From a business point of view, I was extremely excited about the return of the Mass Games. During YPT’s first five years in business, our featuring the Mass Games were by far our biggest sellers. From a personal point of view, I first saw the Arirang Mass Games on my third visit to North Korea in September, 2008. I would go on to see it almost 50 times over the coming years. People would often ask if I ever got bored of it, which is hard to answer. I don’t think it’s possible to ever get bored of the greatest show on earth. Later, there were times I would not go in to see it and would just wait outside; slightly to give myself a rest and partly because it was a good chance to chat with my North Korean guides. Then in 2013, the Arirang Mass Games abruptly came to an end.
The return of the Mass Games
Five years is a long time in any sphere, and since 2013, YPT is no longer the same, I am no longer the same (as the grey in my beard would attest to), and North Korea is certainly no longer the same place. But all three of these would now converge again with the return of the Mass Games, now titled Glorious Fatherland.
As a rule, I no longer guide tours to North Korea and have not been there since 2016. With the sheer volume of numbers, us running out of guides, and me wanting to see Glorious Fatherland, I decided to go back.
Whilst many things had changed, the train ride into the DPRK had not. It was extremely fun to charter our own carriage passing through North Korean immigration and bumping into some old Korean friends along the way.
Conscious of wanting to make a good impression on my return, I was quite the anti-me by taking an early night the night before in preparation for the big event, National Day.
Morning National Day Event
I love guiding tours (generally), but my partial retirement has been for numerous reasons, one of which is the pure stress of these big events. National Day was, without doubt, one of the most stressful things I have ever done! To cut the long story short, Pyongyang was on lockdown. The Korean guides didn’t know what was going on, which meant I did not know what was going on, which meant that the guests were stressed.
Thus the morning was spent scratching our arses trying to find things to do, with a visit to a shooting range and a shopping centre being used to kill time before lunch. I was glad that I still “had it” when my guide told me to wolf down lunch as we needed to get to the military parade. OK, it was the tail end of it, but my guests got to see the North Korean military rolling through the streets and took selfies high-fiving with KPA soldiers.
The Mass Games
At 2PM we got back to the hotel with 2 hours to kill before leaving for the Mass Games. Leaving proved to be another thing entirely and it was 5 pm before we had boarded the bus, which took us first for a security check, which lasted another 3 hours. Amazingly guests were chill about things, probably because they were so excited, I think.
As the night began to advance on Pyongyang, we drove to the May Day Stadium – the biggest stadium in the world – to see the Mass Games: Arirang Mach 2, Glorious Fatherland, and the first Mass Games under the new leader, Marshal Kim Jong Un.
Despite all the times I saw the show before, seeing all the cars, the buses, the military, and gave me goosebumps like the first time I saw the show as we walked into May Day Stadium.
There is usually a long wait, but seating to start only took a few hours. Again, people did not mind when I and our Korean guide went and got the groups’ drinks. The build up as always was deafening and intense before, out of nowhere, we all stood as Marshal Kim Jong Un entered the stadium to thunderous applause for the raising of the DPRK flag. The Supreme Leader took his seat, and the Mass Games began.
What is the Glorious Fatherland Mass Games?
People are often confused and ask me what the Mass Games are, with most people are thinking it’s some kind of competition, but it is not. The Mass Games is an artistic performance – much like a theatre show aimed at showcasing the national characteristics of North Korea through art. And no matter what you think of the country, no one achieves this feat quite like North Korea.
As for the performance itself? I was expecting Glorious Fatherland to be similar to Arirang. And whilst certain similarities certainly remain, it is quite unique, much bigger, and much better than Arirang. The new parts are so good, in fact, people literally rose to their feet on numerous occasions to clap and cheer.
I am truly honoured that I was in the first ever group to see the Glorious Fatherland Mass Games in the same building as Marshal Kim Jong Un. I have to say, the performance left me buzzing for my own future and for the future of YPT. But most excitingly, for the future of the Korean peninsula and the people, whom I love greatly.
The Glorious Fatherland Mass Games was more than I ever could have imagined and hope for, and I anticipate it is here to stay; whether I’m there to lead or not.
To join a trip to see the “Glorious Fatherland” Mass Games check out our link