Picture of the week: roller skating in Pyongyang

Roller skating in Pyongyang

Pyongyang is often perceived as a city in black and white, populated by automatons devoid of life. While the socialist architecture, somewhat regimented lifestyle and dim lights are real and contribute to this perception, there are still plenty of colors and life to be found. Families enjoy a day by the river or a picnic at the park. Kids love to fool around, and teenagers enjoy dressing in the latest available fashion. People, while distant at a first glance, are always happy to respond to smiles and waves, and foreigners can pretty easily join the locals for dances and celebrations. There is even the occasional traffic jam.

The city is evolving fast, and a recent blog sheds light on modern living in Pyongyang with a distinctively western flair. Of course, the blog, which some have labeled a propaganda tool, describes the lifestyle of a minority, but overall enhancements to infrastructure, advances in architecture, and improvements to leisure facilities and transportation benefit all. Beyond the buildings, beyond the regime, there are people, who, probably better than us westerners, can often find happiness and pleasure in the little things in life.

Off the train: first impressions of Pyongyang, and a long ride to the hotel

Perhaps the first hour in Pyongyang best summarizes the entire trip: a constant rush interrupted by lengthy lulls; a genuine concern about appearances tampered by gushing reality that shatters it all; carefully crafted plans that break apart; and this awkward feeling of not being free anymore.

Arrival in PyongyangOur small group quickly gathers amongst the crowds on the station platform, where our guides have been awaiting us. There is light, energy and motion all around—despite tales of a dead, sleepy city, the place seems very much alive, in the noise and chaos of people, bags and boxes that keep spewing off the train.

Our main guide is accompanied by our tour manager—a higher ranking fellow at KITC (Korea International Travel Company, the government’s arm that manages tourism) who makes it clear that he’s graduated from the lower ranks into management—as well as a junior guide. That’s three guides plus a driver to accompany all twenty on us on a planned ten minute ride to the hotel. We’re certainly well taken care of; it’s unlikely we’ll get lost. Continue reading