Azkals get glimpse of clean, serene Pyongyang
PYONGYANG—It was a nice first impression to say the least.
The Philippine Azkals arrived here Monday afternoon pleasantly surprised at how clean and developed the city looked despite its reputation as one of the most isolated cities in the world.
Riding the bus from the newly refurbished Pyongyang International Airport to Hotel Koryo in downtown Pyongyang, the Azkals saw a glimpse of life in the North Korean capital ahead of their showdown with the hosts in a World Cup Qualifying match on Thursday.
They saw farmers hard at work in a rural area near the airport, before passing through monuments, parks and schools. Just as the Azkals bus approached the city, school children were rehearsing a parade. On intersections, uniformed officers saluted as the Azkals convoy passed.
“To be honest, its better than I thought,” said Azkals midfielder Stephan Schrock. “They’re very well prepared, I guess.”
Noticeably, there are designated bicycle lanes, but electric buses and trains seem to be the main mode of transportation for locals. The Azkals bus also came across a few taxi cabs.
Apartment units and mid-rise buildings abound in the capital with pink, grey, green and light blue as the dominant colors. Huge billboards of late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are plastered on major thoroughfares as well as school buildings.
“I was surprised about the look of North Korea here, from the beautiful airport to the streets, it was very clean,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, the German-American mentor. “The place is very clean and people are very friendly.”
The city is notorious for power outages and players were surprised to see some buildings with no lights.
For several players like Misagh Bahadoran, seeing Pyongyang was like a welcome respite from the chaotic traffic situation in Manila.
Azkals captain Phil Younghusband liked the cool, breezy weather and hoped it stays that way when they face North Korea for a critical Group H game.
The Kim Il-sung Stadium is equipped with astro turf and Younghusband said the playing area is wider than that of Rizal Memorial Stadium and Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
The Azkals were allowed to bring their mobile phones to the country as well as their laptops, although they needed to declare it with customs at the airport.
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