Five facts about the North Korean Arirang festival

North Korea’s Arirang festival is in motion, and people from all over the world are traveling to the isolated communist country to watch what truly is an impressive undertaking. But, what do we really know about it? So much about North Korea is shrouded in mystery, making it hard to really learn much about what goes on there.

Instead of relying on the accounts of tourists, the western media or other “unreliable” sources, let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. The Korea Central News Agency is the country’s official news organization regime’s mouthpiece, and has plenty of carefully selected stories to share with people outside North Korea … since nobody in the country has a whole lot of access to the website, which is based in Japan.

So, let’s learn a little about Arirang – from the folks who know it best!

1. Truly performed by masses: 100,000 performers participate in the Arirang festival, which is “admired by the spectators for its kaleidoscopic background and wonderful scenes”

2. New this decade: Arirang was introduced in 2002 to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung

3. Countless of performances: Over its eight-year life, Arirang has been performed “several hundred times”

4. World record-setting: The Guinness Book of World Records picked up Arirang in August 2007, but that’s not nearly as impressive the fact that it was “the first to receive Peace Order and its diploma in April of the same year since it was instituted by “Protectors of Arts for the Century”, a Russian international charity fund, to appreciate epoch-making masterpieces, inventions and works”

5. Millions and millions served: Apparently, 12,127,000 people have viewed all the Arirang performances held, 118,000 of them foreigners … but who’s counting?

Of course, according to the KCNA: “‘Arirang’ is recognized as cultural asset of humankind.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

Everybody loves Arirang according to North Korean news agency

It’s Arirang time! The North Korean group gymnastics festival is under way, and the crowds are predictably adoring. According to the Korea Central News Agency, the twenty-fifth batch of campers of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp “appreciated the grand gymnastic and artistic performance.” But, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it was in KCNA.

Shockingly, the KCNA continued:

Zhaoli, head of the group of Chinese campers, said that the performance is the acme and the Korean people are demonstrating before the whole world their dignity under the wise leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.

Russian campers were happy, too. Nataliya Andreyevskaya, who headed up the sixth group, “keenly felt through the performance that each country and nation can become glorious and powerful only when they have a great leader.”

And since no KCNA report is complete without this … “[Nataliya Tatarina of the first group of Russians] stressed that no force on earth can match the strength of the Korean people closely united around Kim Jong Il, the sun of the 21st century.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

Mount Kumgang hotel in North Korea reopens

North Korea has reopened its Mount Kumgang hotel – the only place in the country where South Korean tourists are welcome. It’s the first shot North Korea took at working with businesses from across the border and was built by Hyundai Asan with permission from the regime. The doors swung open in 1998, with South Koreans and people from other companies flocking up to check it out.

North Korea shut down the Mount Kumgang resort in October 208 when a guard put a bullet in a South Korean tourist.

In classic DPRK style, no reason has been given for the reopening of the resort or who would be able to visit, but an official from North Korean National Tourism Administration said that official packages could go on sale next year.

[photo by giladr via Flickr]

Shanghai: New route from China to North Korea

It isn’t exactly a wide-open commercial route, but at least the door is slightly ajar. Korean Air charter flights will start flying from Shanghai to Pyongyang on August 6, 2010, when the first group of tourists will take advantage of this (rather slight) liberalization of North Korean travel rules.

The goal, of course, is to “help to further promote cooperation and exchanges between China and North Korea in trade, tourism and culture,” according to People’s Daily Online.

It doesn’t look like the move is coincidental, as this is the 60th anniversary of the start of what we call the “Korean War,” though on the other side of the border, it’s given the moniker, “the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”

August is a great time to go to Pyongyang, given the Arirang Festival, which usually runs until October. And since North Korea is now a new destination for the Chinese tourist travel market (since April 12, 2010), the locals can take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

North Korea poster: a conversation piece, at least?

For travel junkies, there’s a new poster that could be equivalent to putting commemorative plates on display in your home. Show your zest for hitting the road – and how it pervades your entire life – by turning your walls into a shrine to exploring new places. Start with the latest offering from North Korea, and you’ll guarantee the conversation will turn to travel the next time you have guests in your home.

North Korea has just released a new propaganda poster, celebrating the sinking of a South Korean navy ship … despite having denied being responsible for it. Forty-six people died in the event.

Of course, this poster probably wasn’t intended for mass distribution, which means you could struggle to get your hands on it. The only reason word of its existence has leaked outside the country, it seems, is because a Chinese businessman visiting North Korea photographed it. Featured in the photo, according to Radio Free Asia, is “a helmeted North Korean sailor smashing a ship in two” with the words “We will smash you with a single blow if you attack!”
Radio Free Asia adds:

The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that high-ranking North Korean traders he dealt with “expressed self-esteem in relation to North Korea’s military strength” and told him, “regardless of U.N. sanctions, we [North Koreans have] never stopped reacting.”

“It’s hard to understand how high-ranking officials can adamantly deny North Korea’s responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan while propaganda posters showing a ship being broken in half by a fist are in circulation,” he said.

Of course, there is a chance that this is an old propaganda poster, created originally in 2002 following a naval clash between the two Koreas. Either way, it’s a must-have or the committed traveler – far better than the sketch of your family by a near-homeless “artist” in Montmartre.

[Photo via RFA, Via Gawker, Business Insider]