Young North Korean tour guide goes viral on Chinese video platform amid the development of its tourist industry

By Ji Yuqiao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/5/25 14:28:40

North Korean tour guide Kim (left) and Qiu Li (right) Photo: courtesy of SAO documentary team

Following the internet celebrity of a North Korean traffic policewoman, another figure, this time a tour guide, has become something of an internet celebrity in China, with some Chinese netizens setting up a fan club dedicated to her.

A documentary about a tour to North Korea uploaded to popular Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili in 2018 has earned more than 1.14 million views. From the comments on the video, most viewers seem to be enchanted by the tour guide, a woman surnamed Kim.

Dressed in a white shirt and a slim gray skirt in the video, Kim can be seen welcoming Chinese tourists at a railway station. Her formal and graceful attitude, as well as her smile, captured the hearts of Chinese netizens.

Messages such as "The tour guide is so beautiful! How can I contact her?" "I suddenly want to visit North Korea to meet this tour guide!" are just some of the compliments Kim has received on the platform.

The young woman has become something of an idol in China. 

As the views and comments on the video increased, some Chinese netizens established a fan club for Kim on Chinese social media giant Tencent's chat platform QQ to exchange information more easily about and share videos about her. 

The channel on Bilibili hosting the North Korean tour videos is called SAO (Share and Offer). During an interview with the Global Times, Qiu Li, member of the SAO production team, said that they have gone to North Korea for three times, twice in 2018 and once in 2019. Kim guided them on two of these occasions.

"The third time we visited the country, some of our viewers applied to go with us and they all asked us if Kim would be the one to guide us," Qiu said. 

Photo: courtesy of SAO documentary team

 "Fortunately, the North Korean travel agency assigned her to us."

For many Chinese, Kim has become a figure head for North Korea's tourism industry, where young women are the majority but managers are still mostly men, according to Qiu. On Bilbili, other tour guides, such as one who goes by the Chinese name Yang Yixin, has also been gaining support among netizens in China.

"The recent development of the North Korean tourist industry has allowed these previously mysterious tour guides to come into contact with more overseas tourists," Qiu said. 

"Their attractive appearance and high-level professionalism is another reason that they have gained so many fans among netizens so quickly."

Qiu and her team members told Kim how popular she had become in China during their third trip in 2019. The young lady was embarrassed by the news and responded with a humble attitude. 

"She thanked those who support her and said she will try harder to be a good guide," Qiu noted. 

What a North Korean tour guide is like

According to Qiu, most North Korean tour guides are well-educated and have graduated from university. For example, Kim once mentioned that she had graduated from the University of Tourism in Pyongyang, which opened in 2014.

Some of them in charge of Chinese tour groups had lived in China for a long period of time or interned in China, so they not only speak Chinese well, but are also familiar with Chinese pop culture, including internet slang.

For Chinese tourists, this means communicating with these tour guides is easy and comfortable, leading to fewer challenges during their journeys. 

Tour guides in North Korea cannot work privately as they must be assigned by travel agencies. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, the North Korean travel industry has been hit hard as foreigners have been banned from entering the country.

Before the outbreak, the country's tourist industry had experienced a boom, which can be seen in the increased workload tour guides like Kim . According to Qiu, Kim said that at one point, from April to October 2019, Kim was unable to take a single day off.

"She looked much gaunter than when we met her in 2018. She told me she was busyguiding tours every day."

After getting the permission to visit, tourists can plan their own schedules in North Korea in addition to scenic sites arranged by travel agencies.

During their trips to the country, Qiu's team went to a factory and an orphanage in Pyongyang. At the orphanage, they visited the kitchen and the laundry room to see how the children live.

"You can also visit universities and film studios, but you have to remember to apply through a travel agency before your tour," Qiu said.

Qiu said that during their visit, they were not urged to spend lavishly, unlike tours in other countries, which often take groups to tourist traps. "There are not many commercial places in North Korea and tour guides do not bother with such commercial behaviors. They did not take us shopping unless we asked."

Qiu did notice that most of the souvenirs and special local products were pretty much the same no matter where they visited in the country, mainly just ginsengs, honey and paintings.

Currently boasting four members, the SAO documentary team was established in 2015. Besides North Korea, the team has visited various places around the world, including South Africa. According to Qiu, their goal is to help viewers better understand these countries by exploring 


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