July 22, 2008

I Just Met A Girl Named Korea

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — geoff @ 9:17 pm


Good morning and greetings, weather fans. Today we are going to go back to my roots. No, I’m not talking my blonde-haired days as a young child growing up in New Jersey but rather what inspired me to create this site-shooting spectacular sunrises over the Pacific Ocean. And today I’ve got a fabulous one for you. This early morning magnificence is from a few years back in late November. As you can see from photo #5, my dog Summer also enjoyed the experience and insisted I call this shot “Golden Dreams.” I’m so fond of photo #3 that I’m using in this year’s calendar for Open Studios. One word describes this morning-epic!

Over the next week or so I’ll be hitting the archives and showcasing a few more feature presentations from Lighthouse Point, starring Dawn Skies, Its Beach and a cast of waves that have traveled thousands of miles to appear in these moments. So stayed tuned because the color and the drama of Santa Cruz’s world class sunrises are coming your way.

Speaking of magical moments, good news for those of you planning that dream vacation in North Korea. This much talked about country, located to the north of the DMZ, is home to a phantom hotel that is stirring back to life. Once dubbed by Esquire magazine as “the worst building in the history of mankind,” the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel is back under construction after a 16-year lull in the capital of one of the world’s most reclusive and destitute countries. They’re literally starving for tourists.

According to foreign residents in Pyongyang, North Korea, Egypt’s Orascom group has recently begun refurbishing the top floors of the three-sided pyramid-shaped hotel whose frame dominates the Pyongyang skyline the same way I used to dominate Mr. Universe contests. The firm has put glass panels into the concrete shell and installed telecommunications antennas, even though the North forbids its citizens to own mobile phones, ham radios or Batman decoder rings.

The hotel consists of three wings, a couple of thighs and a drumstick, rising at 75 degree angles capped by several floors arranged in rings that are supposed to hold five revolving restaurants, an observation deck and a miniature golf course. A building crane has for years sat unused at the top of the 3,000-room hotel in a city where tourists are only occasionally allowed to visit but are forbidden to buy souvenirs, post cards and infants.

“It is not a beautiful design. It carries little iconic or monumental significance, but (much like myself) is a sheer muscular and massive presence,” said Lee Sang Jun, a professor of architecture at Yonsei University in Seoul. The communist North started construction in 1987, in a possible fit of jealousy at South Korea, which was about to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. They apparently wanted to show off to the world the success of its rapidly developing economy and its many different recipes for braising short ribs.

A concrete shell built by North Korean architects emerged over the next few years. This proud country put a likeness of the hotel on postage stamps and packs of baseball cards and boasted about the structure in official media. According to intelligence sources, then North Korean leader Kim Il-sung saw the hotel as a symbol of his big dreams for the state he founded, while his son and current leader Kim Jong-il was a driving force in its construction and choice of movies in the hotel’s pay-per-view.

Speaking of Kim Jong-il, or as he likes to be referred to as, the “Dear Leader,” I find something very charming about a diminutive (5’2″,) platform shoe wearing, bouffant hair-styled dictator whose draconian economic policies have caused the starvation of MILLIONS of his people. He is also the commander of the 4th largest standing army in the world and major film buff who is a lover of fast cars, gourmet foods and fine liquors, which are tough to procure north of the 38th Parallel. The Korean people worship this little Napoleon like he is God, but we all know there’s only one God and that was Michael Jordan.

By 1992, work on this non-Holiday Inn was halted. The North’s main benefactor, the Soviet Union had dissolved a year earlier and funding for the hotel had vanished like the San Francisco Giant’s hope for a pennant this year. For a time, the North airbrushed images of the Ryugyong Hotel and centerfolds from photographs. As the North’s economy took a deeper turn for the worse in the 1990s the empty shell became a symbol of the country’s failure, earning nicknames “Hotel of Doom,” “Phantom Hotel” and “Hotel California.”

Yonsei’s Lee, Sara Lee, Bruce Lee and other architects said there were questions raised about whether the hotel was structurally sound and a few believed completing the structure could cause it to collapse. It would cost up to $2 billion to finish the Ryugyong Hotel and make it safe for room service, according to estimates in South Korean media. That is equivalent to about 10 percent of the North’s annual economic output or what a washed-up Shaq earns per season.

Bruno Giberti (no relation,) associate head of California Polytechnic State University’s Department of Architecture, said the project was typical of what has been produced recently in many cities trying to show their emerging wealth by constructing gigantic edifices that were not related in scale to anything else around them. “If this is the worst building in the world, the runners up are in Las Vegas, Shanghai and Fort Lee, New Jersey,” said Giberti.

So if you’re looking for a place to rest your head in North Korea, I hope today’s post has been helpful. I’d like to welcome some new people to today’s blog who I met on Sunday at the Art, er, Wind on the Wharf festival. So enjoy my second favorite Santa Cruz sunrise, these waning days of July and we’ll catch you on Friday. Aloha, summer league fans.


  1. I prefer the Motel 6 in the Demilitarized Zone. They always leave a light on for me.

    Comment by Chick Correa — July 23, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

  2. I like Golden dreams dog!

    Comment by Aimee — July 25, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

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