People in Pyongyang know how to have fun. This was news to me, after all the dire stories we’re fed on the newsfeeds about brainwashed citizens, moving about the grey facades of Pyongyang’s crumbling buildings, scraping at the bleak gravel for something to eat. In the days we went out, I saw the following spontaneous things. They had not been set up for our cameras:
1. Kids playing soccer and roller blading outside the Grand People’s Study House
2. People enjoying delicious smelling Korean bbq’s in Moranbong park
3. Families taking happy snaps at one of the city’s many postcard-perfect ‘temples’
4. A drunken couple flirting very intimately in the middle of a lunch-hour crowd
5. Crowds of people, old and young, dancing to a boom box CD playing number one pop hit ‘Whistle” on a hedge-lined walkway
6. My North Korean filmmaker colleagues, throwing back more than a few shots of Shoju – which is their take on vodka. At 5.1 standard drinks, it’s pretty lethal.
It should of course be noted that the two million people living in Pyongyang are the lucky ones – outside the city, living conditions are perceptibly worse. But I saw enough of the place to realize that North Koreans, like people everywhere, are good at finding ways to relax: no matter what their circumstances.
In a country without internet, Reality TV, 3D gaming, celebrity culture, I-pods, social media, fast-food chains, shopping malls, and casinos or brothels (outside the hotels, that is), ‘fun’ in North Korean has a much more innocent feel. People gather in parks to sing songs and get drunk and swap stories. They perform plays and dance. They play chess and card games. And they actually talk to each other. If they want entertainment beyond that, they go to the cinema, to see films that are actually still shot on film.
Call me a Luddite, but I found it nostalgic, and appealing. A purer, more human take on enjoyment, in a land free of the conversation-stopping digital gadgets that now drive ‘entertainment’ in the West.