This was what we were racing to see. The massed dancing in Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate his birthday. There were hundreds of people all moving in unison, dancing in a mass of colour and it looked spectacular.
I took some videos but WordPress won’t let them on the blog, so here’s a very short clip taken from the same place we were at, but a different celebration. Still, you’ll get the idea. 🙂
As you can see, the steps are very basic, which was fortunate because we were able to jump in and dance with the locals. Our dance had a much more festive vibe than the video. Everyone was smiling and enjoying the sunshine.
Look at the colour! Everyone moving as one, clapping as one, the music, the dresses… it was fantastic.
This looks as if I suddenly turned into a disembodied head… This was taken just before I dumped my bag and leapt like a dainty gazelle into one of the circles.
Maria from Finland was my partner. She’s a lot taller than me, so she played the man’s role and I was the girl. I felt a little sorry for the Koreans in the circles that the foreigners joined. They spend weeks practicing, then we bumble in and wreck the rhythm until we get the hang of it.
James was determined to dance with a local. Here he is counting his steps. After dancing with Maria, I danced with a couple of the local men. No photos – I was too busy being nimble and keeping the honour of Australia alive as a dancing nation.
We were there for maybe half an hour before it came to an end. Everyone gathered in front of the pavilion for a rousing speech. At first we were standing near the back, but then Mr Kim came and moved us away.
… and then the boys.
We walked back to our bus and drove to another part of town. I grabbed this shot of the pyramid hotel out of the window. It’s sad to think that after today I’ll never see it again.
Then there was great excitement when Matt announced that we’ve been given permission to go to a supermarket in the centre of Pyongyang. Before we went in, Matt gave us the ground rules.
The big thing about shopping here is that we’ll have to change our money from Euros/Yuan to the actual North Korean currency of won. This is the first time in our whole trip that we’d actually get our hands on some DPRK cash. It’s forbidden for won to leave the country, but there are ways and means…
So I was assuming that we’d all be in a group, being ferried around and being kept separate from the public, but it was nothing like that. We arrived at the supermarket, a large building with 3 floors. We queued at the money changers and clutched our bundles of won when we received them.
(I just checked the conversion rates. For every single Aussie dollar it’s 654 won. By this stage of the trip I was running dangerously low in Yuan, so I think I handed over about $20 worth to get my bundle of won. I had heaps of Euros left but in my head they were already spent – I was going to split them between Mr Kim and Un Ha as a tip.)
Our guides said, “We’ll meet at the front doors at 6PM. Have fun!” OMG. We were going to be left to our own devices.
It was 5:15. We had 45 minutes of unsupervised shopping in front of us. We grabbed the freedom and scattered. We weren’t allowed to take any photos, so there’s only the photo that Wally took, below, as he was going up the escalator. I decided I didn’t want to risk upsetting a local by aiming my phone at them, so I don’t have any more photos from here to show you.
The bottom floor was groceries. That’s where I went.
It was packed. People were there getting their weekly groceries, along with tourists from a few different tour groups. People holding baskets and pushing trolleys, just like at home. We were sneaking sideways glances at each other; they at me, me at them…
I wanted to bring some soju back for the boys to try, so after selecting a few weird-looking snack items for the train trip back, I made my way to the alcohol aisle. Soju in plastic bottles! Nice and light for the plane flight home. I grabbed a couple of bottles and then browsed the shelves.
Interestingly, despite the sanctions, there were bottles of Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal, Veuve Cliquot and the like. Lots of coffee and juices in cans, (I bought a can of black coffee for the morning wake-up on the train), snack foods, lollies and kitchen utensils. There was a couple of big open freezers with ready-made meals on styrofoam packets in them, a bit like Lite n Easy except they were obviously made at the supermarket or a small factory. People were buying them hand over fist – they were very popular. Lots of whole fish, small appliances, a little bit of everything. I made my purchases and tried to arrange it so I’d have at least one of the won notes to smuggle out of the country. Heh heh. I was left with two.
After I got through the register, I went upstairs to have a look around.
The third floor was a food court, with a ball room for toddlers and a lot of plastic play equipment. As I was walking through, a little boy waved at me and said, “Hello!” His big brother shoved him and obviously told him not to talk to me, so when I said “Hello” back, the little boy beamed.
On the second floor they had washing machines, men, women and kids’ clothing, household furniture – everything you could think of. It was like a mini Myers or David Jones. I wandered through, catching sight of the others in our group every now and then, trying on hats, eating in the food court or looking at shoes.
All too soon, it was 6PM and we all rode the escalators down to the front door. Most of us had bought something and we all had big smiles on our faces. Next stop was dinner – and then an action-packed evening for our last night in Pyongyang.
Here’s my souvenir from the shopping trip. I saw it and thought, ‘I need a non-stick spatula! No time like the present.’
I like a souvenir that marries memories with practicality. I think of this trip every time I flip pancakes. 🙂