Unusual Experiences During the Pyongyang Marathon Tour in North Korea①

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ⓒedward98.com

I just came home from my trip to North Korea, which involved participating in the 2016 Pyongyang Marathon, held on April 10, and touring the city.

I am a Korean-American and was born and raised in Daegu, South Korea.

My expectations were unimaginable since I'd never been to North Korea before.

Somehow, this trip was emotional; somehow, it was entertaining and unique.

The gate of North Korea: Pyongyang International Airport. ⓒedward98.com

The gate of North Korea: Pyongyang International Airport. ⓒedward98.com

As I walked in North Korea, I began to ask the tour guide about many things, including dating, weddings, street flowers, entertainment, daily life at work, and their kids.

I found out lots of other things that I had never imagined.

I even got to see a newly married couple posing for photos in public.

Newly married couple and their families taking photos in front of Taedong River. ⓒedward98.com

Newly married couple and their families taking photos in front of Taedong River. ⓒedward98.com

They happily posed for tourists. I said, "Congratulations. Be happy" in Korean. They thanked me. ⓒedward98.com

They happily posed for tourists. I said, "Congratulations. Be happy" in Korean. They thanked me. ⓒedward98.com

Both of those cord types are acceptable. ⓒedward98.com

Both of those cord types are acceptable. ⓒedward98.com

However, during the trip, I made a huge mistake and several minor ones, due to cultural differences between South and North Korea.

We had a small birthday party for one of the tourists in our group.

We learned the North Korean version of the birthday song.

The tour guide who sang it was awesome.

Back to the marathon tourism: The race's official name is the ManGyongDae Prize International Marathon.

This was the 29th year for the race and the 3rd year where foreign, amateur runners could participate.

There were options for a marathon, a half-marathon, and a 10k race.

This year's race had more than 1,800 runners, with 1,100 foreign runners (professionals and amateurs) from 49 countries, and 700 of the runners were North Koreans.

The interesting thing was that the foreigners were mostly young people.

I'd say the average age was maybe 30.

In 2014, 250 foreign runners participated, and in 2015, that number went up to 600, just in case you were wondering.

For the first time, the marathon started in the May Day Stadium, the biggest stadium in the world, with a seating capacity of 150,000.

It's on the Rungrado Island in the Taedong River.

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ⓒedward98.com

May Day Stadium The stadium is said to resemble a parachute, according to the tour guide.

What do you think?

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ⓒedward98.com

The marathon course was simple.

It was a 10K (6.2 miles) course, and the marathon would make this loop 4 times and the half-marathon twice.

The half-race's finish line was outside of the stadium, and the full race's was inside.

Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea.

It was built in BC 2333 and is one of the oldest cities on the Korean Peninsula.

It consists of East (right side on the map) and West (old city) Pyongyang, divided by the Taedong River.

There were no steep hills on the marathon course.

"Pyongyang" literally means "flat and cozy land."

Its population is about 3 million, said our tour guide.

The population density is 89th in the world.

There are not many buildings but a lot of parks.

Waiting to get into the stadium for the run. ⓒedward98.com

Waiting to get into the stadium for the run. ⓒedward98.com

Look at those sponsors on the field! ⓒedward98.com

Look at those sponsors on the field! ⓒedward98.com

There were many sponsors for the marathon… in North Korea. 

The first group is the professional runners. The referees are the ones in white clothes and red hats. ⓒedward98.com

The first group is the professional runners. The referees are the ones in white clothes and red hats. ⓒedward98.com

Ready to start in May Day Stadium's field. It was about halfway full of spectators, so we felt like Olympians! ⓒedward98.com

Ready to start in May Day Stadium's field. It was about halfway full of spectators, so we felt like Olympians! ⓒedward98.com

The bottom line says that there is one minute left for running. ⓒedward98.com

The bottom line says that there is one minute left for running. ⓒedward98.com

Once the gunshot was fired, we all screamed and began to run. ⓒedward98.com

Once the gunshot was fired, we all screamed and began to run. ⓒedward98.com

Running over the bridge. ⓒedward98.com

Running over the bridge. ⓒedward98.com

Running inside the tunnel. ⓒedward98.com

Running inside the tunnel. ⓒedward98.com

In the background is RyuGyong Hotel, a 105-story, pyramid-shaped skyscraper. ⓒedward98.com

In the background is RyuGyong Hotel, a 105-story, pyramid-shaped skyscraper. ⓒedward98.com

"RyuGyong" is Pyongyang's other name from ancient times.

It means "the capital city of willow trees."

There are many willow trees in the city, especially near the river.

The second water station. ⓒedward98.com

The second water station. ⓒedward98.com

The Arch of Triumph: one of the tallest arches in the world. ⓒedward98.com

The Arch of Triumph: one of the tallest arches in the world. ⓒedward98.com

It was constructed in the traditional Korean architectural style, which adapts the castle-gate style: 3-stair stone tower and the style of putting the roof on top of pillars.

This is a closer photo so you can see the part where the pillars and the roof meet. That's the traditional Korean architecture style. ⓒedward98.com

This is a closer photo so you can see the part where the pillars and the roof meet. That's the traditional Korean architecture style. ⓒedward98.com

Here is the 10K finish line. The kid finished a 10K race, but the one in the red shirt (#316) has gone around the course twice now. ⓒedward98.com

Here is the 10K finish line. The kid finished a 10K race, but the one in the red shirt (#316) has gone around the course twice now. ⓒedward98.com

The ceremony for the winners. ⓒedward98.com

The ceremony for the winners. ⓒedward98.com

The winner of the male division of the marathon was a North Korean, named Pak Chol. ⓒedward98.com

The winner of the male division of the marathon was a North Korean, named Pak Chol. ⓒedward98.com

On my way home, I decided to post my trip as a series on my blog.
Part 1: " Mysterious Fruits and Flowers in Pyongyang."
Part 2: "Kids on the Street in North Korea."
Part 3: "Advertisements on Pyongyang streets."
Part 4: "Culture Shock in Pyongyang"

You know about culture, right?

No culture is superior or inferior.

Each one is just unique in its own way.

Edward S. Lee.

Read More at www.edward98.com

 

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