20 Questions From North Korea’s Young Football Aces

Choson Ilbo

“Why are so many crosses out there?” “Why do most children wear glasses?” “Can I see your mobile phone?” These were just a few of the many questions North Korea’s youth football squad had over the weekend. On the pitch, they are not different from young South Korean players. But moving around by bus or train, they were full of curiosity about the things they saw. Twenty-three members of the under-17 football team have been staying in South Korea for 20 days.

Many questions
The lobby of the Suncheon Royal Tourist Hotel at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The North Korean soccer squad look trim in their black uniform, shoes in hand. They had countless questions for the South Korean officials of the Sports Exchange Association accompanying them. “What is the cross for?”, one asks, and when told asks again, “What is a church?” The answer seemed to baffle them. When an official explained that many young South Koreans wear glasses because they use computers a lot, one team member said, “In North Korea, only few children and scholars who read lots of books wear glasses.”

The players were particularly taken by mobile phones. They wondered how people could make calls without lines and play games or take pictures with their phones. Whenever officials from the association used their mobile phones, the North Korean youngsters gathered to see their phones.

When shown magazine photos and asked to pick the most beautiful among actresses, Jeon Ji-hyun, Song Hye-gyo and Beyonce Knowles, they chose Beyonce Knowles, still insisted they didn’t care.

◆ They enjoyed playing chess and cards when taking a rest.

The squad had three meals in their hotel restaurant and only left the hotel for training for three hours in the morning and afternoon. In the hotel, they spent most of the rest of their time playing Chinese card games and chess. They did not watch TV except football games. When the team was moving to Suncheon by bus, one player started reading a memoir by former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, and others asked to borrow it.

Ri Chan-myong, the head of the North Korean youth squad, and the other eight North Korean officials accompanying them drank together with South Korean officials of the sports exchange association. The North Korean officials drank a lot, finishing off 200 bottles of soju or Korean distilled liquor during their 11 days in Jeju.

◆ “I miss my parents”

Five members got wounds in the middle of training. Those players sometimes said, “I miss my parents.” North Korean soccer players, who did not talk much when they first arrived in Jeju, began talking on the third days. At first, North Korean soccer squad ate only Kimbab(rice rolled in dried laver) and Kimchi, now they eat sushi, sliced raw fish, cake and fruits such as banana, apple and pineapple. North Korean soccer squad will move to Seoul on April twelfth and depart for North Korea on twentieth after having a friendly match on fourteenth. Kim Kyung-sung, chief executive member of the South and North Korean Sports Exchange Association, said, “North Korean soccer team is considering going out before they leave but nothing is confirmed.”


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