Usually I post North Korea posts separate from my main page, but I consider today’s videos too-good examples of leadership not to include in the main page (despite being in the middle of a series of George Clooney posts).
The scene: Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang, April 14, 2012 — the day before the celebration of the hundred-year anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. Whether you like him or not, his country reveres and honors him. The equivalent in America would be the Mall in D.C. on July 3, 1976. When you see military parades of North Korea, you’re seeing this site.
Many North Koreans were there, mostly sitting in groups, as you’ll see. I guess they wanted to celebrate the day before the main celebrations because probably only military people would be there the next day.
When we arrived, the North Koreans were mostly in groups, I guess talking, not that animated. A few groups of tourists were quietly walking around. Here are a few images of Kim Il Sung Square as we arrived. You can see the Grand People’s Study Hall, where the dear leader watches the parade from and speaks, on the far (north) side of the Square.
When we arrived, I wasn’t content just to walk around and look. Here were North Koreans, people Americans never get to talk to, approachable, looking friendly. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like not speaking each other’s language get in the way of communication. We had plenty of body language and vocal tonality to work with — smiles, handshakes, laughter, and so on.
Our guide approved talking to people. I approached a group with friendly body language. I started by shaking hands. Then tried high-fiving them, which they didn’t understand. So I went back to someone in our group, high-fived him to demonstrate, then went back to the group, high-fived someone, everybody laughed, and it was on!
It seemed like all the North Koreans in the square caught on. Everybody was watching us. And my whole group started approaching and interacting. The other groups of foreigners — I guess they watched too, but they had had their chance to get something started.
We started going from group to group, high-fiving, shaking hands, smiling, laughing, saying what words we could in each other’s language, and having a great time. As far as I know, the largest impromptu, unsupervised interaction between civilian North Koreans and Americans (and three New Zealanders in our group) since before the Korean War, which would probably mean ever, since the country only came to exist at the close of World War II.
As readers of this page and my book know, I see governments benefiting too much from maintaining the situation as-is and too-great challenges for them to overcome to have much faith in them to improve the situation between North Korea and the rest of the world. I believe direct one-on-one interactions between regular people can help best — that we have to lead our would-be leaders in this case.
Anyway, here are some videos.
Oh, I should mention since other people had better cameras and more experience with them — notably Joseph, who posts his stunning pictures in his blog — I made a strength of what I could, which was to take video and narrate them. So here I am with no previous experience talking to a camera, but why would I let that hold me back when how often am I in North Korea?
I started trying to narrate the situation when Tom, one of the Kiwis (what the New Zealanders called themselves), got a group around him particularly laughing and animated. I tried using the only Korean I knew (besides how to order vegetarian food, which I learn in a lot of languages), which was to play rock-paper-scissors (“kai bai bo” or “mook chee pa” in Korean).
Anyway, check out one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Here is Tom the Kiwi up close with the North Koreans, showing the value of non-verbal communication and breaking down barriers between North Koreans and the rest of the world.
Words can’t communicate the feeling of having fun with North Koreans in the time of the problems between our governments.
Here we are looking back at Kim Il Sung Square and a group of North Korean soldiers. I got to high-five, laugh, smile, shake hands, and interact with the soldiers too. I’m annoyed that whomever I gave my camera to didn’t succeed in taking the video (which happened many times — finding out something awesome didn’t get recorded because someone didn’t press the record button, which is why some videos in this series begin with my hand in the first few frames making sure to press the button).
We don’t get to see my group and I hamming it up with the soldiers, but at least you can see the soldiers.
EDIT: we returned soon after. See more fun interactions with North Koreans in Kim Il Sung Square here.
Since I mentioned my ebook — Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country — which I wrote to help increase understanding, communication, and freedom, I put a link down here.
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