the Paektu blog | December 16, 2017, | Michael Spavor

Last year wasn’t the first time I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in North Korea but it was the first time to spend it with hundreds of thousands of local families, students, and young couples in Kim Il Sung Square located in the center of the capital city of Pyongyang. We went with a small group of friends in late December 2016 with Paektu Cultural Exchange to find out how North Korean’s celebrate New Year’s. It was the best and most interesting NYE I’ve ever had and we are heading back again this year.

Note: My apologies, some of the pictures are a bit dark or shaky, turns out I’m not so good at taking night photographs

Young and fashionable students waiting for the fireworks to begin in Kim Il Sung square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

Picking up a few local cocktails and visiting the restroom before the fireworks start at Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

A clever entrepreneurial woman set up this photo background for selling portraits and group photos. Complete with balloons, images and the word Chook (축) which means celebration or congratulations.

 

Darkness across Kim Il Sung Square before the New Year’s fireworks, portraits of the leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are lit up in the background on the Grand People’s Study House, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

It’s quite an amazing experience just to visit North Korea (DPRK), as anyone who has been there can tell you, but when you go as a tourist (especially in a big group tour ) it can feel a bit impersonal with little or no interaction with locals. But last year on December 31st for NYE in Pyongyang we freely wandered around KIS square and along the riverfront until about 3 am partying and chatting with random locals, watching the fireworks, and taking endless photos and selfies with students, couples, and other friendly strangers.

 

Fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

It was such a fun an liberating experience to be completely surrounded by curious Koreans some just saying “Hello” or “Welcome to Korea” but many others confidently approached our small foreign group and introduced themselves while starting up genuine and friendly conversations.

They asked questions like: “Where are you from?” “What are you drinking?” “Do they have parties like this in your country?” “What did you think of our fireworks?”  This was almost always followed by numerous requests for selfies and group photos which doesn’t normally happen on standard group tours.

Drinking and taking photos with new friends after the fireworks and in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

We started learning and chanting some fun slogans together with our new Korean friends as others nearby joined in.  We shouted out things like “Gookjae Chinson” (국제친선!) which means “International Friendship” and “Kimchi Gakdogi Mat Cham Joshida” (김치깍두기 맛 참 좋시다!)  which means “Radish & Cabbage Kimchi tastes the best!

Fancy Ballons and Selfies during the Fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

Its one of the only times when you have thousands of Koreans gathered who are not working studying or have anything in particular to do except to have fun, take pictures, meet new friends and well there is also a lot of drinking.

Taking photos with new friends after the fireworks and in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

I’ve lived in North Korea in the past and currently go about every month for business, development projects, as well as small tour groups and cultural exchanges so I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of Koreans through many different types of work and play.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when I ran into a few friends which included drinks, quick catch up, some singing, chanting, and a few photos.

First, I ran into one of my computer students from 2005 when I taught in Pyongyang at the Korea Computer Center (KCC), then I ran into about half of the DPRK National basketball team (photo below) who I met in 2013 and 2014 when I brought Dennis Rodman to North Korea and organized the North Korean vs. United States Friendship Basketball Exhibition. It was fun as they remembered my name and reminisced about our past projects and the famous basketball game which they actually beat the former NBA players and won the game.

A shaky selfie of partying with my friends and members of the DPRK National Basketball team on Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor


To join our 2017/2018 NYE trip to North Korea

December 30th, 2017 to Jan 2nd, 2018

Deadline to sign up is December 20th, 2017 

APPLY HERE     CONTACT US     Download PDF

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The fireworks display was amazing on its own choreographed with North Korean music in front of an amazing background with the Juche Tower and other monuments. While people gathered all around the Taedongang river area most people came to Kim Il Sung Square, one of the largest squares in the world where North Korea holds military parades, torchlight parades, and other events and festivals.

Sea of cell phones taking pictures and video of the Fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

The beginning of the fireworks in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

NYE 2017 fireworks finale in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

Singing, chanting and taking photos with new Korean friends after the fireworks and in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

People walking home after the fireworks and in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

 

People walking home after the fireworks and in Kim Il Sung Square, January 1st, 2017, Pyongyang, DPRK Photo credit: Michael Spavor

It was an amazing night and an unforgettable experience and I look forward to going back again every year to experience this very special night. If you want to join us for the next New Year’s Eve in Pyongyang or another tour, cultural exchange or delegation contact us here or see our travel programs here.


To join our 2017/2018 NYE trip to North Korea

December 30th, 2017 to Jan 2nd, 2018

Deadline to sign up is December 20th, 2017 

APPLY HERE     CONTACT US     Download PDF

Subscribe to the Paektu Newsletter


 

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