Archive for January, 2012

Beauty and Grace at the Arirang Mass Games

It’s not all about high kicking sexy military girls and mass flip card human mosaics at the North Korean Arirang Mass Games; experience the more delicate side of the games with the following set of photos showcasing the beauty and grace of North Korean women in their traditional Korean chosŏn-ot dresses.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea


Dancing Maidens at the Arirang Mass Games

Young North Korean maidens dancing in an orchard……

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

and then the nightmare begins!


Old Fashioned Girls

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Performance at the Pyongyang Children’s Palace.

Commented on my Flickr“I like this picture, there is a certain old fashioned style in the colors, the postures…..”

I took over 5,000 pictures in North Korea.  The best pictures stood out immediately, many I couldn’t do anything with, and then there were those I discovered later – pictures initially overlooked in the huge file but somehow later to capture my eye and ultimately my heart.  This picture is one of those.  Initially missed but quickly to become a cherished  favorite.

I agree with the above commenter, there is just something old fashioned about North Korea and this picture sums it up perfectly – that’s why I love this picture!


Koryo Dynasty Tombs

A visit to the Koryo Dynasty Tombs outside Kaesong, DPRK, North Korea.

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesong Tombs

Kaesŏng Tombs, North Korea


The Northern Side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone

Approximately 250 Kilometers long, 4 KM wide, and running roughly along the 38th parallel, the Korean Demilitarized Zone continues to be the most heavily militarized border in the world.  Most people visit it from the south but I am one of approximately 300 Americans who have visited it from the North.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

North Korean guard at Panmunjom, DMZ.

The trip to the border region south of Kaesong was the first activity on our week long visit to the DPRK. The DMZ would also be our first chance to test our preconceptions for what our visit to North Korea would be like:

We were marched (you know it’s serious stuff in North Korea when you are marched around as we were also later to do at the Kim Il-sung Mausoleum/Kumsusan Memorial Palace and the International Friendship Exhibition) – didn’t really expect that but since I went to military school I was ahead of the curve.   Pictures we took would NOT be instantly scrutinized and deleted, our military guides smiled and were very friendly, we would NOT be able to give South Korean soldiers profane finger gestures, we would NOT instantly be arrested for giggling about Kim Jong-il (our guide would blush in concern that we were giggling over her English usage, not the ‘Dear Leader’), and “the DMZ is the one place in North Korea where you ARE  free to take as many pictures as you want” rule was severely tested by my 10 pictures a second Sony A55 – I was warned to tone things down.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

The DMZ was also our first full on introduction to North Korea’s alternate historical reality.  What we know as the ‘axe murder incident‘ was simply explained away as a misunderstanding when an axe got innocently thrown over a fence – no mention of murdered US servicemen.  Desire for peaceful reunification was talked up while anti American propaganda was pointedly avoided, but the alternate historical reality crept back when all of us tourists were  sat around a table used during armistice talks.  Our guide enthusiastically named off North Korean officials and where they had sat, but when asked who had sat in my seat, the guide dismissively answered “some American aid or secretary” – hmmmmm, my seat was at the head of the table on the American/South Korean side.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

Soldiers marching at Panmunjom, DMZ.

Pointing out the DMZ line

Tour guide Ms. Kim pointing out the DMZ – photo by Kinabalu

Demilitarized Zone Guide

Local guide at Panmunjom, DMZ.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

North Korean guard at Panmunjom, DMZ.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

North Korean guard at Panmunjom, DMZ.

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

North Korean guards at Panmunjom, DMZ.

Sign Language Tour at DMZ

Sign Language Tour at DMZ

The Korean War and the DMZ explained in sign language by tour leaders of a group of the hearing impaired.

Jordan Harbinger at the DMZ

Jordan Harbinger points out the Northern side of the DMZ.


Traffic Girl Style

A peek at the details of the Pyongyang traffic girl uniform.

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK

More Pyongyang traffic girl photos below – all from our 20 min. escorted walk in Pyongyang.

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK


Peaceful Unification Propaganda at the Demilitarized Zone Northern Side

Peaceful Unification Kaesong Propaganda

“Let us pass on the united country to the next generation!”


After School Pyongyang in Black and White

Two young girls walk home from the Pyongyang Children’s Palace.

Pyongyang After School


Guard Duty Pyongyang

Interesting set of photos showing a woman with rifle on guard duty in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Female Guard

Female Guard

Pyongyang Gate


DPRK (North Korea) Special Cuisine – Petroleum Clam Barbeque


Post 101

Is this really post 101?

At An American in North Korea I have tried to post something new and original on a daily basis. For the most part I have succeeded – but damn have I been busy lately!  My ship is coming out of dry dock and I have been run ragged getting her cleaned up and ready for sea again.

Unfortunately I am also starting to run out of original material and photos to post. But  don’t worry!  I still have some ideas for when things quiet down and there is a Spring trip to the DPRK being planned!

Taedong River Traffic North Korea

Posting a picture of the North Korean maritime industry as a reminder that no matter how crazy and busy things get on my ship I always have something to be thankful for!


10 of the world’s ugliest buildings – CNN

Hotel of Doom

North Korean Hotel of Doom - photo by Joseph A Ferris III

CNN fluff web article on the world’s ugliest buildings:

1. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea’s long and hideous Communist dictatorship has simultaneously heaped misery upon its people while offering the rest of the world several moments of unintentional hilarity.

This 330-meter pyramid/spaceship/sci-fi villain’s lair-themed concrete edifice is a prime example of the regime’s hubris. Erected, apparently, as a riposte to South Korea winning the right to host the 1988 Olympic Games, the impoverished North ran out of cash for the project in the early 1990s.

After a 16-year hiatus, construction began again in 2008 at the behest of an Egyptian investment group and the hotel is slated to open next year in time for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sun, the country’s late “Eternal” President.

This is a development that will surely herald the emergence of Pyongyang as a heavyweight tourist destination –- in the same alternate reality this monstrosity was conceived, that is.


Mass Gymnastics

North Korean girls perform mass gymnastics at the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea1

Arirang Mass Games - North Korea


Favorite Moments in North Korea

Joshua Spodek helps rekindle memories from our trip to North Korea with the following posts:

Toward the end of our week in North Korea I asked all my travel group-mates what they considered their favorite moment of our trip and why.

Part 2, Part 3

My favorite moment was learning that the sailor who led the tour of the USS Pueblo was a member of the original boarding party of the ship. I felt he had communicated a message to take what we had learned there and use it to help promote peace, a different message than most of the government-promoted messages. Learning his role made the message feel more genuine – Joshua Spodek

Tour of the US Spy Ship Pueblo

Tour of the US spy ship Pueblo given by an original crew member that participated in its capture – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Hello Kitty in North Korea

Young boy in Pyongyang, North Korea with Hello Kitty bag and his sister’s socks!

Hello Kitty North Korea


Laughter, Blogging and North Korea

The day I became a blogger: Gabriel Mizrahi’s observations on North Korea, humor, blogging, and his recent Huffington Post article.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Laughter in North Korea - photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Pizza

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – the story is old but the pictures are new and original.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

For millions of undernourished North Koreans, the notion of eating at a restaurant belongs strictly to the world of fantasy. And so there is only the grimmest humour in the news that, for the country’s ruling elite, Pyongyang’s dining options just got a little more impressive: the country now has its first-ever pizzeria.

An obsession with pizza stretching back at least 10 years prompted the isolated nation’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, to authorize North Korea’s first Italian restaurant, which opened in December, according to a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan. “General Kim Jong-il said that the people should also be allowed access to the world’s famous dishes,” the restaurant’s manager, Kim Sang-Soon, was quoted as saying in Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for the regime.

Those dining at the restaurant are reportedly treated to pizza and pasta made with wheat flour, butter and cheese flown in from Italy. They are also presumably reaping the benefits of a years-long effort by Kim Jong-il to bring the perfect pizza to his famine-plagued totalitarian state.

In the late 1990s, he summoned a team of Italian pizza chefs to Pyongyang to instruct army officers. One of the chefs, Ermanno Furlanis, later recounted how the Italians underwent x-rays, brain scans and urine and blood sampling on arrival, before being sequestered in a marble palace. One of the officers Furlanis was training asked him to specify the precise distance at which olives should be spaced on a pizza, he recalled.

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

Pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea Pizza Restaurant

Neil Strauss with a North Korean Pizza

Neil Strauss with his authentic Italian pizza in Pyongyang, North Korea.


Frisbee Diplomacy in North Korea – Picture Post #2

A series of photos from our day of Frisbee diplomacy in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Above Gabriel Mizrahi of The North Korea Blog teaches young North Koreans how to throw a Frisbee.

(more…)


Frisbee Diplomacy in North Korea – Picture Post #1

A series of photos from our day of Frisbee diplomacy in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

(more…)


Pyongyang Beer Stand

Pyongyang Beer Stand

Government authorized capitalism? Street side beer stand in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Don’t try to buy a drink on your own, only your North Korean guide can purchase for you at the government set rate – although if no one was watching, and if the guides really trusted you, a black market purchase could be possible.


North Korean Frisbee Diplomacy

Traveling in North Korea as a small private group on a custom tour gave us a lot of opportunities that the larger groups never had. Koryo Tours invited us to join up for an afternoon with a group of western Ultimate Frisbee fanatics who had rented a field in Pyongyang and arranged the first ever North Korea Ultimate Frisbee tournament…..how killer was this we thought, playing a first ever event with North Korean locals! But it turns out that Ultimate Frisbee, no matter where it is played, is kinda lame.

There were no North Korean locals included in the tournament (we should have anticipated), instead a handful of North Korean guides participated.  I went in for a couple rounds of play but the Ultimate Frisbee fanatics matched me up against one of the best opposing players. Exhausted, I decided my priorities lay elsewhere when a BMW with a trunk full of black market beer pulled up field side.  With drink in hand I went out to test the limits to which I could explore.  Unfortunately boundaries had been set with two government agents not so discretely maintaining a vigilant watch on all our activities.  Adjacent to the tournament field was an amusement park fun fair with locals and soldiers enjoying rides.  I was unable to explore there but I did sneak some telephoto shots despite the agent’s disproving scowls.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

North Korean guides and foreigners team up for Ultimate Frisbee.

North Korean Guides Relaxing

Our guides relax in a BMW with a trunk full of beer.

Soldier at the Park

The fun fair (off limits) adjacent to the field.

We were playing the tournament on World Youth Day, and although the fun fair was closed to me, the Youth Day celebrations held closer to the field were a bit more accessible.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Bobbing for apples relay race.

North Korean Tug of War

Tug of war.

International Youth Day in North Korea

Dizzy bat relay race.

As the Ultimate Frisbee geeks played on, us slackers enjoyed a BBQ lunch put on by the famous singing waitresses of Pyongyang.  After filling our tummies with terrific grilled seafood and meats, and topping our glasses with the local black market beer, the waitresses made us work off the feast by having us participate with them in singing and dancing the North Korean folk classics.

The Singing Waitresses of Pyongyang, North Korea

Dancing with the Singing Waitresses of Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean Picnic Girls

BBQ Lunch at North Korean Ultimate Frisbee Tournament

Lunch, songs, and dancing with the famous singing waitresses of Pyongyang.

The absolute highlight of my trip to North Korea occurred after the BBQ lunch.  The day was winding down and the locals were leaving the Youth Day celebrations and festivities. Those of us that had given up on the tournament gathered all the spare Frisbees and started tossing them to the locals. The reactions to the flying disks were varied, young boys were game from the start, young girls would catch a rouge Frisbee, shriek wildly, toss and run, while old men stripped down to their undershirts, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, would strut Frisbee in hand before condescending to make a toss. It turned into a wild scene despite the government agent’s best efforts to keep the crowd moving past this foreign temptation (the tour company had to tell the North Korean Government that Ultimate Frisbee was invented in Canada – supposedly no American sports are permitted in the DPRK) – North Korean Frisbee diplomacy would not be stopped!

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Frisbee with North Korean locals.

Several of the boys we were playing with were repeatedly told to get lost by the government agents, but boys being boys, they would simply reappear back in line ready to receive another Frisbee toss.  We tried to give away Frisbees to the most enthusiastic kids but somehow our pile was magically being replenished – I’m guessing we kept the government agents busy tracking down and confiscating all the Frisbees we gave out.  We were determined to give away at least one Frisbee, so making sure we that we were not being watched, we gave a Frisbee and mimed run to our most ardent student.  The message was clear, and checking to see that the coast was clear, the boy took off and made away with a smile and his forbidden American prize.

Related story by the Global Times.


More Photos from the Pyongyang Children’s Palace, North Korea

Photo series of performances from the Pyongyang Children’s Palace, DPRK, North Korea.

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea

Children's Palace Pyongyang, North Korea