The Friendly Faces of the Hermit Kingdom: A DPRK Adventure

Memories Made in the DPRK

There are so many things that make a trip to the DPRK memorable. For some it may be the history, for others the culture, but for us it was the people. We went to the DPRK on three separate occasions and we were lucky enough to have some very rare chance encounters with the North Korean people.

It was April, 2012 and Pyongyang was in a festive mood to mark the occasion of the 100th birthday of the Eternal President Kim Il Sung. There was almost a carnival atmosphere, the people had a 4-day holiday and they had taken to the streets to celebrate. There were parades and fireworks, the streets were awash with the vibrant colours of women wearing the traditional Hangbok, soldiers marched to pay their respects at Martyrs’ Hill and school children dressed smartly in their uniforms and matching red scarves.

What a massive contrast this was to our previous trip to Pyongyang just one year prior, when the streets were empty and people were rarely seen. This time we mingled with the people on Moran Hill, engaged in the public dancing and were invited by a family to sit and share their special holiday treats of candy and Soju. All around Pyongyang, gangs of children flocked towards us to shake our hands and ask us our names. We joined the people lining the streets tightly clutching their flowers to wave and cheer on the armed forces during the military parade. There were so many people there it was almost impossible to move, but we found ourselves being generously propelled to the very front of the crowd by the local people who wanted to make sure that we had a prime position.

“What a truly amazing and never again to be repeated experience,” we thought. But then a couple of days later we found ourselves in Hamhung, the 2nd biggest city in the DPRK, which had been closed to foreign visitors until only a couple of years before and a place which really hadn’t seen that many tourists in general. We were a small group of 5 and had just arrived in town and by a very lucky chance we had stumbled across the local children in the town square practising mass gymnastics in the Arirang mass games style. This was completely unexpected and the children seemed to think so too, considering the split second, jaw dropping moment of shocked silence that ensued when they spotted us. Then their faces lit up and they broke into huge smiles. All of a sudden there were hundreds of children charging towards us, all clamouring to have their photos taken and competing with each other to see who could strike the best pose. It was a truly magical and humbling moment.

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