Putting aside all the bad things we’ve heard from the western media about North Korea, let’s look at some of the down to earth side of the country’s capital. Pyongyang city, with a population of 2.5 million is also the largest city in North Korea. Out of my 12 days in the DPRK, I spent at least a week altogether in the capital. We spent most of our time in our comfortable mini bus, but with the occasional stroll around the city by foot and taking the metro for a ride. This gave me the chance to see what the ordinary people were up to and how their city life looked like. Every morning, I wake up to not only a fantastic view from my room, but also a North Korean song that is blasting outside the city like an eerie old funfair movie then a loud siren everyday at 8am. It feels like I was part inside a part of a documentary. After a repetitive western breakfast of toast and eggs, then it was time to tour the city or probably to the outskirts.
Before I went to North Korea, I always had this perception of North Koreans being sad and miserable, walking like a zombie without talking to one another and shunning their heads away when you look at them, or having constant fear in their eyes. But once I was there, I was extremely surprised because it was just the opposite. The locals were smiling and chatty, just like a normal human being should be. What came right out of my expectations were that the people were extremely friendly and hospitable. Immediately, I fell in love with the people here. The school children would often wave to us and they looked very happy to see us. The people were not only courteous, but they dresses up neatly and presentable in their own way at all times, especially the women. The women are always wearing skirts with a nice top and always in heels. Times are changing here, besides their black heels, the girls are starting to wear bright and colourful shoes. Surprisingly, their clothes seem to get tighter and handbags are common among the ladies as well. They looked gorgeous. Also, one thing I noticed about them is that when they walk in a group, their footsteps are always in sync. Very often, you will also see them walk in rows which is pretty interesting.
They may not have the entertainments that you and me have like super fast internet, iPads, Hollywood blockbusters at the cinema, gigantic shopping malls and over-priced coffee that tastes like syrup in milk, but they do know how to keep themselves busy. In Pyongyang, there are quite a number of entertainment outlets and we’ve been to a few such as the Gold Lane Bowling Alley where you can see young people having a nice bowling game, Kaeson Youth Funfair where the people take rides like roller coasters and pirate ships, an ice-rink and many more. We also saw parents playing badminton with their kids at the open space beside the Pyongyang Grand Theatre on a Sunday evening and senior citizens dancing happily to the music while onlookers clap their hands in a beautiful park.
On special occasions, they would dress up nicely and would all gather for a mass dancing performance at a public area. The mass dancing was so awesome. The one we saw was outside the Kim Il-Sung Stadium and the performers were students from a university. They were all boys and girls, happily dancing away to the music. We also joined the locals for an evening of impressive performance by their orchestra and their choir at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre. One of the oddest things I found out was that, many of the locals seem to stare at us with a weird look. Sometimes even when we’re in the bus just passing by. Other than that, everything seems to be perfectly normal and they are quite the happy sort. I guess the merriest men we’ve saw were at the microbrewery, most probably they were also drunk, I’m not sure. As long as they’re happy.
We experienced quite a number of encounters with the locals and examples of their fantastic hospitality and great honesty. On the first day, while strolling at the Mansudae Fountain Park, a group of schoolchildren came up to our guide to ask if we’ve dropped CNY50. We all checked our wallets and told them it wasn’t ours and asked them to keep it. They gave us a shocked look and didn’t know what to do with the extra money. So, they passed it to our guide and left. If it was somewhere else in the world, the kids would’ve taken the money happily but here, if it wasn’t theirs, they wouldn’t take it.
The best experiences we’ve had was the super great service and hospitality provided by the hotel. Once, we left the leftovers from our anniversary cake in our room but outside of the fridge. After housekeeping, they helped us to move the cake into the fridge and had it covered so that it wouldn’t dry up. It was awesome. Also around the same time, we had to leave Pyongyang and we couldn’t bring our anniversary bouquet with us, so we left it in the room and checked out. Once we were back after 2 days, we were checked back into the same room, and the flowers from the bouquet were nicely trimmed and placed inside a glass of water. They placed it right next to our bedside table and it looked great. We were so impressed with their services and we’d never look at North Koreans the same way we used to again. Here are some of the snapshots I’ve taken of the lovely locals of Pyongyang: