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More Than 150,000 People Fight For A Few Hundred Tickets To See North Korea’s Odd Olympic Orchestra

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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More than 100,000 people are fighting for a rare chance to see a North Korean orchestra perform in the South.

North Korea is sending the mysterious Samjiyon Orchestra to perform in Gangneung and Seoul for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. With 140 members, the orchestra is the largest performance group ever dispatched to South Korea, but no one has ever heard of it. The specific details of the performance content are also a bit murky.

“The performances will consist of folk songs that match the atmosphere of [Korean] unification and are well known in those countries, as well as famous songs around the world,” the South Korean Ministry of Unification told a Japanese newspaper.

The orchestra will be led by Hyon Song Wol, the  suspected former lover of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and head of the popular all-female Moranbang Band, who fascinated South Koreans during a recent visit to the South to inspect the performance venues. Hyon, who was rumored to have been executed several years ago, was reportedly sent to South Korea as a distraction, the Daily NK reported, citing sources inside North Korea.

“By making South Korea focus on an unimportant problem, [North Korea was able to gain the upper hand,” a source inside the rogue state revealed, relaying the message of a state lecturer.

Indeed, many people are extremely interested in seeing the North Korean orchestra. A total of 156,000 people have applied for only 530 tickets, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Thirty-nine thousand people applied for 280 tickets for the show at the Art Center in Gangneung, and 117,000 people applied for 250 tickets for the performance at the National Theater in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

A lottery will be held to determine who gets to attend the concerts.

North Korea sees the Winter Olympics as an opportunity to reshape the international narrative surrounding it and present itself as a normal nuclear state. In lectures by state officials, the North Korean regime emphasized the “strategic utilization of the Olympics for propaganda to normalize our (country’s) image,” a source inside North Korea told the Daily NK.

The South is reportedly temporarily lifting sanctions put in place after North Korea sank a South Korean ship in 2010 to allow the North’s Samjiyon Orchestra to come to South Korea, according to NK News.

The advanced team arrived by land border Monday, and the two performances will be held in Gangneung and Seoul on Thursday and Sunday respectively. The Olympics are scheduled to kick off Friday.

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