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North Korea's Ryugyong Hotel



At 105 floors, the Ryugyong Hotel would have been the world's largest hotel if work had not come to a halt in 1991. Why it was even built is something of a mystery. Early on in South Korea's planning for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, North Korea sort of assumed South Korea would stage some games in Pyongyang. Uh huh. It's also conjectured that North Korea wanted to take the wind out of the sails of South Korea because some smarmy South Korean company was building a 102-floor hotel in Singapore. Uh huh. Historians will probably look back on North Korea not as an Axis of Evil but probably the world's largest cargo cult (albeit a well armed one).

It's generally assumed construction came to a halt because North Korea was suffering from a famine (the hotel was to have 7 revolving restaurants), an acute electricity shortage, and they basically ran out of money (the hotel cost upwards of $700 million, which is about 2% of North Korea's GDP).

Clearly a simple matter like in the world's most closed off society where few people ever need or want to visit, a 3,000 room hotel makes as much economic sense as setting up a frogurt stand on Mars. Those who need the comforts of a Western-style hotel in North Korea's capital are already served by two existing (and money losing) hotels, including the Yanggakdo Hotel, a new and more modest 5-star hotel for foreigners located strategically on an island in the middle of the city's main Taedong river (which acts as a moat to keep foreigners from wandering off the hotel grounds and quite possibly keep starving North Koreans from storming the breakfast buffet). If, for whatever reason, you decide to visit this Stalinist Disneyland, be warned foreigners are not permitted to stay in North Korea longer than a solitary week.

What probably killed the project -- besides a simple lack of money and realistic expectations of eager tourists -- is that it was discovered recently that the hotel was made from substandard concrete. The hotel, if finished and occupied, would come crumbling down.

The North Koreans themselves are quietly trying to make the hotel go away (short of blasting it to rubble). Even before the hotel was started, it was featured on North Korean stamps and added to city maps. The hotel is no longer found on stamps and newly issued maps.

I personally like to think of the Ryugyong HotelI hotel as the ultimate example of what happens when managers get really insane ideas and everyone knows it's a really insane idea and there are zero resources to do it but your job (or life) depends on you doing it, so you kinda just barely do the job, make a big show of it, in status meetings use terms like "repurpose the supply-chain"/"impactful delivery"/"action-item paradigm", and substitute memos for reinforced concrete, all with the expectation that the insane manager will a) die b) get fired and when something like that happens everyone will then make a big show about how the project is still top priority -- because it's on everyone's check point performance review objectives for next quarter -- and then everyone just stops working on it and the subject never comes up again, unless of course, the project is 105 stories tall and in the middle of your city.

It's interesting to note, the North Koreans also built themselves their very own "L'Arc de Triomphe". Not unexpectedly, their Arc de Triomphe is about 10 feet higher than the lil pisser found in Paris.

FYI, the tallest hotel in America is Detroit's Marriott Renaissance Center Tower. It stands 73 stories and has 1,300 guest rooms.

#INCLUDE joke about people wanting to visit Detroit as much as they want to visit Pyongyang






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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer

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