Skip to main content

What do you give a North Korean leader?

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
August 8, 2013 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
It's shiny and it is from CNN. So is that where my compact went? These are just some of the more unusual gifts to North Korea's leaders from various visiting dignitaries that are on show at the International Friendship Exhibition House. This, and the following images, are drawn from the gift shop DVD. It's shiny and it is from CNN. So is that where my compact went? These are just some of the more unusual gifts to North Korea's leaders from various visiting dignitaries that are on show at the International Friendship Exhibition House. This, and the following images, are drawn from the gift shop DVD.
HIDE CAPTION
North Korea's house of gifts
North Korea's house of gifts
North Korea's house of gifts
North Korea's house of gifts
North Korea's house of gifts
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The exhibition house is filled with gifts from 184 countries
  • China and Russia are the biggest donors
  • In 2000, Madeleine Albright gave Kim Jong Il a silver dish and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan

(CNN) -- Struggling for a present for the man who has everything?

How about a skinned bear?

This was just one of the thousands of thoughtful gifts on display that had been given to the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung.

A present from former Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, the bear takes a place of pride in an exhibition house in Hyangsan, three hours north of the capital, Pyongyang.

Officially named the International Friendship Exhibition House, the exhibition hall is on the official tourist route and crammed full of vases, canvases, military paraphernalia and more unusual gifts.

The North Korea I wasn't meant to see

Displayed are 112,225 gifts for Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il and current leader Kim Jong Un from 184 different countries.

North Korea: The unseen view
North Korean Mass Games hit by blackout
Watson: Kim Jong Un walked toward me
Shopping for electronics in North Korea

By far the biggest donors are China and Russia, and most notably the communist former USSR.

The tour begins

A soldier stands guard on both sides of the impressively large entrance door and any cameras, phones and even pads and pens are promptly taken away. The tour can then begin.

In the introduction hall, the eye is drawn instantly to a domineering white stone carving of Kim Il Sung sitting in a chair. I am told the Eternal President still receives many posthumous gifts.

A sneak peek through the keyhole

Under the ornate and pricey-looking chandeliers are glass cabinets containing some of the more important gifts.

The official commentary says, "enemy countries too sent a lot of gifts to president Kim Il Sung and respected Kim Jong Il, impressed by their great personality and virtues."

Gifts from the "enemy"

Sure enough, there are a couple of gifts from the "enemy country" the United States.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave Kim Jong Il a silver dish when she visited in October 2000. The two countries were enjoying a lull in tensions at the time.

In addition, Albright gave a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. Kim Jong Il was reported to be a huge fan of the NBA star.

There is also a bowl from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife who visited in 1994 under the guise of a private trip.

Of course, these gifts look rather paltry when I entered the next room and saw an actual train -- a gift from the communist leader of the USSR in 1945. I then noticed the car Stalin gave to Kim Il Sung during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Not to be outdone, in 1953, Chairman Mao Zedong of China also gave the North Korean leader a train.

According to the souvenir DVD from the gift shop, 3.7 million visitors have walked through the building's doors from its opening in 1978 until 2010, almost half a million of whom were foreigners or South Koreans. I see a number of North Koreans filing through at the same time as me.

Still lacking inspiration for that hard-to-buy-for person from what you've read so far? How about a fossilized snail, given by a former Prime Minister of Madagascar or ivory tusks from Guinea?

The tour guide insists most of the ivory in the world is housed in this exhibition, a claim that sounds a little far-fetched but given everything else that I have seen, somehow wholly appropriate.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions Monday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
The crowd cheers as the stars make their way to the ring for first pro-wrestling bout North Korea has seen in almost 20 years.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0137 GMT (0937 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley makes a rare live report from reclusive North Korea.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1823 GMT (0223 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley is given a rare look inside North Korea and tours Kim Jong Un's pet project, a waterpark.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Several South Korean "comfort woman" attended a Papal mass, but hope the Pope will do more. Erin McLaughlin reports.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0228 GMT (1028 HKT)
Pope Francis arrived in Seoul Thursday, marking the first papal visit to the country in 25 years.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
North Korea rejected an invitation to the Pope's Mass in Seoul. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 2338 GMT (0738 HKT)
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
ADVERTISEMENT