Did you know that you can visit North Korea as a tourist? A member of my book group had a vacation planned there to see the Arirang Festival Mass Games, but had to cancel it for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that being cut off from communication with the outside world at the current time wasn’t going to be convenient for her. It’s kind of an intriguing idea though; North Koreans are so isolated and have such a different mind set than us–it would be like having the chance to see rare animals in the zoo or natives in the jungle.
Well…in Shanghai we have the next best thing: North Korean restaurants that are staffed by actual North Koreans! We decided we had to check out one of the three restaurants of the North Korean Pyongyang chain.
According to this article http://www.cnngo.com/shanghai/eat/odd-reality-behind-shanghais-pyongyang-restaurants-592649 the waitresses in each restaurant are kept in the dark about the existence of the other restaurants in Shanghai. These young women come from the best and most privileged families in Pyongyang, which apparently ensures their compliance and good behavior.
We got there at 7:00 and ordered with abandon. We were impressed with how quickly our food was brought out, although service was quite perfunctory and the restaurant in general was lacking in anything resembling ambience. It was on the second floor of a rather fancy hotel, but the restaurant itself was plain, and felt as fancy as a cafeteria. It was also extremely BRIGHT. There were so many lights on, I actually felt uncomfortable.
At 7:30 there was a performance!
Within minutes of the performance finishing, everybody got up and left. Not wanting to be the only people there, we did too. The woman at the door told us to “Come again,” the only English we heard the whole night. The women are chosen for their Mandarin, not their English skills. I’m sure we would have gotten a lot more from the performance if we could have read the Mandarin on the Karaoke machine. But it was a fun experience anyway.
There was one thing on the menu we decided not to have :
I’ve been writing this throughout the night in an effort to stay awake and readjust my clock because in just a couple of hours I’m heading back to the US where I can blog without a VPN! Looking out the window, I see that it is starting to get light out and it’s almost 5:30am. Time to get ready for the plane. Hope to catch up with you all–at least in Wegman’s!