Saturday, August 20, 2011

Democratic People's Republic of Korea - part 2

I have been incredibly busy since getting back to mainland China (I’ve learned how to make my own noodles, bought some insatiable white Louboutin pumps and fought with three more crooked cabbies) so I haven’t had nearly as much time as I would like to be able to write. I refuse to leave more than two days between posts though, so tonight I’m going to give you the next installment about my trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, (even though this is kind of the first real one because that ‘part 1’ was far too vague and therapeutic to be of real informative interest to anyone). So I thought a good thing to write about would be Arirang.

Caught your attention? Haha yeah you bet I did. It’s was fucking amazing.

Didn’t catch your attention? Read this wiki and then come back to me.

Let us continue.

I went to the games on the second night of my stay in DPRK (so no, these recollections are not chronological) and I noticed that for a lot of the people, this was going to be a highlight of the trip. To be honest, it didn’t think it was going to be mine. Perhaps it should have been, as it turned out to be for many others, because I can say without hesitation that the Arirang show puts every single Olympics opening ceremony in the history of humankind to shame. The statistics are crazy in themselves  - 100’000 participants, practicing for years and then performing for months. Children and adults and insanely talented acrobats. There were lasers and fireworks and smoke machines, and an entire wall of children with coloured cards turning them in unison to create massive images. It was 90 minutes of perfection. Each move polished until I could see my gawking face in it. Each costume identical in it’s trillions of sequins. Each song flawlessly executed for maximum accuracy.

The massive wall of Children with coloured cards.

And thus was my problem with Arirang. Why didn’t I think it was going to be the highlight of my trip? Why wasn’t it the highlight of my trip? Because in the most fundamental sense, I appreciate quality over quantity, and when it comes to entertainment and the arts, emotion is key. If the work is not evocative, it is not quality. I can appreciate Arirang in the way I appreciate mathematics. Practice and precision. Arirang surprised me with it’s sheer scale, but I did not come away from the show having been truly touched in any way. I want to learn something about humans, I want to experience the human experience. I want to connect. Perhaps it is not the purpose of a grand show like this to do that kind of thing, but in all other ways Arirang is compared to the Olympics ceremonies, and I am always touched by those. There is so much passion in an opening ceremony. When I watch an Olympics opening ceremony I am touched by the emotions of the people sharing it with me. It is a human experience that we wait four years to share with each other. I don’t even like sports. Not the point. The point is the humanity. The point is always the humanity. It will always be.

What Arirang taught me, was yet another facet of how these ideas of humanity are warped within a country like DPRK. The human emotion is a highly individual concept. In a state completely concerned with utility and efficiency and function and “the whole”, it is understandable that a showcase of their prowess would be lacking in emotive content. Arirang has been designed with those same basic ideas in mind, from which all communist (and therefore DPRK) activities have been designed – encouragement of solidarity of the state, encouragement of achievement and productivity, discouragement of the individual as a concept comparable to the whole, etc etc etc. Arirang is the perfect example from which we can gain an insight into not only DPRK, but all states of the same nature. Essentially, even in times of frivolity (read: their best attempt at a kind of happy entertainment time) there is still constant control. Epic amounts of control. So much control that the uncontrollable nature of humanity, such as emotion and passion, are removed.

Now, it is entirely possible that I am over-thinking this entire thing. It is possible (read: more than likely) that my perceptions of the world are based around a set of criteria which, having been formed by capitalist and free and western ideals, will never be allow me to appreciate what DPRK has to offer. It is also possible that Arirang was in fact an incredibly emotive experience for some other people. But as a naturally self-reflective person, I am coming to the conclusion more and more these days that my perceptions, no matter how much I reflect upon them, are inescapable. I will never know a version of the world separate from what I see with my eyes and filter through my mind. I arrived in DPRK with a damn strong idea of what I thought it would be. Too strong, perhaps. I came away with some things exactly how I expected they would be, and other things surprising. One can only hope that these results indicate an open mind.

There was a big special section near the end of the show celebrating the friendship between DPRK and PRC.
This is troubling on so many different levels. I'll be talking about it later.

Arirang was surprising in an ordinary way (I had never seen that many children simultaneously somersaulting before) and unsurprising in another way (the fundamentals of communism are truly the roots of all their actions). In North Korea, there is no escape from communism, in the same way as you and I have no escape from oxygen.

The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung.

I’d like to be more bitter about it, but for what it was trying to be, it was a damn good show.

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