with Kim Jong Un

Breakfast today with Movie in the background: “The story of a blooming flower”.

    • We drive back to Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • Our travel guide who is not used to sitting on a car gets really car sick and we take a short break on the highway so that he can empty his stomach.
      Within minutes a military guy starts watching us through the bush, a few minutes later a police guy on a motorbike shows up. The military guy uses his whistle to drive the police guy away. The ranks are clear here obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • On the way we visit a “typical” street and are allowed to take a walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • We visit the birth place of Kim Il Sung where we listen to some stories about his childhood and his past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • At the end of the tour there is a well with drinking water which promises a long life. We are being asked if we want to drink some water from there. Since we are not totally motivated, the guide asks us if we “do not want to live a long life”. Actually…. The length of my life is really why I am thinking about drinking – or not drinking – it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • We take several walks on several streets which are maintained unusually well.
      Since we are actually here also to see the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Korea, we get a bit anxious that we might miss the parade. The travel guide seems also not really to know what is going on today and a lot of these walks seem to be for “wasting time”.
    • One of these walks is in an area where they build 14 (?) stadiums, for each sport one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • The guide asks us if we want to walk to the restaurant. We say: “Sure”. She then changes her mind and suggests to get on the bus since the restaurant is too far away.
      So we get on the bus for 30 seconds until we arrive.
    • We eat the food and still are waiting for news about the parade. Until at the end of the lunch our tourguide tells us that the parade now is almost over.
      We are quite bummed out.
    • We finally drive to a street where the parade passes by to see the last 20 minutes of trucks with soldiers driving by. Not really what we wanted to see. But still impressive to see the cheering crowd and how well foreigners are separated from the locals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around half an hour later we have to leave again.

 

 

 

 

 

    • We go back to the hotel: No clue what is happening in the afternoon. I take a nap until I get the message: Do not take anything, no money, no camera, nothing. Dress nicely. We will go somewhere. No information where.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • We are driven to some kind of big hall and have to get off the bus. Seems like all the foreigners are meeting up here…. In total it is around 60 big travel busses.
    • We watch some exhibition of the leaders of North Korea, some photographers taking pictures of this “typical” concentration of foreigners appreciating the pictures.
    • The military shows up and starts blocking the way to the busses. Still not really a clue what will be happening and even our travel guide does not know.
    • Turns out that the military is here to check us for weapons or other dangerous goods while we pass one by one their metal scanners and get back on the bus.
      Will it be what I was hoping for… the mass games?
    • Yes it is. All the busses drive together to the stadium which is built for around 150.000 people. More than 17000 actors/performers make an impressive show.

      This here is a a 3-minute Summary. I was around 50 meters to the right from the cameras taking this video 😉

    • But of course it does not start before Kim Jong-Un himself is there. We even can see him from our seats.
    • At around midnight we are back in the hotel. Around 8 hours almost nothing to drink, nothing to eat but still worth it. Who can say that he sat around 120 meters away from that guy?
    • We have a last “Aberfeldy-Whiskey”-Disinfection-Drink, take some pictures of the lighten up rocket hotel and say goodbye to one person in our travel group who will fly out early morning next day.

 

 

North Korea, Day two: West Sea Barriage, Temple & Grave and a “North-Korean Home” from the Inside

According to our wishes, we get served “local food”. It should be the same one as our travel guides but somehow it is hard to believe that this is not an upgraded version.

 

Took long enough last night to convince our guide that we do not have to eat “western breakfast” and she asked us not to blame her, if we do not like it. Well, we do like it.

On we go…

 

 

 

… to first buy flowers for the great leaders…

 

 

… which we have to donate here in front of the statues before we can start taking pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures of the great leaders buildings everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

      • We visit the West Sea Barrage, a big dam. The construction of the dam is introduced in a heroic video:

        Interesting to note: Kim Jong Il helped the engineers to solve some technical problems during construction which they could not solve on their own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course military checkpoints on the way….

 

 

 

      • Next stop is a temple: Pretty nice actually.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • Even more impressive: When we leave the temple, I see a long line of locals sitting there. As soon as we pass them, they stand up and walk to the temple themselves. Turns out that the temple was closed for the public during our visit.

 

 

 

We saw several construction projects on the streets – all of them done manually without machinery.
Taking pictures of construction is forbidden… somehow still this picture here happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • Next stop. Some kind of grave of some king. Our bus is too big to take the street which goes there usually. Our suggestion to walk the last few meters gets declined: It is too far.
      Indeed, it is around 100 meters to walk.

 

 

    • We get to see some pictures and hear some stories about how beautiful the grave is.
      But it would be more interesting to actually see it.
      No problem, for the additional “fee” of around 100 EUR the door opens. Per person.
      I do not go myself but one person agrees to this and comes back with the message: Really impressive. And definitely not many people take this opportunity of the extra fee.

 

 

 

 

    • On the way we see some more streetworks: Tar is being heated up on something that looks like an oversized BBQ. The fuel to heat it up: Plastic.
      Pictures were not allowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The empty streets never stop to amaze me.
At the first day we were a bit too shy to take pictures of the 8-lane-highway without any cars, we first wanted that the guides start to trust us.
Now the cameras are clicking much more.

 

 

 

 

 

The posts on the side of the street are made of concrete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Last station of the day is a farm village – seems to be one of the best ones, considering how often Korean leadership shows up there. Pictures demonstrate this impressively and some articles, which were inspected by Kim Jong Il, are being presented protected by glass.
    Interesting Detail: Kim Jong Il helped the farmers to improve their output a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • We have the chance to have a look in one of the houses. Interesting insight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somehow still there are doubts that someone really lives in here, all looks more like a showroom.
And why the TV is not connected and why there is a computer screen without any computer is also a bit questionable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We go for a local speciality drink in some kind of restaurant. Sudden Power loss cuts the always present TV screen with constant propaganda and news.

 

  • Back in the hotel our guides again tell us “not to leave the hotel”. For our own security.

 

 

 

 

Lovely Bathroom Installation.

 

  • In the evening it turns out that one of our rooms has a problem with the toilet. No chance to repair it, the travel guides offer to change their room.
    Due to the spontaneity of this action, some things are not moved. Turns out that tourists get a higher quality toilet paper, some hygiene articles and nicer towels than the travel guides.

 

 

 

 

North Korea: Day One

Some words beforehand:
This is mostly for myself to remind me about the short trip to North Korea in 2018 during their 70 years celebration. It is a pretty… ehm… unique destination. And to quote a good friend of mine: After 3 days there you have more to talk about than about spending 3 weeks in another place. If you want to have a really special trip: Go for it.

Small word of warning though:

If you are picky regarding hygiene, comfort or cannot follow local customs (even if they are completely against your own idea): Don’t go.
If you still go you will have so many stories to tell…

Since we were very careful about taking pictures to ensure we do not upset our guides (too much), sadly about a lot of things there are only memories. Still, hope this small gallery and notes are enjoyable.

 

Anyway, here are my notes in bullet points 😉

    • Air Koryo in Beijing:
      • Economy Line is shorter than business class line.
      • Gerard Depardieu stands in front of us
      • Some kind of VIP in a wheelchair shows up: Around 5 guys taking pictures and making videos of him. He cuts the business class line and is checked in in record time.

       

       

    • On the plane:
      • I love the patriotic music and the stylish interieur of the plane!
      • Oh well… lots of forms to fill and the Air Koryo Burger is also… not that bad actually.

 

 

 

 

    • Landing:
      • Already during descending you can see the hotel in the shape of a rocket/christmas tree (…still not opened yet, even after being under construction since 20+ years)
      • The streets are pretty quiet
      • I love the scarecrows and cows next to the landing strip, who do not are about the plane landing.

 

 

 

    • At the airport:
      • Immigration is a painless process. Except that everything is checked more thoroughly by customs, e.g. for books. I left phone and all other electronic devices with a memory at home since they might be searched.
      • One of our guys is quicker than the rest. Obviously he was found immediately by our travel guys, they are already in deep conversation. In Chinese.
        Turns out that our senior guide is a tour guide specialized on chinese tourists and the other one studied German for 2 months. Due to the special festivities this weekend, it seems that they gave us these guides since no others were available.
        Funny detail: They did not know that all of us speak Mandarin. At least we did not tell them. Anyway, our senior travel guide is relieved.
      • Weird feeling to give away my passport to someone else so that they can take care about it. They are worried that we might lose them.
    • On the highway:
      • We do not dare to take lots of pictures yet. Our plan: First let the travel guides gain some trust.
      • At the same time, there would be some really nice motives: The empty streets in the city, the cyclists, the maintained greenery and the pretty interesting atmosphere around which still could be put into pictures.
      • Even more impressive when we enter the highway with 8 lanes. The road is not very well maintained and full of holes. Why you need a highway with 8 lanes for the few cars … not really sure.
      • Around every 20 minutes we pass a military checkpoint where our guide has to get out and show some documents to the guard before we are allowed to continue our travel.
      • Turns out that our junior travel guide does not only speak not any language, he also turns sick on the car easily. He is not used to car travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Seaman Club:
    • We arrive in the hotel with the great name as mentioned above. It was built for international Seaman who have a stopover on their travel in this area in Nampo.
      As you might have guessed, not many people really stay here.
    • Especially impressive: The combination of toilet and hand-washing device.
    • Someone in our group takes a picture in the wrong direction obviously: Outwards to the sea. Since harbors are strategically important: Big mistake.
      Even while it seemed that nobody is around while doing this, a travel guide magically appears and insists on “not taking a picture in that direction”.
    • We go to dinner. The food is really good, we are sitting separately from our guides and have the whole restaurant for ourselves.
    • Especially impressive: The tissues seem to consist of blotting paper.
    • The travel guides are joining us after the dinner on our table and actually some pretty interesting conversations are coming up. Since it is becoming later and later, we get worried that the boss of the restaurant would like to go home at some point. He already changed from his suit to a more relaxed attire.
      Our travel guide mentions we should not worry: He will not go home tonight.
    • The evening ends at some point in the restaurant, we go back to the “meeting area” and have some “Aberfeldy”-Whiskey as First-Aid against possible food contamination.
      Time to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What electronic payment systems might have to do with Bitcoin – a vision of the future?

Electronic payment systems in China

I am living in China since a few years and in many ways they seem to be ahead of the western market concerning the digital landscape.
(check out for example this video here: “How China is changing your Internet – The New York Times” )

How it was before…

Currently it seems that electronic payments are completely substituting the payments with Cash. I still remember how i had to pick up big piles of cash to pay my rent in advance for 6 months plus one month of deposit plus one month of agency fees, in total 36000 RMB. Mind you, to decrease the risk of fake bank notes, the biggest denomination of RMB is 100 RMB, meaning i had to pick up 360 bank notes just to pay this – and my apartment was cheap. Cash was used in every day transactions a lot and outside of the corporate world not a lot of bank transfers were going on.

How it is now…

This changed a lot during the last few years: WeChat and Ali Baba introduced electronic payment systems, in which you can charge your bank accounts and reload your balance there. Then you can directly pay with it from your balance in a matter of seconds.
No risk of fake bank notes. Immediate confirmation. For the transaction itself, zero fees.
Just if you want to get our your money from these ecosystems, you have to pay a very small fee.

Most people that I know do not have cash with them anymore today, most of the payments (at least in bigger cities) are now completely done by using these apps from very small (with street stalls) to pretty big payments (like the rental payment if not done by the bank account).

Paying with QR code in China

 

How does it work?

There are two ways:

  • Private Accounts: The receiver of the money shows a QR code (either by printing it or on your phone). The sender scans it, enters the amount, enters his pin and the money gets transferred.
  • Vendor accounts with scanner: The sender of the money shows a dynamically created QR code on the phone screen, the receiver scans it and the amount (which was calculated by the cash register) will be transferred automatically.

If the sender of the money has enough balance on his account, you can tell the App to first use this balance. If it is not enough, it automatically can transfer money from your bank account to the App balance in the background.

What does this have to do with Bitcoin?

While some of these thoughts were there already before, the following aspects hit me like a stone when I was reading this article:

If Bitcoin can be used in a similar simple matter as the electronic payment systems as mentioned above (see point 1 of the linked article), it has the serious potential to become the “WeChat Pay” and “Alipay” outside of China with the additional benefit of not being bound to one currency. This is huge.

System requirements

I never used Bitcoin as a payment method so far. Is there any way to transfer BTC as convenient as described above? If not, I hope the following requirements would have to be met:

  • Instant transactions (…hope LN can deliver on this)
  • Control of the amount of BTC that can be spent due to security reasons (…so:
    A) Either a way to spend BTC directly from an exchange/wallet with adjustable limits.
    B) Or a separate wallet which is provided by the developer of the system especially for this use case… which would sadly be centralization again…so not really in the future vision of BTC)

Or am I missing something?

Risks on bitcoin – and why this might still take a while

I currently am very bullish on Bitcoin, also when keeping this in my mind – for me the biggest risks are though:

  • Negative regulation.
    In my opinion regulation can be good and “legitimate” BTC. But overregulation, especially banning of exchanges or making the holding of BTC illegal would definitely be a small but possible risk.
  • Internal quarrels:
    Mostly coming from the experience how “the pirate party” in germany was able to crush itself in internal quarrels, I see this also a small but still existing risk.
    (…Segwit2X anyone?)

Would be happy to learn about your thoughts either in the comments here or on reddit.

4HB / Slow Carb in China – the first month

It has been an interesting month: The first month of the Slow Carb Diet in China is over and yes, there has been a development which is not that bad at all.
After 31 days runtime I lost around 3.9 KG (maximum difference) – and it was by far not as troublesome as I thought in the beginning.

My main meals consist of

  • Some cooked eggs for breakfast (which are really hard to eat for me since I never was a big fan of breakfast)
  • 干边四季豆  and 小炒肉  or 麻辣烫 during lunch time in the company.
  • Some steak and lentils in the evening or when eating outside something that fits more or less into the plan. Sometimes I also just cook another steak for the lunch the next day.

It is not that easy to get Slow carb ingredients in any random supermarket sadly, so I am mostly still relying on JD.com to deliver my stuff.
10 Steaks for 229 RMB, a can of lentils for around 10 RMB, and so on.

I also started drinking tea (which i did not really like before) and recognized that using ginger in hot water can be pretty yummy. According to some information on the internet it also has some health benefits, at least it seems not to hurt.

Curious how this will continue….

 

Lost weight on the slow carb diet in China in the first month

Xiaomi Smart Home Part 1: My XiaoMi Mi Smart Home System Overview

I admit it. I am a big fan of Xiaomi – and while in the beginning I had pretty much everything they had to offer, the portfolio grew that quickly that I cannot keep up with it anymore. Still, I am one of the lucky people who installed a Xiaomi Smart Home System with pretty many devices. In the future I want to give you a deeper insight about the single products, but at first let me share my Xiaomi product map with you:

 

XiaoMi Smart Home product map
XiaoMi Smart Home product map

 

As you can see, I invested a considerate amount of money into this Smart Home system:

Mi Router with 1 TB Harddisk

  • Connected a Yeelight via a USB-stick for the router
    • Smart Power Plug / Power Socket for the bedroom (to control electric bed heating and air humidifer)
    • Smart power Plug / Smart power socket for the living room (to connect TV, Water dispenser and others)
    • Mi Box (with which you can watch a lot of movies and TV series online or directly from the Mi Router)
    • Mi Universal Remote Control (which can remote control (almost?) all Infrared devices
    • Xiaomi Vacuum cleaning Robot
    • Mi Air Cleaner 2

Xiaomi Smart Gateway

  • Temperature Sensor
  • Door Sensor
  • Movement Sensor for the bedroom
  • Movement Sensor for the living room
  • Switch/Button

Directly connected to my Xiaomi M5 Phone:

  • Xiaomi Scale
  • Xiaomi Band
  • Xiamo Bedside Lamp

The good Thing is: Even while i invested quite a sum, compared to other Systems it probably is still amazingly cheap. While some of the products deliver great value for Money, some others might might bring some inconveniences with it. This part of my blog is dedicated to Show you some of the upsides and downsides.

I also realized that there are lots of Reviews and tests online, but somehow I did not find any tests in real life situations. I hope i can fill this Information gap in the next few weeks.