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.
North Korean guides and foreigners team up for Ultimate Frisbee.
Our guides relax in a BMW with a trunk full of beer.
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.
Bobbing for apples relay race.
Tug of war.
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.
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!
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.