September can a busy month in North Korea, as it hosts three international events that overlapped this year. For movie buffs, there is the spiffy not quite red carpet Pyongyang International Film Festival. For businesspeople, there was the Pyongyang Trade Fair and for us, the Pyongyang International Science & Technology Book Fair (PISTBF). Having been represented at PISTBF twice previously, it remains pretty much the same staid affair, except that guests now travel as part of a mish-mash convoy of vehicles.
We heard that the Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF) seems to be leading the pack in terms of innovation, with a new format somewhere in between the Oscars and a political lecture. The PIFF organizers decided to jazz things up with a male and female co-host bantering with each other on a set much alike those of modern movie awards, interjected by various performances. But they did not forget to include the odd politician delivering a speech. Some participants expressed nostalgia for the good ol’ DPRK-style film festival.
We presented EdX at PISTBF. This was a good way for Korean students to access university courses at top universities around the world, when they get Internet access of course. This follows on our presentation on OpenCourseWare and Wikibooks in 2010, which people were fascinated by. We also exhibited books from the London School of Economics, Nanyang Technological University and other publishers. During the evening festivities, we ran into several alumni from our programs in Singapore and North Korea.
Party Secretary for Science & Technology Choe Tae Bok was the guest of honor for PISTBF, along with Chairwoman Kim Jong Suk of the Committee for Cultural Relations. At the opening banquet at the head table, both guest of honors were nested between Russians, and sang Russian songs with them. Russia is featuring more prominently at events in Pyongyang and the mutual courtship looks to be continuing.
Outside of PISTBF, we had a packed schedule of meetings with a microfinance company in Pyongyang, architects and urban planners, the Ministry of External Economy and most refreshingly, actors from a famous 1990s Korean movie (“City Girl Goes to get Married” - soundtrack here). The actors emphasized that it was important for them to understand "world trends and tastes" and asks if us Philistines at Choson Exchange could consider expanding its work to the artistic arena.
We hope that the next PISTBF in 2016 would feature more innovation. Booths should have electricity so that they can do multimedia presentation, perhaps authors can give book talks or organizations can give pamphlets. And definitely, group discounts for hotel bookings. But all that would be an even bigger security nightmare, so I guess this would still be a long way off.