Americans interacting with North Koreans at the subway

(Also check out my entire photo-essay at North Korea Uncloaked)

In North Korea, they kept us busy. From 7 AM until 5 PM we were shuttled to locations across Pyongyang, from monuments and museums to long expeditions across the countryside to distant cities. One of the first of many destinations in the country was the Pyongyang metro station.

We were told that this is one of the few occasions when a western tourist is in such close proximity to North Koreans, who are normally isolated from outsiders. For years, rumors have persisted that it’s almost impossible to interact with North Korean locals, and few people have ever done it.

What we found is that either our particular tour guides were exceptionally cool, or this is something of a myth. Aside from the metro station, we had plenty of other opportunities to meet the residents of the forbidden kingdom; from playing Frisbee along the docks of Wonsan to taking photos with entire schools of Korean kids.

Many of these people may have never seen westerners before. They are told from birth that Americans are the source of their woes, and the government discourages locals who are not authorized to greet foreigners. However, it’s easy to bring North Koreans out of this initial apprehension through being a bit enthusiastic and fun. They respond very well to playfulness, and you can quickly instigate huge groups of people to hang-out, play games, high-five and snap photos.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

Pyongyang Friendship Fair

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There is plenty of weird things about North Korea, from the Orwellian loudspeakers that blast propaganda, the Kim-cult, their distorted versions of history, the forceful isolation of their people, and their obsession with slaughtering Americans as portrayed in their propaganda.

However, at the very least, the Kim dynasty is making a 1% effort to connect with foreigners and show they’re ‘not so bad’.

(Read: North Korea Uncloaked for a full recent report about the DPRK by an American tourist).

Recently (April 15th), around the time of the failed rocket launch, I participated at a ‘Friendship Fair’ held in a park near Pyongyang, loaded with beer and dancing. Many countries participated, including Americans and Japanese. The North Koreans separated the audience into red and blue teams and hosted various competitions that lasted all day.

In addition, talented Korean child-gymnasts performed, a marching band of lovely Pyongyang ladies made an appearance, and traditionally dressed Korean women posed with tourists. It was nice being at an event in Pyongyang that did not involve being force-fed Kim il-sung mythology. The vibe was more like a carnival or a renaissance faire. It also helped me to imagine what a free North Korea could feel like.

Does this indicate the beginning of a better diplomatic effort? It’s hard to say, considering this was the same week that North Korea once again boasted how they would reduce Seoul to ashes. The very conservative influence keeps the country swayed heavily toward their old tricks. But hopefully these types of events continue in a country that is desperate to bring in some tourist revenue to help feed the starving masses.

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A performing girl at the Friendship Fair.

Pyongyang Marching Band

Some Western visitors compete.

More Westerners play.

Performing girls


Marching band

Children dance in panda costumes

Posing with a traditionally dressed North Korean woman.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.