[imText1]Even in Pyongyang, entering into a top university is like picking a star from the sky. Not only must you be an A+ student, your family record must be clean.
Growing up in an ordinary family, I was luckily accepted into my preferred university based on my abilities. On receiving my results, I thought that I could achieve anything in the world. However, my sweet dream did not last long. Soon after beginning my tertiary studies, I felt as if I had gotten a big splash on the face. The reason being, marching parade training.
Three days into the semester, I was selected to participate in the marching parade, where the saying, tertiary students once “normal people become stupid” referring to post-training for the marching parade, became a reality. When people think of a marching parade, they think of school parades in South Korea. However, the marching parade in North Korea resembles a years worth of rigorous military training.
In North Korea, participants of the marching parade include students, workers, the military and average citizens who are trained for celebratory events such as Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s birthday, the anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Army and the Worker’s Party. The audience? Kim Jong Il. For the mere pleasure of one man, Kim Jong Il, hundreds and thousands of people must spend every day of the year working their bodies until exhaustion.
There is one criteria in which university students are selected for the marching parade and that is height. Students gather and their height examined. Compared to others, I was not short. I was also a freshman and so was instantly selected to participate in the marching parade. Occasionally I had seen the marching parade on television but was completely unaware of the intense and arduous training that awaited me.
Our university was assigned to one battalion. There are 12 lines in each battalion and 25 people in each line. The tallest person stands at the head of the line with the shortest at the end.
Elite officials excluded from training
A commander is responsible for each battalion, followed by the political commander and civilian commander. Next is the captain and political captain followed by the line leader, group leader and secretary. Each line is divided into 3 groups with the group leader in charge. This exclusive role normally goes to students in their 3rd, 4th year. Other students in the battalion who are not assigned to such jobs are mostly freshmen.
On the first day of training, many of the students gathered around laughing and talking, “Do you think the Great Leader will really come to see our parade?” However, the following day, a handful of people began to drop out.
At the time, we thought that these people had legitimate reasons for being unable to partake in the training. Only to soon discover that those people had been closely affiliated with elite officials who gave a common excuse that they were physically ill. Ultimately, the selection process which entailed measuring height ended with a group of freshmen and poor students living in the dorms from the country.
Each battalion is represented by one university. Students who are selected for the marching parade attend lectures in the morning and then training in the afternoon. After spending an afternoon training on a dirt field amidst dirt, your mouth practically becomes a small clusters of dirt itself by evening.
The first stage of training is warm-up and stretching. Every day, we had to replicate positions made by professional performers and showcase our days training. If we were unable to succeed in doing this, training continued.
During the first month, we trained on the university fields, but in the second month, we began training at the Juche Statue Education Square and here is where students began to show symptoms of arthritis. Unable to restrain myself from lack of sleep during class, I was frequently scolded by the lecturer and the number of patients increased. Regardless of how ill one was, strict punishment awaited those who missed training.
Wanting to smash the street lamp at Juche Statue
[imText2]Every day, training began at 2PM and usually finished around 7PM. Once training was over, battalion commanders came and gave lectures. People who are late to training, people who participate in training disrespectfully and people pointed out throughout the training are severely criticized. Once the lecture is over, smaller, tutorials begin.
Naturally, tutorials aren’t any better. The tutor or divisional commander closes the lecture by stressing the importance of being on time and participating sincerely in the training. The lectures normally last an hour and half, but this does not mean that the day’s training is over.
The students criticized in the lectures must undergo re-training. There has never been a time where the street lamp at the Juche Statue has been more spiteful. The thought that training would end if only the lighting was lost would not escape my mind. Whether or not someone was looking we did not care. We only wanted to smash the street lamp.
When training is finished, exhausted students are finally dismissed and another 30~1 hour walk back to the dorms awaits them. There are no buses at that hour and so students do not have an option but to walk home. As for dinner, meals have long been served at the dormitories.