Contrary to what the title may suggest, the Mass Games have nothing to do with actual games or a competition. It is a highly synchronized performance of thousands of athletes and dancers who in a beautiful 70-minute show tell a story of love, war, separation, reunification and friendship.
See my other stories from North Korea here
Called "Arirang" after a popular Korean folk song, it is no doubt the most amazing performance I've even seen in my life. Everything about it is grand: the number of people involved, the stadium, the backdrop - no wonder it is part of the Guinness World Records.
The stadium in which the games are held is considered the largest in the world at 150,000 seats. On the day we were there, there was full house even though the tourists would probably only account for less than a thousand.
The backdrop deserves a separate mention. It is created by 30,000 school children holding colorful books with pages numbered according to the acts. They are really quick to change the pages and the synchronization is just mind-blowing! They must have been practicing a lot! Our guide told us the secret to this coordination: on the opposite side from the children, there is a screen that tells them what page number to open. In the first few seconds after a new number comes up and the pages are changed, they hide behind their books to show us a perfect picture. A few seconds later, their heads pop up again to watch for the next number.
The show is performed several days a week every August and September for the past seven years. Every time they change some parts of it to highlight the events of the year. This time around, they were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean war.
Also, the "friendship" part of the performance often highlights the current state of DPRK's international relationships. This year they dedicated it to Russia (did they know I was coming?), playing several old Russian songs, performing traditional Russian dances and bringing up customary bears.
Based on the recent developments, I'm not so sure the Kremlin would approve the rainbow....
"employs" around 100,000 participants. But they aren't actually getting paid - this is something they "volunteer" for as an after school/work activity. The way I was told about it is very romantic: the participants endure long hours of training and insider competition to have the honor of being selected for the public performances. For many, it became their way of life. Meanwhile, according to other accounts
, the youth are actually *forced* into participation or attendance as part of the audience.
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