A Fascinating Glimpse Of Ordinary Life In North Korea

While American photographer Sam Gellman spends his days working for transportation technology start-up Uber in Hong Kong, he has long been a travel photography nut.

He’s made a habit of travelling to uncommon places that don’t usually go on other travellers’ radars.

When in 2011, he got a chance to travel to North Korea through Beijing-based Koryo Tours, he jumped.

While in the isolated nation, he was ushered around by his North Korean guides, who, in between spouting anti-American rhetoric, made sure that he saw just how well the country was doing.

What he found was that, despite the strong antagonism between the United States and North Korea, the people were not that much different.

“For me, I was most intrigued by the fact that the people are in many ways similar to us,” Gellman told The World radio program

Gellman shared some of the pictures from the trip with us. You can see more of his work at his website or on his Flickr.

Guides were present at every part of Gellman's tour and were initially nervous when he began photographing.

This is one of the two subway stations in Pyongyang that Gellman was allowed to photograph.

A father takes a picture of his kids on an arcade game. Gellman says that, while people do have mobile phones, they can only call inside North Korea.

Gellman said that it's hard to go very far before you see an image of 'Eternal President' Kim il Sung. Here, you can spot a picture of him below the building, across the river.

Kim il Sung is treated like a deity in North Korea, according to Gellman, and most restaurants have televisions showing off North Korean accomplishments from decades prior.

Gellman said that the everyday occurrences seemed pretty similar to other parts of Asia. In a park, he saw many people playing badminton and enjoying ice cream.

This is an apartment building in Pyongyang.

This was at the City Carnival in North Korea. Gellman says this was his favourite part of the trip because he was able to interact with locals who seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Here, a group of women are wearing traditional Korean clothes.

Gellman said that you have to be careful of what you take pictures of. The guides were especially wary of anything that could make North Korea look bad.

Gellman was in North Korea during the Arirang Festival, also known as the mass games.

During the month and half-long festival, a series of spectacles and performances take place at the Rungnado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, telling North Korea's origin story.

Participants perform complicated synchronised dances.

Here, over 30,000 children hold up sign cards to make massive moving images.

Here, again you can see the synchronised dancers on the bottom and the children holding sign cards in the back. Gellman said that the children move the images with split-second precision.

'From as young as five-years-old, citizens are selected to be in the performance and, in many cases, it is a way of life for them until retirement,' Gellman told MyModernMet.

One of the biggest recreational events for North Koreans is watching Tae Kwon Do .

Gellman said that soldiers spend most of their day marching and chanting anti-American and anti-Japanese songs.

A collection of North Korea propaganda. The left most sign is a map of Kim Jong Il's travel schedule, just months before he died.

Children, from ages 9 to 11, are selected to become a part of the Young Pioneers program, which is the first step to joining the Communist party.

This soldier had just finished giving a tour of the North Korean border, during which he made a lot of anti-American statements. However, he was very friendly when Gellman asked to take his picture. Gellman said that it made him realise that 'these people are just people doing their jobs ... '

Because they have such little exposure, many North Koreans are afraid of foreigners. Gellman said that getting them to open up was worth the whole trip.

Now that you've seen an American's view of North Korea.

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