Asia

In pictures: Growing up in North Korea

Girl plays a cello Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A girl plays a cello at Chongnam Kindergarten, Chongjin, North Hamgyong province

What is it like to grow up in North Korea? When photographer Tariq Zaidi visited North Korea late last year he tried to capture candid family moments between parents and children.

I travelled to eight out of North Korea's nine provinces and along the way visited schools, nurseries and music academies. Not many outsiders get a chance to visit the country and for those who do, taking pictures is highly restricted and controlled.

These are images I was permitted to take by North Korean minders, and they offer a few glimpses into what it's like to grow up in the closed-off and isolated country.

My journey took me from Dandong on the Chinese border in the north down to Kaesong at the border with South Korea, across the country from Pyongyang to Wonsan on the east coast and then north again towards Chongjin and Hoeryong near the Chinese-Russian border.

While this selection of images cannot claim to be comprehensive, I did get some sense of the cultural and social environment and aspirations for the children we came into contact with.

Whenever we went to a town, we tried to visit a school. There are many different kinds of schools in North Korea and a lot of the sightseeing outside of museums involved visiting municipal institutions like that.

Young girl plays a traditional Korean drum Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption This young girl plays a traditional Korean drum at the Hoeryong Schoolchildren's Palace
Mothers play on a slide with their children Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption Mothers play on a slide with their children in a central Pyongyang playground

A lot of the students wanted to show off how well they spoke English and at some schools tourists were encouraged to speak to their top students who spoke the best English about whatever we wanted.

A lot of the conversation was general knowledge exchanges on any issue, for example The Beatles. It felt surprising because one would assume a frank exchange wouldn't be welcome but these environments felt open.

At the same time, you realise you are in North Korea and this is the school we were taken to and a conversation in another part of the world might go very differently.

Girl studying Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A girl studying at the North Hamgyong province library in Chongjin
Mother and child walk around in Pyongyang Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A mother and child walk around in Pyongyang

Some of the schools we were taken to see had mind bogglingly state-of-the-art facilities for the most talented students. We were told they were called schoolchildren's palaces. Obviously there will be many other kinds of schools, but we weren't taken to see them.

The emphasis on sport, music, culture was really noticeable. A lot of students were eager to take on the tourists, to have serious competitive games of football and basketball, for example.

But outside of the official guided visits to set destinations, there were those journeys where I could capture candid and spontaneous shots: a father cuddling his child on the metro, a mother playing with her children on a playground while I sped by on a bus. They didn't even know I was there.

But moments like those help to illustrate an obvious but important point - that no matter what kind of rule you find yourself under, families end up pretty much the same and children at school in North Korea have personal goals and ambitions like everybody else.

A family rides the metro in Pyongyang Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A family rides the Pyongyang metro with portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il seen in the back
A mother watches her child, who sits in the basket of a bicycle Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A mother watches her child, who sits in the basket of a bicycle in Kaesong
Portrait of girl in traditional dress Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption Portrait of girl in traditional dress in Hoeryong
Presentational white space
A 'moving image' wall of 17,490 schoolchildren creating a mosaic of a boy and a girl Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A 'moving image' wall of 17,490 schoolchildren creating a mosaic at the Mass Games in Pyongyang
A young school girl (left), her mother (second from the left) and two women at the stamp museum in Pyongyang Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A young school girl, her mother and two women at the stamp museum in Pyongyang
Dance class at the Mangyongdae schoolchildren's palace in Pyongyang Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption Dance class at the Mangyongdae schoolchildren's palace in Pyongyang
Boys practice on the gymnastic parallel bars in their school playground in Hoeryong Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption Boys practice on the gymnastic parallel bars in their school playground in Hoeryong
Girl in traditional dress plays the piano Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption This girl in a traditional dress plays the piano at Chongnam Kindergarten in Chongjin
Baby looking out of a Pyongyang bus while her father holds her secure Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A baby is looking out of a Pyongyang bus while her father holds her secure
A teacher in front of her class Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A teacher of English conducts class at the Chongjin Foreign Languages School in Chongjin
Girl checks her mobile phone while riding her bicycle Image copyright Tariq Zaidi
Image caption A girl checks her mobile phone while riding her bicycle in the late evening in Kaesong

You can follow Tariq's work on Instagram (@tariqzaidiphoto), Facebook (@tariqzaidiphotography) and his website https://www.tariqzaidi.com/

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