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Pop culture and young love in North Korea
Pop culture and young children in North Korea

Pop culture and young love in North Korea

“If a CD or DVD is found stuck in your player, you’re in deep trouble”
Ji-Min Kang
This week’s Ask a North Korean deviates somewhat from our usual formula. Instead of publishing answers to reader’s questions, we’re publishing the second part of a series of excerpts from an upcoming e-book by one of our longtime contributors, Ji-Min Kang, which will be released later this year.
In this excerpt, Ji-Min, who now lives in London, recounts an evening spent watching a South Korean drama with friends. The government told us that singing and dancing to South Korean songs had a negative impact on your body and soul.
Perhaps they were right: that music really did change our attitude toward life.
We danced along to songs such as “Apartment” and “Love Twist”, both of which were banned in the country. At a farewell party for friends who were enlisting in the military, we sang “Private’s Letter” and on a friend’s birthday, we sang “Friends” for the birthday boy. And whether we had a girlfriend or not, it always moved our heart to sing a love song from South Korea.
All six of us had gotten together for my friend’s Chol-hyok’s birthday, including my girlfriend Hyon-joo. When we had finished our drinks and side dishes on the dinner table, we covered every window with thick blankets and sat in front of the television set. We wanted to finish watching a South Korean drama called “All-in.”
Until a few years before, we had watched American and Chinese movies with Jet Li and Jackie Chan in them, but no one watched them anymore: everyone was into South Korean movies and dramas.
When we watched a South Korean drama called “Autumn in my Heart” together, Chol-hyok shed tears and we all made fun of him. He didn’t want to miss a chance to watch another South Korean drama with us.
Occasionally, agents from the State Security Department raided your apartment to see if you were secretly watching South Korean dramas you were not allowed to watch in North Korea.
If a CD or DVD was found stuck in your player, you were in deep trouble, sent away to a far away town or even something more serious. Everyone who owns a DVD player at home was required to report it to the government – Chol-hyok had yet to do it since he was too lazy.
When a male character was on the screen, the girls wouldn’t stop talking about how hot he was. When a female character was on the screen, all the boys got closer to the TV set. When the two main characters kissed, Myong-jin got even closer to the TV and shouted at the female character.
“No, Soo-yeon, No! He’s a player! You shouldn’t kiss a guy like that. I’m way more handsome than him and I’m better at fighting than he is. You should be dating somebody like me, not him.”
Jinsoo, who was sitting right behind him, punched the top of his head and said “Move over. I can’t see Soo-yeon.”
Jinsoo went on: “Soo-yeon looks just like my first love.”
We’ve all seen the girl he had had a crush on for the first time. We all yelled at him almost in unison: “How dare you compare her to Soo-yeon!”
Jinsoo blushed and we drank more.
Some of our friends fell asleep at Chol-hyok’s apartment and a few others went home. Chol-hyok’s parents and sister had gone to his aunt’s home so that we could have the place to ourselves. The power went out and we had to light a candle.
I was afraid that Hyon-joo might hear my heart beat. I was so embarrassed!
She was tipsy after drinking a glass of beer.
“Why are you staring at me like that? I know what you’re thinking. You just can’t believe that a beautiful girl like me is your girlfriend, right?”
She was right. She had a beautiful face. Whenever I saw her resting her chin on her hand and stroking her hair, I would be amazed. I wanted to kiss her on the lips – I wanted to kiss her just like the main characters kissed in the South Korean dramas we watched together.
“Don’t you need to go home? Your parents must be worried about you.”
Shit. That’s not what I meant to say.
“Do you want me to go home? I could go home now.”
I held her hands and looked into her eyes. Hyon-joo closed her eyes. I kissed her on the lips. I don’t remember what happened next. My friends had told me numerous times what I should do after kissing a girl but I couldn’t remember.
The kiss, it was amazing. We spent the whole night together and we talked until dawn.
We left Chol-hyok’s apartment together in time for the first train in the morning. On the metro, Hyon-ju fell asleep on my shoulder. I became worried looking at her. I wasn’t confident that I could make her happy. Life was already hard for me and I didn’t want her to feel miserable just because she was with me. After seeing her off at her apartment, I came back home. As soon as I sat on the sofa, I fell asleep.
I woke up to a loud knocking on my door.
“Comrade Ji-Min! Open the door!” – Written by Ji-Min Kang, Translation by Elizabeth Jae. Source: NK News

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