Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A note on North Korea

I gotta say I had no interest in this team going into the tournament. Cast as the footstools of the other 3 teams in the group of death, their presence was a mere confidence boost for Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal. But as today's game approached I couldn't have been more fascinated and excited to watch them play.
Would they march in rank out onto the field? What about the fans. Do they have any WAGs? Were they going to be wearing uniforms? Do they even have any fans at this tournament? If Brazil won, would they doctor the media in North Korea and claim it was a victory? Are they even showing the game there???

A team that practiced behind closed doors and arrived in secrecy, you couldn't get access to them, and journalists barely knew anything about them. When they finally met with the press earlier this week, a South Korean reporter asked manager Kim Jong Hun in Korean what he thought of his team's chances, referring to them as North Korea. Kim barked back, "There's such no country called 'North Korea.' Next question." (they refer to themselves officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...WHAT?)

Yet what I, and everyone else watching received was an education, starting with an orchestral masterpiece of a national anthem resembling a soundtrack for a military parade. Now I know I can be a bit dramatic at times with my thoughts, perhaps so in my piece on national pride, but seeing Jong Tae Se's emotions pouring out uncontrollably during the anthem proved my point flawlessly (not to mention Maicon's tears after scoring). Then came the hits...

We learned that Japan based player Jong Tae Se brought a cellphone to training...none of the other players had ever seen one. Martin Tyler commented on Jong's scoring prowess (he had all the team's goals in their friendlies leading up to the opener), stressing his creative ability. He immediately brought in the big picture and the irony behind this, as all of these players come from a country which essentially forbids personality and creativity.
And of course the kicker that blew my mind. Supposedly, the fans we saw in the stands were not Korean. They were actors from China, hired by the Chinese government and paid to attend the matches and serve as Korean supporters... ... um... ... Well some have observed that the amount of money it would cost for a North Korean to get to South Africa and see games would be almost 100 times more than the average income. Forget the problems involving getting permission and a visa to leave the country in the first place! Of course we'll probably never know whether or not this is true.

We also learned afterwards that Asia's broadcasting union offered free live feeds for North Koreans to watch. And they were in for a treat, with a bullish Korean team taking it to the Brazilians for the first 30 minutes or so, and even scoring on them at the end. Just like that this country made its entrance into the tournament. My fascination and intrigue was utterly satisfied

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