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Picnics in North Korea

Many of us have memories of going on a nice picnic with our friends and family on a sunny spring day.

In South Korea and other countries, people are all ready for a nice picnic when the flowers bloom. Zoos, palaces, theme parks…the destinations people go for picnics are wide-ranging. North Koreans are no different in this regard, except perhaps what they call it. In North Korea, picnics are called “wonjok” (원족) or “ deulnori” (들놀이).In the early morning, children gather outside the grounds of their school. On arrival they play tug-of-war, go on treasure hunts, run relays and participate in many other games. When the games are over, it is lunch time. North or South, all this is fairly similar.

In North Korea, lunch is a good time to gauge how well-off different families are. Children from wealthier families, for example, have white grain rice, rice cake, boiled eggs and meat as a part of their picnic lunch. Children from poorer families will probably only have corn rice and kimchi to eat. One North Korean defector recalls being teased and embarrassed about getting caught after lying that his corn rice is actually white grained rice.

Wealthier students are able to provide teachers with lunch as well. This is not possible for less wealthy children. The North Korean defector recalls being jealous of the rich students at the time because they were better treated and looked after by their teachers.Next, there is the talent show. When lunch is over, students will recite a poem, sing a song or play an instrument of some kind. Most of the songs and music that are played and sung will be about Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il. This is because most North Korean songs idolize the Kim dynasty.The defector above also had a chance to experience picnicking in South Korea. The excitement one feels as a child is the same, but the level of excitement seems different, he says. In North Korea, children stay up all night in excitement waiting for the day to come. This is because is it one of the few opportunities North Korean children get to be totally free from their oppressive school life.

In South Korea, the student says there seemed to be less excitement. This is because even without the picnics, children are able to take part in other leisurely activities freely and eat what they like, when they like, with their family and friends. Picnics in North Korea seem somewhat very similar, yet very different at the same time to South Korea and other countries. It is not hard, however, to envision a day where we will be able to enjoy a nice sunny spring afternoon picnic with our friends in the North.

This picture was taken by Vincent Yu from Associated Press

This picture was taken by Vincent Yu from Associated Press