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)
Iranian suit shops; there was an entire street of them just meters from our Tehran hotel. In their display windows mannequins show off the most hideously fantastic men’s wear I have ever seen (although the shops in the mariachi district of Mexico City are stiff competition). Haberdasheries of bling and of the cheesiest swag, these suits are Gangnam Iran style and I wanted one! Unfortunately our group quickly moved on from Tehran leaving me with an intense longing to return for a fitting.
On the final day of the tour we returned to Tehran where we had a very special dinner planned at the Armenian Club, the one place in Iran where non Muslims can drink. I didn’t have much time but I let Gareth Johnson, owner of Young Pioneer Tours and trip leader, and Marko Moudrak, “the Russian”, in on my plan; with just 45min before our dinner reservation we would get fitted for ridiculous suits (and I should be careful calling them that, I’m told they are wedding groom suits), surprise our group, and crash the Armenian Club with our new fabulous bling……and that’s exactly what we did.
But it was the following day when things really got ridiculous. Most of the group split up, many flying home, but the three of us with suits were traveling overland to cross the border into Armenia on our Young Pioneer Tours research trip for next year’s Armenia/Nagorno Karabach Iran trip extension. We did 11 hours in a mini bus to the Armenian border in our suits, crashing dusty truck stops and leaving locals slack jawed in disbelief in our wake. A dare had been put out there that we wouldn’t have the balls to cross the Iranian border in our suits, of course we did, although there were plenty of dirty looks shown our way by the police and customs officials – they kept us waiting a good hour giving us plenty of time to consider our stupidity, but in the end our exit stamps were issued.
The Iranian soldiers at the final check point had a better sense of humor and just laughed at us during their document check and we were finally released to make the cold and lonely walk over the bridge into Armenia. The Armenians greeted us kindly, and despite some problems with our electronic visas, professionally worked to sort everything out. After an hour wait our passports were handed over to us and the young border official offered us a “welcome to Europe” and then with a sly smile, “so…. what the hell is up with those suits?”
At the Armenian Club in our suits.
In my Tehran suit shop.
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
The double Kim badge is the latest in North Korean fashion – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
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.
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!
Young boy in Pyongyang, North Korea with Hello Kitty bag and his sister’s socks!