Birthday boy Kim Jong-il needs a mountain to house his gifts

February 16, 2009

                                                          By Jack Kim

A perk for being the leader of a country for as long as you want is you get to build a gift collection from other world leaders, business moguls and masters of the arts so large that you can’t keep them in your house.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il celebrated his 67th birthday on Monday and was showered with even more gifts.

Kim and his father Kim Il-sung, the North’s state founder, have accumulated hundreds of thousands of gifts over the years and since there is no mantelpiece big enough to display them all, they have built a special museum that is carved into a mountain to house them all. I was part of a group of South Korean civic activists, academics and journalists taken to the museum during a trip to North Korea last November.

Covering a sprawling compound by the scenic Mount Myohang, about a two-hour drive north of the capital, Pyongyang, the  highlight of the International Friendship Exhibition is two imposing marble structures with ornate jade coloured file roofs that are dug deep into the hills.

Stored in the climate controlled buildings are gifts ranging from a stuffed crocodile standing  up holding a tray of cups to a globe encircled by doves sent from  U.S. evangelist Billy Graham. We were not allowed to take pictures during the trip, but you can see some of the gifts here

Kim has been seeing his collection expand further this week with gifts arriving from a Russian dance company, the Syrian defence minister and the head of the communist party of Britain.

Covering 46,000 square metres (495,000 sq ft), the massive  buildings feature hundreds of rooms linked by a labyrinth of halls, housing items that a guide told us would require 18 months to  view, even by taking a mere minute per item.

Other items on display include a clock sent from a Japanese women’s association made from 20 layers of wild boar skin, a  calendar of the Aztec civilisation sent by the Mexican labour party, and a vintage Hyundai sedan given by the late founder of the South Korean conglomerate.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright brought a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan when she visited the North in 2000, not housed at the museum and can be seen by special request.

Then there is a small collection of items that were definitely not welcome  because they came from three conservative  former  South Korean presidents but still put on display as a lesson on what not to do in gift giving.

“What you see here are items from people who have no idea about giving gifts,” a suddenly bereft guide told the visitors,  pointing to a small cabinet housing tea sets, chinaware and  calligraphy pens from the three South Korean leaders. 

[File photos of museum in North Korea where gifts are kept and a pavillion displaying pictures of Kim Jong-il]


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

[...] post by Google Inc. and software by Elliott Back ??????? ?????? ?? ???? ????? ?????  ?? [...]

[...] they’ve sucked at it previously.  Call it wacky old Kim Jong’s (who turns 67 today and has a mountain he uses to put his gifts in) license to Il. Or just call it a crazy dictatorship hell bent on ruling the world. Whatever, your [...]

When will the country of North Korea stop allowing itself to be humiliated by this individual?

Posted by cody | Report as abusive

Kim Jong Il should NOT GET ANY MEDIA ATTENTION in the western world. He is an oppressor and virtual dictator who is insane and illegitimate as a leader. His countrymen are forced to work in unfavorable and often inhumane conditions simply to insure their families meager survival. ALL the money that the government in N. Korea takes in is appropriated to their not so noble leader and their insufficient – laughable military. The only time we should see his ugly puss is when he has finally been assassinated and put on public display for a public rock throwing demonstration. The World will be a better place when he is dead.

Posted by Mornin Joe | Report as abusive

[...] — Droves of jubilant North Koreans took to the streets nationwide today to celebrate the 67th birthday of North Korean dictator and Great Leader Kim Jong-Il’s dead [...]

[...] — Droves of jubilant North Koreans took to the streets nationwide today to celebrate the 67th birthday of North Korean dictator and Great Leader Kim Jong-Il’s dead [...]