By Alek Sigley, Tongil Tours founder and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
This is a diary entry from Saturday May the 12th, 2018
There’s not a lot of events for foreigners to attend in Pyongyang, so when the foreign community does get together to organise its own activities there’s active participation and solid attendance. On Saturday May the 12th I went with some of the other students of Kim Il Sung University to an event held at the Russian embassy. The event was an international food fair for charity organised by the Pyongyang International Women’s Association. Proceeds went to supporting nurseries in rural North Korea.
Each participating country had its own stall selling drinks, snacks, and knickknacks. I saw stalls for Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Laos, Romania, Russia and Vietnam. It was a nice, diverse, crowd, and I met attendees from Germany, France, and Canada there too.
The building has an interesting, and quite regal, Stalin-era neoclassical design. Most of the stalls were set up in the main hall, and with pop music pumping through the speakers the place gave off a festive atmosphere not often felt in Pyongyang.
I went in and got some snacks from the Egyptian and Vietnamese stalls that I had for my lunch. I chatted with a few different people and used my remaining coupons on a costume photo service stall run by a woman from France.
I found the people there to be quite friendly. I think that because Pyongyang’s expat community is small, it’s also tight-knit and everyone knows each other. It was also nice to see people from such geographically diverse and often politically distant countries enjoying themselves together.
After a few hours we went back to the dormitory. I spent the afternoon studying—it’s come time for me to start to hit the books and get ready to write my master’s thesis. For dinner I went out with Victor from France and one of the tongsuksaeng.
I asked him to introduce us to a restaurant we hadn’t been before, so he took us to Kumgangsan Restaurant in the Ryomyong Street Mall inside the 70-Story Apartment building. The restaurant specialised in seafood and we got a course meal with copious amounts of all kinds of steamed fish and shellfish, dipped in soy sauce and wasabi, before finishing off with porridge (죽).
To go with the seafood, we drank some Japanese sake, all while a Bollywood movie that I noticed is quite popular here right now played in the background. The movie is like a cross between traditional Bollywood (with singing and dancing), Lord of the Rings (fantasy background with massive, medieval battles), and 300. It’s violent to the extreme and a little gory so I’m surprised to see it played here, although that violence and gore is more cartoony than gritty. In one scene the heroic and muscular protagonist tosses a decapitated head into the air and shoots at it with an arrow. The arrow impales the head and lands on the lap of his enemy.
By the time we finished it was quite late and the mall had closed. We got out and took a taxi back to the dormitory for a well-earned sleep.