North Korea and Back in Three Hours or Less

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.

Ready for our adventure

The waitresses are attired in traditional Korean garb and cook some of the beef dishes table side.

According to this article 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.

This collection of condiments was complimentary. The “orange potatoes” weren’t potatoes, rather something quite unpleasant, but the greens were delicious as is typical of Asian greens.

Tofu and Kimchee. Mark said it wasn’t the best kimchee he’s ever had, but the tofu was good and the sauce was kind of nice.

I sneakily took this picture with my iPhone before I knew if picture taking was allowed, so it’s pretty blurry. We couldn’t figure out what all the flowers were for–a shrine to the Great Leader perhaps? We found out later.

Seven Kinds of Vegetables--yup, that's what it was!

Seven Kinds of Vegetables–yup, that’s what it was!

Special Marbling Beef. Edible Beef, but not as good as the beef we had at Tables this Saturday night.

Stir Fried Sliced Rice Cake. A recommendation of Meredith’s and one of our favorites. Kind of a Korean Spaghetti with fat rice noodles.

Grilled Flounder. Never had bad fish here yet. Did however nearly choke on some bones!

Stir Fried Squid Claw. This dish tasted great if you could get past the rubber band with suction cup texture.

At 7:30 there was a performance!

There were a number of pieces that were performed, accompanied by a drum set and electric piano, the flowers from the “shrine” that were used as props, and always a glowing, happy smile. Why the happy smile? Because they were singing about their Great Leader, of course.

Often an electric guitar was added. The music was actually quite fun and rollicking–like propoganda rock and roll. When the girl who was singing would walk through the audience, men would grab bouquets of flowers from the table by the wall and give them to her with a big silly grin on their faces. It was like the North Korean version of putting a dollar in her garter.

This woman was amazing on whatever this instrument is. You can see how fast she was playing because her ponytail is flying! She looked like she was having fun, but perhaps it was just because it was for the glory of the Great Leader.

As soon as the show was over, the girls who had been performing got right back to work waiting tables. Yes, they had to wait tables and perform. That’s why they were in such a hurry to get our food out.

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 :

Makes my stomach turn every time I see this.

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!

Kelly’s Mail Envelope


About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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