WONSAN, North Korea – Summer camp in North Korea? It's got one — and it's got everything from giant water slides and a private beach to video games and volleyball courts. Oh, and, of course, a big bronze statue of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il surrounded by adoring children.
After some on-the-spot guidance from North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, and a major face-lift, the Songdowon International Children's Camp reopened Tuesday for this year's flock of foreign campers — more than 300 young children and teenagers from Russia, China, Vietnam, Ireland and Tanzania.
The campers spend the eight days cooking, swimming, boating and mingling with their North Korean peers. Though heavily subsidized by the government, the camp — plus a tour of Pyongyang — costs about $270 per foreign child.
The camp, which has been operating for nearly 30 years, was originally intended mainly to deepen relations with friendly countries in the Communist or non-aligned world. But officials say they are willing to accept youth from anywhere — even the United States.
The camp gives the participants an opportunity to see a country that remains a mystery to most outsiders, and North Korea a chance to show off the best it can offer — sleeping in air-conditioned rooms with TVs and video games is a luxury most North Korean children can't normally experience.
Still, teenagers have their own priorities.
"At the end there is a talent show," said 19-year-old Linus Jamal Faustin, who came with a group of 16 from Tanzania's Laureate International School in Dar es Salaam. "We are ready to show them all how to dance."