“We’re going to win everything.”
That’s what a North Korean spectator said while watching the women’s basketball Group C match between South Korea and North Korea at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium at the 토토 Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, on Sept. 29. The reporter watched the game alongside the North Korean supporters. In the game, South Korea defeated North Korea 81-62.
The reporter focused on the cheering section rather than the game. The crowd of about 70 North Koreans were cheering and chanting “Korea” in unison. The reporter casually walked up to the man controlling the cheering section and spoke to him. The man, who appeared to be in his early 60s, stood rather than sat throughout the game. A telescope hung around his neck.
When a reporter said hello to him before the game started, he didn’t respond. He didn’t say anything back, so much so that the reporter thought he was deaf. When the reporter introduced No. 7 (Park Ji-soo) as a good player and No. 13 (Kim Dan-bi) as a player who won the MVP last year, there was still no response. However, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. When they missed shots, they lamented, “Why doesn’t it go in?” and when the score was close, they said, “Just try a little harder.”
There was also organized cheering. When a spectator in the front row would shout, “‘Courageous’ is coming,” the entire crowd would chant, “Courageous, DPRK players,” in unison. They would cheer, “Win, win, DPRK,” or “Good job, good job, DPRK,” in the same beat. When South Korean players were about to shoot free throws, they would give short bursts of “woo, woo, woo” boos.
Whenever North Korea scored a basket, their supporters jumped to their feet, waved their props and clapped loudly. This led to complaints that they were blocking the view of the audience in the back. The ushers announced this in Chinese and English, but the North Korean fans didn’t listen. At the usher’s request, a spectator with a telescope around his neck was told, “If you stand up, you won’t be able to see the people behind you,” but he only glanced at the reporter and didn’t even pretend to listen. The North Korean cheerleaders still stood up and screamed every time their players scored, while the Chinese spectators behind them smiled and watched the game with a look of helplessness on their faces.
It was just before the start of the second quarter when a spectator with a telescope around his neck responded to a reporter’s question. North Korea leads South Korea 13-11. When the reporter asked, “Are the North Koreans good at basketball or other sports?” he replied, “We’re good at everything. We’re going to win everything. When asked which sports people like, he responds briefly, “All of them,” and then adds, “Who doesn’t like sports?” The spectator didn’t speak again until the end of the game.
The reporter says “hello” to a young female spectator in the front row. She bit her lower lip, furrowed her brow, and gave him a pained look. The rest of the audience did the same. At the end of the third quarter, I followed another North Korean audience member who was heading out and said “hello” from behind. This spectator smiled, revealing his braces, but when he saw the reporter, he covered his face in embarrassment and walked away.
Some North Korean spectators had a heavy object in their pockets that appeared to be a cell phone. But no one took it out. Only the spectator with the telescope around his neck occasionally pulled out his phone. It contained a missed call from the name “Ri Myong Soo” and an alarm in Chinese characters. The charging port was Type C. I didn’t see any North Korean audience members wearing smartwatches, but I did see people wearing Bluetooth earphones, which were popular in the early 2000s.
When the fourth quarter started, the reporter tried to talk to them. When he didn’t respond, I asked for his respect. Another spectator next to me said, “We paid to get in, so why do you keep talking to us?” and got annoyed, saying, “Let’s focus on the game.” Did they really pay? When I checked with the usher, he said, “The North Korean supporters also bought tickets.” I apologized mildly, saying I wouldn’t disturb them, but they didn’t listen. I told them that it was Chuseok, and I wished them a happy time, but they didn’t respond, so I continued to stand in the same spot. When the game ended with Korea’s victory, they made a rueful “Eight” sound and left. Without looking back.