North Korean Cheerleaders
North Korean cheerleaders.
Not something most people can say they’ve seen. When I went to the Korea vs. Sweden hockey game yesterday (after making my brief appearance on the Today show), I was expecting just a women’s hockey game. What we witnessed was not just a hockey game, but a Korean reunification rally.
It started out with just the North Korean cheerleaders. We sat facing them, and they are exactly what you would expect of North Korean cheerleaders. Their outfits 70’s style, their cheers perfectly synchronized, and when they chanted it sounded like the chants you see on the news. What baffled me the most was that no matter what happened in the game, they cheered just as hard. Korea lost 8-0 folks, and if I had hadn’t looked at the scoreboard, you would have assumed Korea was up by 10. So much unwavering enthusiasm, actually extremely impressive.
It wasn’t just North Korea though, South Korea had a large group of cheerleaders as well. They were political activists, and what we thought to be party volunteers for the Democratic party of Korea (DPK). They all wore blue sweatshirts and toboggans, the color of the DPK, with a white outline of the Korean peninsula on the front. White flags with the blue Korean peninsula were passed out before the game. During every play, especially as Korea started losing, they would lead cheers and act as hype men all over the stadium, working with the North Korean cheerleaders to start the wave, coordinate chants, and even direct everyone in song.
It was surreal.
ALim, a good friend of mine from Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries, told me about the reunification efforts happening across the country. The current president is in favor of reunification, and you could very much tell by his party supporters. ALim is pro reunification of the Koreas, but told me she’s in the extreme minority, especially for our generation. She has a friend who escaped from NK, and because of her empathizes with the NK people. “They’re not free, and they don’t like their government.” She told me.
Even though she thinks they should be reunited, she doesn’t feel the two countries can feasibly reunite. The countries are extremely different culturally, and even though at the end of the game the two cheer sections were singing songs of longing for reunification, the cultural differences were stark. The differences were shown the most through the second intermission show done by the two countries. Four South Korean girls did a rather provocative dance on the stage in short skirts and small tops. At the exact same time, the North Korean cheerleaders were performing a show as well, one involving traditional Korean dancers, and a choir of perfectly in tune, and very loud voices. Watch the video, the juxtaposition is astounding.
This game has taken the cake of intense cultural experiences. When I was in Korea two years ago, it was for a conference called “Parallels with Peace, Pathways to Justice,” and we were a group of American college students studying the peace efforts between the two countries. With this background, this game was much more impactful than I anticipated. I felt indifferent about the hockey game itself, but I truly saw the cultures of North and South Korea side by side, and they are so different. It was night and day, left and right, up and down. There are lots of reunification and peace efforts going on, especially among Christians, but after seeing the two cultures, I saw first hand what a difficult process it is going to be. My prayers go with those pioneering these efforts, as this is a mountain only God can break down.
Aside from hockey, we’ve seen a curling match (where Becca and Matt Hamilton were eliminated), and pretty much every attraction that Olympic park has to offer. This includes the free ice skating rink, where as I was racing some friends I fell and bruised up my wrist pretty bad. At least I won the race.
On Monday I went out with the team of Korean students, and shadowed them as they did their ministry. It was a fascinating experience for many reasons. Now I am familiar the pin trading method they are using, as some of my mentors were the creators of the “More than Gold” concept. Until yesterday though, I had never seen it in action.
To start out, we simply walked around the Olympic park, going to events, trying out the attractions, shopping, etc. All the usual things you do while at the park. What would be different was they would allow themselves to be interrupted by the people around them. For example, we were in line at the Samsung store waiting to try out the new virtual reality setting. While there, Moon (one of the students) gave the “More than Gold” pin with a woman and her two children. He prayed with them and told him he would continue to do so. I was filming them from a distance, when I looked the opposite direction and saw ALim doing the exact same thing with the lady behind her. This continued to happen all afternoon, and it was beautiful sight to see. Not to mention, I got some great shots for the documentary. We all joked I was stalking them for the day, videoing their lives. Guess that's kind of true.
The group of Korean student has been extremely welcoming to us. We eat together (on the floor, very traditional Korean), go to events together, and enjoy fellowshipping. Staying with them has been such a blessing.
So far this trip has been everything I’ve ever dreamed it would be. I’ve submitted my first article to the Religion News Service, am interviewing lots of exotic people, and have felt very welcomed here. The hosts have been ever so gracious.
Thanks to those who sent me texts about seeing me on the Today show! Glad to know I made it in the big leagues.
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This time on "Too Good to Leave Out"
I just got back from a traditional Korean musical. The dancing was beautiful, the sets were incredibly designed, and the music moved me. The musical was "the Sounds of Tradition," and it made me miss being in theatre. Most certainly one of the most Korean things I've ever seen.