North Korea Stories and Tips

Week 52b - Hidden Messages (Part 2)

Arirang Games - Pyongyang Photo, North Korea, Asia

............................For most people the highlight of any trip to North Korea is the chance to see the Arirang Games, the largest choreographed gymnastic performance in the world, performed by over 100,000 gymnasts, artists and children. The games are the perfect opportunity to show off the states ideology; "the subordination of the individual’s desires for the needs of the collectives," and allow spectators to marvel at the complex levels of teamwork. The performance highlights North Korea‘s rich, powerful history, their successes and future possibilities. Before we ventured to Pyongyang May Day stadium, the biggest stadium in the world with a 150,000 capacity to see the Arirang Games, there was still time to see ‘The Great Leader’s’ birthplace, located on the edge of the city near a rusting amusement park.

After leaving his home on the outskirts of Pyongyang, in 1925 at the age of thirteen, Kim Il Sung didn’t return home until twelve years later, after he led the Koreans to victory over the Japanese. Quite an impressive fete for a twenty-five year old, and a fete far more imaginative than truth. Like a lot of Korean history, changes have been made to create the personality cults of the nation’s leaders, keeping them at unparalleled levels of positive public opinion.

In the recently restored dwelling where he was born, lay the straw mat he slept on after returning home victorious. This sixty year old straw mat has remarkably stood up to the test of time. Seeing a fabricated heirloom, alongside doctored photos and an invented history, you wonder what if anything of this attraction was in fact true. As I pondered this, North Koreans frantically fought over each other to drink water from the ‘Great Leader’s’ childhood well.

Finally, it was time for the Arirang Games. With hunger cravings satisfied with a plate of traditional Pyongyang cold noodles, we found our seats and waited for the performance to begin. Railings and attending soldiers separated us from the local spectators. Opposite us sat 18,000 children. These children would act as the backdrop, producing mosaic after mosaic of tiny coloured squares. As they held up a mosaic of the ‘Great Leader’ himself, the local spectators applauded with deafening ferocity.

The professionalism of the performance was immense. Considering that each routine contained thousands upon thousands of performers, to complete the ninety minute show without a single mistake, pushes the boundaries of human endeavour to its limits. North Korea doesn’t do things by halves, and this play was no different. It’s hard not to marvel at its ingenuity and leave believing that the Juche philosophy that the country follows; of self-reliance and teamwork does have the ability to create a powerful, successful nation. But then again this record-breaking performance was produced for this sole reason.

As I mulled over the evening’s entertainment it dawned on me that I had yet to come in to contact with a woman who was not blessed with the looks of an angel. I asked our guide Ms. Lee, what all the ugly girls do for work as I had yet to meet one, to which I received a giggle, a smile and a shrug in response. With the constant PMT frowns now broken, maybe Ms. Lee was starting to warm to us.

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