N Korean choir keen for cultural exchange - as long as it's not with journalists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am

A North Korean children's choir and dance group has begun its first visit to Hong Kong, a week-long cultural exchange mission that will include everything from performing to visiting Ocean Park - except talking to journalists.

The Pyongyang Children's Art Group of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, founded in 1963, kicked off the mission yesterday with two performances at the University of Hong Kong and the opening night of the Hong Kong International Youth and Children's Choir Festival at the Cultural Centre.

Maeng Yong-rim, deputy director of the Central Committee of Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, who is travelling with the group, said cultural exchanges between children of different nationalities were the group's priority and the mission had nothing to do with politics.

'We hope that through participating in this festival, for which we came here especially, we can promote cultural exchange between children,' Mr Maeng said.

Leon Tong Shiu-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Treble Choirs Association, which organised the festival, agreed. 'Music has no boundaries and we welcome any groups from anywhere.'

The entourage consists of 50 members, 40 of them children aged eight to 18. They travelled from Pyongyang to Beijing by train before flying to Hong Kong on Sunday.

The cultural exchange mission began with a performance of song, music and dance at the Rayson Huang Theatre at the university.

In the afternoon, the children - dressed in colourful traditional Korean costumes with the signature red scarf tied around their shoulders - were escorted to the Cultural Centre's concert hall for a rehearsal of last night's choir festival opening performance.

The children could not conceal their tiredness from the long trip and many took a quick nap while waiting for their turn to rehearse. Those who managed to stay awake sat through the rehearsal of the choir festival and some showed a great deal of appreciation of performances given by groups of other nationalities.

But the cultural exchange ended there, as the group decided not to allow the children to take any questions from the media after keeping reporters waiting all afternoon, telling them in Putonghua that no one in the group could act as an interpreter.

Mr Maeng said the group would visit Ocean Park this morning, when they would stage a performance before moving on to the Academy of Performing Arts for a performance tomorrow night.

The group, which has performed in many countries, including the United States, France and Spain, will leave on July 19 to perform in Shenzhen and Beijing.