Indite Arirang

“Over four million people including our people and military, Koreans from abroad and foreigners enjoyed Arirang performance and their response is very good.”( Kim Jong Il, “Chosun Art, August 2005)

In North Korea, Kim Jong Il’s words equal to god’s command. When Kim Jong Il positively evaluated the Arirang performance, the performance that had ended in August 18, 2002, revived this fall. North Korea is on its effort to accomplish “god’s command.”

North Korea’s “Arirang Public Invitation Reception Committee” sent out invitations to various travel agencies around the world and it calling for 500 audiences per day from Russia, China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and Britain. For the Russian audience, they are running Arirang Airlines, and North Korea has recently allowed even the American audience, reported The New York Times, October 2.

In the Arirang Performance, 100,000 North Koreans are involved to move together like one body. About the performance, South Korean media each expressed differently; “The best achievement of North Korean art stream” (Hankyure Newspaper) “Heart moving performance that received compliments from around the world” (CBS No-cut News), “Scene that shows not the present but the future of North Koreans with their hope” (JoongAng Ilbo), and “It was easy to see how much of sacrifice the North Korean regime coerced from the people for one person.” (DongA Ilbo)

Let’s hear on what the North Korean people especially those who were involved say about this new “tour souvenir,” the kind of blood and tear it required and think about whether or not we should buy the tickets for Arirang performance.

Testimony 1 : Lee ○ (female, age 35, former resident of Daedong-gang district, Pyongyang City, defected in 2003)

▲ School girls practicing gymnastics. (Photo : Yonhap News)

From my fourth year of middle school in 1987 to 1899, I was involved in the collective gymnastics. Although there were many events the little ones had to prepare but our school was in charge of Nongup jang. We were in charge of gymnastics.

The practice is done throughout the year. For about five months we practice only in the afternoons after the classes, but a month before the performance, we practice the entire day. We had to memorize all thirty movements, and if one got it wrong, the entire group had to start over.

For the two third of the practice period, we practiced until midnight. At first many kids get bleeding nose and faint. A few months later, as though they are used to it, rarely kids faint.

They give us boxed lunch and there is no dinner. We practiced until the midnight without any food. There is some sweets and a bread as snacks in the middle but that is all. North Korean children rarely have opportunity to eat sweets, so it is a great pleasure. They tolerate physical suffering for that pleasure. Some children save them to share with their siblings.

Testimony 2 : Yu Ji Sung (male, age 39, former resident of Daedong-gang district, Pyongyang City, defected in 2000)

I was a student of music school so I was not involved in collective gymnastics. Only children who attend normal schools are involved in gymnastics, but not those who attend special schools.

When I was in university, I was hospitalized for few days, and there were other people who were interned with me due to chronic cystitis. It was because they had to hold to go to restroom for so long when they were involved in the collective gymnastics when they were in the middle school.

Children who are card holders do not even get breaks; they have to sit still for hours. Some children carry a can solve the biological problem, but most children wait. This is why they get such an illness. Sometimes children pee on the spot unable to hold any longer.

Thousands and tens of thousands of children practice together, but there only a number of toilets, and there are children peeing in the corners so the whole stadium smells of urine during the break.

Testimony 3 : Jung ○ (male, age 36, former resident of Daedong-gang district, Pyongyang City, defected in 2004)

▲ Cardholding children practicing flipping of the cards(Photo : Movie “A State of Mind”)

What remains as the most memorable event was a performance where 50,000 children were involved. I do not even remember which performance it was. At the time, I was a cardholder and for a month before the performance, I suffered a lot. For a child so little like me, the kind of tension made me get goose bumps.

There were 250 cards. In a small event there are 80 cardholders, and in big events about 300 cardholders are involved. It is about 15-20cm in thick and the weight is about 10-15kg. It is a real pain to even carry it everyday.

According to the location of the cardholders, sometimes they change the number of cards. Especially the middle is the part where the cards change the most. The cardholders in charge of expressing “exitement” or “blinking” have many cards. Especially in the part where you make faces of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, you have to be very careful. In case you make a mistake and cause a scar in the face, you get in big trouble.

In such a huge group of holders, they are still group of pointing out who made the mistakes. When we made mistakes there was a merciless beating by the teacher if not group punishment.

Testimony 4 : Kim Seung Ho (male, age 36, former resident of Pyong Chon district, Pyongyang City, defected in 2002)

▲ North Korean children in collective gymnastics practice

South Korean people pay a high price to watch the Arirang performance and say it is excellent, but it contains children’s tears and screams.

Usually the performance is prepared from six months before. For the perfection of children’s performances, the trainers curse at the children, and make the practice repeatedly hundreds of times. After the training, children have hard time walking straight due to their shivering legs.

If you do not participate in the practice, they report it to the parents, and if you ignorethe warning, then you are expelled from the city to a remote local place. The parents, in fear of being expelled, send their children to the practice although they are well aware of how hard the practice is. The children of Pyongyang miss their opportunity of education receiving “physical training” and sometimes unable to enter university.