North Koreans are initiated into the wearing of badges and insignia at a young age. In the Rason SEZ I found kindergarten children wearing red star badges as a reward for exemplary performance. Throughout the country regimented middle school children compete for rank; those who win responsibilities, receive and wear arm badges.
The highest ranking student in a class receives an arm badge displaying three bars and three stars, as the boy above is wearing.
These types of badges are not available for tourists at souvenir shops, but I did find them. I purchased several using local North Korean currency at the public market in the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Of the two middle school badges I purchased, the one on the right, two bars and one star, ranks higher than the the one on the left, three stars and one bar. I wore the higher ranking badge on my arm in the DPRK and the locals were absolutely delighted. Women giggled, men posed for pictures with me, and I was repeatedly asked why I only held a mid level rank.
Notice the lower ranking badge in the above picture; after leaving my camera battery charger at the Nampo Hot Spring Hotel and having to return for it, Miss Yu, the North Korean guide, demoted me!
North Koreans love to dress their children in mock military uniforms – below are pictures of boys in uniform proudly posing for my camera at the Pyongyang Rungna Dolphinarium fun fair.
A band leader wears a uniform with a graphic showing a unified Korea; subtle propaganda intended for the eyes of those foreigners who had come to see the Kim Il-sung 100th birthday celebrations.
I took this picture on the morning of April 15th, 2012 the 100th year anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth. On that morning all foreign tourists were bused to a park in the Pyongyang suburbs, far away from the military parades and Kim Jong-un’s public address to the North Korean people.
Marching band performances, folk game competitions, and interactions with school children were the activities the North Koreans used to keep us occupied during our sequestration away from that morning’s downtown main events. The entertainment at park may have been a disappointment for some, but the holiday week of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday was still an epic time to have experienced North Korea.
- 2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition (americaninnorthkorea.com)
I recently discovered that two of my pictures have the honor of being selected as the Pyongyang Traffic Girl Of The Month for May and June 2012 over at PyongyangTrafficGirls.com – it’s a fun little site that honors some of my favorite girls, check it out while my picture for June is still profiled up on their main page!
June 2012 Traffic Girl of the Month.
May 2012 Traffic Girl of the Month – photos by Joseph A Ferris III
And while messing around at PyongyangTrafficGirls.com I came across this absolutely precious kindergarten musical traffic safety skit.
- Return of the Pyongyang Traffic Girls – Picture Post (americaninnorthkorea.com)
- Pyongyang Traffic Girls Return! (americaninnorthkorea.com)
- Guns, Girls, and Beer – the Pyongyang Gun Range 2012 (americaninnorthkorea.com)
From a previous post: To our delight, the traffic girls of Pyongyang were brought out of retirement to help deal with the massive traffic congestion, and perhaps to add a little more color to the city for ’Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung’s 100th year birthday celebrations.
On my first visit (summer 2011) we had been saddened to learn that the girls had been replaced by a modern traffic light system. They could still be seen on occasion, running roadside signal lamp switches, working road construction sights, or directing traffic during the frequent power outages, but we missed their famous directing routines performed at the main city intersections. I’m happy to report that this April they were back directing traffic throughout Pyongyang, and although I have no idea how long this will last, I got some great pics during this special opportunity and will be sure to have a follow-up post sharing the best of them!
This is the follow-up picture post with those promised photos posted below!
Remaining photos show the Pyongyang traffic girls performing their normal post retirement duties: cross walk safety overloading and manual light phasing – all from April 2012.
Still actively commissioned today, the USNS Pueblo currently remains the only captured ship in the US fleet. The incident occurred Jan. 23, 1968, but on this day in 2011 our guide was one of the North Korean sailors who boarded and helped capture the Pueblo. Attractive young ladies in military uniforms usually give this tour but our western guide informed us that we were lucky to have this man as our guide – he normally only gives tours to dignitaries and foreign leaders.
I knew about the Pueblo incident before coming to the DPRK. I’m a Chief Mate of a US Navy ship (on long tern charter to UCSD), I know my history, and I did plenty of research pre-trip – so I was pretty amazed to learn that many people in my group were not even aware that North Korea holds a captured US ship. But these guys were quick learners, and at the end of the trip many remarked that the visit to the Pueblo and interacting with our guide was the highlight of their trip.
Young North Korean sailor on duty.
Small arms damage clearly marked out on interior bulkheads.
Our North Korean Pueblo guide and myself – what a smile!
- Our guide “love(s) American civilians!” at the North Korea Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (americaninnorthkorea.com)
Young girls walk home after classes in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Pyongyang motorcycle style – a picture taken on our 20 min. escorted walk in Pyongyang, DPRK, North Korea.
Thanks for my first 1,000 hits! Above is a satire clip of the Pyongyang traffic girls.
- Pyongyang Traffic Girls (americaninnorthkorea.com)
Just a tiny hint of a smile…………before being told “no more pictures!”
It’s sad to say but I can confirm the rumors – electric traffic lights have been recently installed in Pyongyang, and with this bold step into advanced technology, regrettably the era of the famous Pyongyang traffic girls is coming to an end. Legions of cute traffic girls have been retired; who will man the intersections of desolate streets? Who will perform a robotic dance of traffic instruction while ignoring the fact there is no traffic to actually instruct? Is this march of progress a worthy substitute for cute girls with pouty expressions and sexy uniforms?
But all is not lost! Some of the traffic girls have been retained to render emergency services during frequent power outages. Others can still be seen directing traffic at construction sites, manning cross walks at busy areas, and some manually control traffic lights near the tourist hotels.
Girls walking home after a performance at the Children’s Palace, Pyongyang, North Korea.
I’m going to be busy for the next few days as I get my ship ready for arrival in port and the shift to the shipyard period in Durban, South Africa. I’m also busy saving and transferring over some old writing pieces, and deleting old blogs and photo hosting sites. Best I will probably do here for the next week or two is post a daily picture.
North Koreans cannot go anywhere without the proper documentation and travel passes. During the famine years these rules were overlooked as unstoppable mass migrations of people searched for food across the country – often near the Chinese border. Now the rules and restrictions have tightened back up again. A Swiss diplomat stationed in Pyongyang (he claimed there are only around 40 full time expats living in North Korea at any given time, excluding the Chinese) told us that his team North Korean contacts spent one full week running around Pyongyang, gathering signatures and filing papers, just to arrange the travel permissions to make a visit and tour of the DMZ. As tourists with Koryo Tours we buzzed around everywhere hassle free with nothing more than a flash of a paper at a random checkpoint or two – makes me wonder about all the work that had to have gone on behind the scenes to make our tour appear so damn normal.
Teachers have their documents checked on a school group outing to the Ryongmun Caves.
Links to pictures of our North Korean Visas and tourist cards:
Women getting ready for the Arirang Mass Games? Marching and in formation under the Juche Tower, DPRK, North Korea. Ray Cunningham gave me a better explanation of what is going on in these pictures, “Generally these are practices for holiday parades such as National Day 11 September or Party Day 10 October. This would probably be the National Day parade – I heard it but was kept away. There is always something going on in Kim Il-sung square or by the tower practicing for something. What is rarer is for the guides not to freak when you are in the middle of the practice. Love this one.”
The above picture is a crop and edit of my header pic, it also happens to be yesterday’s most viewed North Korea pic from my Flickr account.
The unedited and uncropped version above, more related photos below.
I plan to post one of my North Korea pictures each day between working on longer text heavy posts. But how to decide what picture to post? I’m going to try letting the greater public decide by posting the previous day’s most viewed DPRK pic off my Flickr site. At 18 views yesterday, below we have a group of young ladies in uniform taking a break from marching practice. I don’t know why they had been marching, just because they are in uniform does not mean they are soldiers, perhaps they were getting ready to perform in that nights Arirang Mass Games performance.