Ultimate Frisbee in North Korea, part 6

November 7, 2011 by Joshua
in Fitness, Freedom, NorthKorea

Okay, you’re asking, I get the value of sport in opening communications anywhere and thawing relations with people across adversarial borders. What about the games themselves? Did you have fun? Did they?

You’ll have to wait for when my posts on pictures from North Korea reach the Ultimate games, but don’t worry, I’ll post interesting stuff in between.

For now I’ll say this. You can read books, search online, watch documentaries, even visit North Korea on a regular tour, but none of these will give you the experience of interacting one on one with a North Korean. Not that a couple hours in a large group in Pyongyang gave us a deep understanding of the richness and complexities of North Koreans, but playing games with them let us see them face to face and communicate. We came in touch with each other. We saw what their smiles look like up close. We created those smiles. We see how children act when no one is looking.

They got to experience us too, presumably something similar. They made us smile too.

In a couple hours of playing sport together, you experience and learn more, or at least different things, than all the literature on the country provides. You share more too. And the things you experience, learn, and share I consider more personal and essential.

Lest anyone think I’m blowing what we learned and experienced out of proportion, what we learned was what you’d expect and as I quoted the ping pong player a couple posts ago — that we share these personal and essential things in common much more than we have differences. Like many great experiences that sound obvious when you say them, experiencing them tells you differently.

If you find that we share so many similarities must be obvious, I’m glad and feel no loss in humility in taking some credit nor concern that I’ve repeated the point too many times, because not a single person said anything like that before I left. Then talk was all about jails, military, famine, and fear. However much they knew the similarities, their communication led elsewhere. Of course, I spoke the same way.

As I wrote, no sport compares with ultimate for exchange. Besides what I wrote before, a flying disc surprises, delights, charms, and invites. It makes adults act like kids. Kids can’t stop smiling and squealing. It gets guards, guides, and bus drivers to leave their posts to join the fun, letting their guards down, smiling like they didn’t in a week together. I’m not sure basketball, soccer, or other sports would do that.

Two North Koreans — a man and a woman — won awards (brand new discs, naturally) for being the first North Koreans to score goals in ultimate in the DPRK. In common Ultimate Frisbee community practice, we all circled after the games to thank and cheer each other and award the discs.

I can’t predict the future. I only know what I saw. I saw people who never met, with no language in common, share the better part of what makes us human, overcoming cultural divides. If years from now we witness comfortable communication between your country and North Korea, I believe ultimate will have played a part. Perhaps, along with sport in general, trade, and art, the greatest part.

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