One of the weirder images to emerge from April’s historic, inter-Korean summit was a shot of leaders, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, reacting to a magic trick. Early reports on the summit seemed to indicate the magician was South Korean, but he’s since been identified as Gwang Cheol Kim, a North Korean and one of the current leaders of the Magicians Association of Korea. He’s also the son of the country’s most popular magician and one of the few entertainers to be noted as a “Hero of Socialist Labour,” Kim Thaek Song.
News that North Korea had a magic scene large enough to warrant its own national association – or perhaps it’s the other way around, as these things often tend to be in police states – has prompted an interesting look into the community courtesy of The Diplomat’s Tae-jun Kang.
In North Korea, a magic show is considered to be part of the circus, locally known as “Kyoye,” which is conducted by professional circus groups. According to North Korean culture critic Lim Chae-wook, North Korea provides government-level support to bolster its circus group. It is considered to be a performance art in the North, and circus players, including magicians, are given the title of “Kyoye actor,” he said. On average, one circus group can have up to 100 Kyoye actors.
Becoming a magician in North Korea appears to be somewhat more gruelling than it is elsewhere in the world, though if there’s one thing true about North Korea it’s that it’s often gruelling and lacking in gruel. Hopeful youths looking to make it in the North Korean big tops begin training as young as ten at one of the country’s specially designed training institutions. The schools offer four disciplines, one of which is magic. The training takes about nine years.
North Korea established the Magician’s Association of Korea in 2001, presumably as an attempt to promote magicians separately, rather than as part of the circuses. South Korea has invited association members to attend international events on multiple occasions, including an open invitation to this year’s FISM in Busan, but thus far nothing has come of it.
The article includes more details, and a more in depth look at Kim Thaek Song and his career. I strongly recommend it.
I’m quite fond of magic, but food is my true passion. This fact is obvious to anyone who has ever seen me walk up a flight of stairs. So this latest video from YouTube jetsetters, Simon and Martina Stawski, is entirely my jam. I would also like to eat the jam, please.
The Canadian couple were treated to a tour of Shibuya’s famous nightlife food and drink scene by a tour company called Magical Trip. Conveniently, a street magician turned up half-way through filming to provide the “magical” part of the tour.
Okay, yeah, this video isn’t exactly overflowing with tricks, but look at that fishcake and fried egg thing at ten minutes in. I would vanish that in an instant.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, that tour will run you $55, plus the cost of food and drink. In my case, that latter cost would be substantial.
Being an Englishman, the only thing I know about Wisconsin is its status as a perpetual punchline. According to the terrible American comedies upon which I base my entire world view, Wisconsin is home only to the boring, the pedestrian and the chronically unloved. Wisconsin, I am told, is where romance goes to be euthanized. Yet, Harry Houdini, a strong contender for the most interesting man ever to walk to the earth, was known to proudly claim Appleton, Wisconsin as his honorary birthplace.
And Wisconsin loves him back, according an interesting piece on Culture Trip called “A Historical Guide to Houdini’s Wisconsin.” Appleton’s Houdini Plaza is an obvious tribute to the legendary escapologist. Unfortunately the beautiful, abstract sculpture “Metamorphosis” depicting his signature feat of the same name was removed from its base in the plaza by the city council in 2010 and has been left on its side outside of the Appleton Parks and recreation facility.
The Houdini Club of Wisconsin has been hosting events to promote Houdini’s life and work since 1938. More recent tributes include the Houdini 10k, an annual run that starts with “Houdini-esque” entertainment and ends with pints and song at the Houdini’s Escape Gastropub.
For a less commercial take on Houdini’s life and work, check out the AKA Houdini exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle, formally known as The Houdini Historic Center. The museum is known for its collection of relics from Houdini’s life, but has drawn criticism for revealing the secrets behind his signature tricks. If you’re a Houdini nut, I strongly suggest you start at Coney Island and then work your way back to Wisconsin. Maybe try some of the beer too.
Kismat Ali was just trying to do something nice by delivering the custom vest his brother had ordered from the shopping district of Karol Bagh. He didn’t really think anything of it as he took the vest through security in his carry-on bag, but officials at Indira Ghandi International Airport were concerned. Why were there motors and batteries on a vest? What was its purpose?
“The vest had created a scare as it looked like an improvised explosive device. However, we verified the vest, tested it and also checked the location from where it was bought,” said Sanjay Bhatia, DCP. Still, the fact that Ali couldn’t explain what all the gizmos did was enough cause for alarm that the police were called in.
Eventually, authorities were able to confirm that the vest wasn’t a tool of terrorism, just a magician’s assistant – the garment was festooned with electromagnets to help make objects appear or disappear as needed. Ali’s brother, who’d ordered the vest, is a magician in Assam.
If you’ve ever had a similar run-in with airport security over something weird (but harmless) in your luggage, share it in the comments! And if you ask your brother to pick something up for you, let him in on the secret before he heads to the airport.