The author and fellow participants on the 2011 March for Peace and Unification. Photo credit Park Chan-yong.
When I was first to meet the MOU overseas correspondents, I stood outside the Central Government Complex building in the growing darkness. The back gates have two guards posted on them, South Korean policemen quite a few years younger than I am, and they were very sorrowful when they told me I could not go in without an ID badge. They struggled to find the words in English. These three aspects of the guards—their youth, and sorrow, and struggle—made me sympathetic enough that I waited outside instead of bluffing my way in.
The other members of our group arrived gradually; they drifted up the street and attached to our group, like plastic bottles to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We talked and swirled intermittently as we waited, explaining and re-explaining schools and majors and life situations. I have had similar meetings many times before and since, but this was remarkable for its cocktail-party-on-a-sidewalk-outside-a-government-building feeling, an unusual locale, though we eventually moved to a proper restaurant once all our group members arrived. But even from the very first meeting, it was clear we were about to have an unusually unforgettable summer. Continue reading →
The final examination a teacher must pass before graduating in North Korea is a critical one: a test of competency on the accordion. It’s the so-called “people’s instrument”, apparently because it’s easy to bring along on marches to construction sites or to labor in the fields, and needs no accompaniment save perhaps a voice singing a classic song like “We Have Nothing to Envy in the World.”
A student practises the accordion in Pyongyang, North Korea (photo credit LivingIf)
It is harder these days to unearth information on the accordion’s role in North Korean culture, because on Google almost every single search concerning accordions and North Korea returns a link or article concerning a video that has been making the Internet rounds, of a quintet of young North Korean accordion players improvising on the theme of a-ha’s “Take On Me”, that awesome ’80s pop song. You almost certainly know the song, famous for its memorably rotoscoped music video blending live action with penciled drawings. Continue reading →
Applications for the 2012 MOU Overseas Correspondents Program have been received and are currently in the process of being evaluated. Thank you to all of you who have sent in an application. We appreciate the interest that many of you have shown. You should expect to hear back from us within this week (April 2 – 6) if you are selected for an interview.
Imagine an internship where your interests are a priority. Now add being treated with respect. And then add on top of that field trips every week to some of the most interesting places in South Korea. And as a bonus, go ahead and add the opportunity to eat some of the best food in Seoul with some of the most important people within the Ministry of Unification. Sound too good to be true? Usually, it would be. But, believe it or not, all of this, and so much more, is what the MOU summer internship was like for me. Hopefully I have your attention by now, so let me give you some more details. Continue reading →