I spent some time last spring practicing conversational English with the girls of the Rason Foreign Language Institute. On my return I gifted them photos from the first visit:
The girls checking out the photos.
The girls checking out the photos.
Gift photo from my first visit.
Gift photo from my first visit.
The children we interact with at the Rason Foreign Language Institute are aged 13-15, and are chosen to converse with us because they rank the top of their class. Shy at first, the girls quickly warm up by asking questions about family life in the United States, asking about our favorite colors, sports, hobbies, and animals. I keep it simple and ask them similar questions, learning that they enjoy swimming, reading, piano, and watching cartoons. Most of the girls want to be teachers when the grow up; they all hope to someday live in Pyongyang.
Friend and fellow Young Pioneer Tours guide, Chris White, had an epic encounter with a Pyongyang Traffic Girl last week in the DPRK:
Pics from Young Pioneer Tour’s Facebook page – give the page a like and suggest to your friends for your chance to win our yearly free DPRK trip giveaway contest!
Chongjin City kindergarten performance – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
A trapeze artist prepares for the Pyongyang Military Circus finale – the inspiration for the film Comrade Kim Goes Flying?
Comrade Kim Yong Mi is a North Korean coal miner. Her dream of becoming a trapeze artist is crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil who believes miners belong underground and not in the air.
My friends at the Koryo Group continue showing the film around the world at select film festivals. Don’t miss it at the Sydney Film Festival, June 5th – 16th, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 19th – 30th.
With all the action just a blur I put my camera down to concentrate on enjoying the show; readers will just have to be content with more pics of the finale setup:
Pyongyang traffic girl at the intersection near the foreign language bookshop – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I really like the traffic girls of Pyongyang.
When we asked our North Korean guides if the traffic girls are aware of their world wide fame we were told they do but don’t really like the notoriety. Some of the girls fear the fame will go to their heads and distract them from their job of keeping the streets of Pyongyang safe.
Photo by Joseph A Ferris III
My look behind the scenes of the DPRK tourist experience wouldn’t be complete without introducing the famous singing and dancing waitresses of the Pyongyang lamb BBQ restaurant. The girls are also available for catering; long time readers might have seen them cooking and dancing at the Mt Taesong Amusement park in my Ultimate Frisbee tournament post.
Cute, flirty, and always ready for a little dancing, relaxing with these girls is always a highlight of any trip to Pyongyang (at least for the guys) – they serve up one of Pyongyang’s tastiest lunches too!
Gymnasts, dancers, and little stars perform at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace:
The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace; a place for children of the privileged elite to spend time after school practicing sports, art, folk dance and music – and of course, show it all off with military like precision and forced smiles to groups of visiting foreign friends and tourists. More from this series linked below – all photos by Joseph A Ferris III
Young girls dressed in panda bear costumes relax between performances for foreigners at a folk fair held on the Day of the Sun, the April 15th, 2012 celebrations to honor the 100th year birthday of ‘Eternal President‘ Kim Il Sung.
On this day there were many military parades and Kim Jong-un appearances throughout Pyongyang. Unfortunately visiting foreign friends were not invited to these events, and to keep us out of the way, western tourists, dignitaries, and cultural delegations were bused to the city outskirts and conveniently sequestered at a park in the Mangyongdae district. To keep everyone entertained, folk games and competitions (tug of war, three legged race, ect) had been arranged for the visiting cultural delegations. Having traveled so far, and with expectations of seeing military parades, many of the tourists did not appreciate the situation – watching Eastern European and Russian delegations bob for apples was a big disappointment for most, but I really enjoyed the experience – not the international folk competitions, but all the interactions I had with the North Korean children who were at the event and enjoying themselves in such a relaxed atmosphere. On arrival, little girls in traditional chosŏn-ot dresses grabbed us by the hand and led us into the park (they were fascinated with our bellies – notice the pokes!). Hanging out, dancing, playing, and taking photographs with the North Korean children who were participating in the cultural dance performances made this event a cherished experience from the trip.
North Korean beauty and fashion has been in the news lately, apparently the western educated new young leader Kim Jung-un has recently allowed women to wear earrings, platform heels, and pants in an effort to maintain popularity with the nation’s youth.
In a somewhat related article koreaBANG examines the North Korean hairstyling industry. My friends over at The North Korean Blog were stuck by the methods used by the state to select and nurture young candidates for careers in the hairdressing industry, and how it relates to insights we gleaned about the North Koran comedy profession:
In order to obtain the qualifications to become a hairdresser, those who receive recommendations as middle school graduates or from other workplaces are trained through education at a hairdressing or beauty school in each town or district more than once per year, and in September of every year they even hold a competition for the north’s most skilled beauty salon, ‘Nationwide Hairdressers’ and Beauticians’ Competition’ in Pyongyang.
The koreaBANG article had me reminiscing about the afternoon we shared at the Hamhung flower park and pavilion along with couples on their wedding day. Deemed an auspicious day for tying the knot, the park was filled with newlywed couples having their formal pictures taken. Many of the women were dressed in their finest chosŏn-ot and had their hair done up in elaborate, yet tasteful, styles. We were more than welcome to take pictures of the couples and our presence actually created a bit of a sensation, North Korean wedding photographers snuck around to try to candidly fit us in their shots, and a few families actually thrust flowers in our hands and had us pose with the newlyweds!
Brides and their hairstyles in Hamhung flower park – all photos by Joseph A Ferris II
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)
Our lovely guide shares a laugh and smile during our return visit to the US spy ship Pueblo.
This wasn’t our first time meeting this guide – Jordan, Josh, and I remembered her from last year (and she confessed to remembering us too), she was our guide during our 2011 visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. It was with her that we shared one of our favorite interactions of last year’s trip:
After being told of our impending annihilation we split our group between our trip guides and the local museum guide to fit into a small elevator to return to the museum entrance. Stuffed in the elevator between 5 big western men our guide asked us where we were from – Michigan, Maine, California, and so on. The look on our guide’s face was priceless, she was stuck in an elevator with 5 arch enemy Americans just moments after she predicted our impending annihilation by North Korean troops. The look of shock on her face changed into a big smile as our guide declared “I love American civilians!” and together we all all broke out into laughter – one of the best moments of the trip!
- Thank You to Polaroid for Camera Sponsership (americaninnorthkorea.com)
Last year we were late getting to the Pyongyang Children’s Palace – we got to see most of the show but missed the tour of the classrooms. For this year’s visit to the larger Mangyongdae Children’s Palace I made it a point to arrive extra early so we could get the full tour – on a day when a major performance was scheduled for western tourists and foreign dignitaries we were the first group to arrive.
Below is just a portion of what we were shown on our tour. Child protegees and students work hard to perfect their studies in folk music, propaganda oration, drawing, and piano. How much of this was staged for us and how much was typical of what goes on, visiting tourists invading their classrooms or not, I cant really say.
Our student guide for the classroom portion of the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.
- The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace (americaninnorthkorea.com)
Last week I wrote about my return to the Pyongyang gun range and how I shot my own breakfast, today I am presenting a simple photo post showing the remaining pictures from that visit – the ones that don’t involve me killing something! You can find my post about my original 2011 visit to the gun range here.
Lovely Pyongyang gun range attendants.
I bought our North Korean guide Ms. Han a round of shots, she wasn’t the best marksman but I was thrilled that she at least gave it a try.
The Pyongyang gun range bar – my favorite bar is the world!