A Run-in With Friendly North Koreans

One thing about working with partners remotely is that a lot changes during time away, much like any relationship. Particularly in business, every day presents new opportunities and with a single stroke of a pen your local book store can turn into a lemonade stand overnight.

In that sense, it would be an understatement for me to say I was unprepared for the JETRO event tomorrow. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know what our interest in it was, nor did I really care. All I knew was that if someone was standing across from me I was either going to create a link, open an account, or close a deal, and to do that I needed an update on our latest numbers.

My partner K arrived from Hokkaido late afternoon and I was eager to meet and clarify some ambiguous details. K tends to talk the most optimistic scenario, which is cool, but is often a stretch from reality and is largely confusing, to say the least. As soon as he was ready, I went to go pick him up.

On my way out, I noticed my go-to sushi restaurant was no longer there. In its place stood newly established: PYONGYANG OKRYU RESTAURANT, offering delicacies and other exquisites from none other than North Korea – the ideal place to hold our meeting.

We went in and were immediately received by several young North Korean ladies. It felt like Christmas in there, as the same blue, green, and red neon lights were used to cover everything and anything. Perhaps that’s how they do in Pyongyang as well?

The pictures on the menu were taken in such fashion that nothing looked appetizing, albeit I don’t think intentionally. Intrigued with the outfit the hostess was sporting, I queried if she was really from North Korea, prior to randomly pointing to pictures to order. Indeed, she was, and I had just ordered a large plate filled with marinated BBQ meat, along with a monster-sized platter of cold noodles. The meat arrived first and looked somewhat bland, yet enticing.

I took a bite.

Never in my life have I been so persuaded to visit North Korea. The meat was soft and succulent, and had the texture that could be found in none other than A5 Wagyu ribeye, marbled with fat, and grain-fed plentifully and frequently. K watched in horror as I devoured the whole plate in a few short minutes, leaving him just a few pieces to ‘try’.

Before we knew it, it was 8:30, aka SHOWTIME. Without warning, the mini disco ball attached to the roof started spinning, shooting out blazes of blue, green, and red, and the hostesses that brought out our food a few minutes prior were now decked out in traditional North Korean dresses. Music started playing, they started singing and dancing, and a sundry of instruments were brought into action. I must say, there was a certain element of automation, a robotic look in their eyes as they all chose spots on the far wall to stare into as they danced and performed.

Song after song they went on, and towards the waning stages of the performance, one of the dancers reached back and unveiled the GAYAGEUM, a simple but impressive instrument that can only be described as grandiose. One of the ladies took the reins, and began rocking the thing like it was a damn electric guitar. She plucked away at the strings, furiously, with a hypnotic look in her eyes. As a matter of fact, she played the instrument with such tenacity I thought she was going to rip one of the strings right off.

The performance climaxed with the hostesses going up to tables and randomly pulling customers on stage to do a final dance. K was chosen and brought on stage, sandwiched between two ladies, and had the time of his life spinning in circles with his hands in the air.

We were probably in the restaurant for no longer than an hour, and during that time it began to rain, and hard. The South-East Asian torrential downpours will have the streets flooding in no time, and by the time we left the restaurant the street had become a fucking river.

K and I said our goodbyes and I waded my way through shit-filled knee high waters back to my condo, still flabbergasted by my experience in Pyongyang. With so much trash talking going on in the world about N Korea its cool to see that they are just as human as everyone else, all fixing to get our share of a good night of indulgence.