Listen, forget about all of those grim, depressing pictures one sees coming out of North Korea for a minute… It’s not always like that. No place is grim and depressing all of the time.
Keep reading this post if you need to be convinced…
Having been under the close supervision of our North Korean minders for every moment of our trip up to this point, we were astonished when they dropped us off at a crowded beach and just told us to be back in a couple of hours.
Not about to let an opportunity like that pass us by, we set out to meet as many North Koreans as we could and to try and get an unfiltered sense of what North Korean people and their lives were really like. Although we were not prevented at any time from speaking with the people of North Korea during our visit to the country, they would be shy and cautious when the guides were around. Now was a chance to see what things were really like and the contrast was remarkable.
This is the scene that greeted us when we arrived:
Not exactly the first image one conjures up when thinking about gray, authoritarian North Korea:
Behind us are small shops selling ice, drinks, popsicles and snacks:
This particular beach was created by a mushroom-shaped spit of land that juts out into the sea. The space between the “mushroom” and the mainland creates a sheltered bay where the sand settles (forming the beach) and the waves are mild (making it good for swimming and for kids).
Past the man enjoying some oysters and a cold beer, is a good view of the small bay:
A small road leads down the spit of land to an increasingly anarchic parking area:
Headed toward the action:
People aren’t too selective on their mode of transportation to the beach – dump trucks, military vehicles, cargo trucks, commandeered buses… Whatever gets the job done.
Commandeering a bus would get one arrested as a terrorist in the West, but in North Korea when a group of villagers commandeer a bus to take a trip to the beach on a hot day, this is considered a sensible and entirely appropriate course of action. It’s tough not to respect that:
As I mentioned above, the parking area is fairly chaotic and looks somewhat like a refugee camp, but this is where most of the action is. People swim, play and splash around in the water and then retreat from the sun back to makeshift camps they have set up with tarps and umbrellas:
Ha, it’s funny how you only notice some things after reviewing pictures later… At the time, I was completely oblivious to the girl changing her clothes on the left. Now she probably thinks all Westerners are pervos:
Some people suggest that every single stop on a visit to North Korea is carefully staged and managed like a theater production. The visitors arrive, everything looks neat and nice. The visitors leave, the nice things are put away and life returns to normal. I can assure my dear readers that there was nothing staged about this visit. We saw drunk North Koreans staggering around, drunk North Koreans passed out, men fighting, women fighting, men hitting their wives… You name it. There is no way this was staged:
It was fun to walk around and see what all of the different groups of friends and families were up to. Some groups were barbecuing, some were just sitting around drinking, some were dancing, some are doing all of the above and more.
North Koreans dancing… This group was quite insistent on us joining them in the dance routine, which the girls eventually did:
Not a single group that we passed did not invite us to come and dance, eat, drink or just hang out with them. North Koreans are tremendously hospitable:
So, yeah, basically The Velvet Rocket crashed a big North Korean beach party…
It took us a while to get to the far side of the beach because we did not want to be rude and stopped to talk to so many people along the way, but we finally made it.
OK, so it’s not like a beach in Miami, but cut them some slack… They’re in North Korea:
This is where the waters from the sea enter the bay:
There’s a concrete barrier at the end protecting the land (somewhat) from erosion by the sea:
The end of the spit of land jutting out into the sea… Those are fishing boats anchored in the background.
Overall, yet another reminder that people are essentially the same wherever you go.