Tickets to see North Korea's orchestra play at the Winter Olympic Games have become the hottest tickets in town with the concert more oversubscribed than many of the sporting events themselves.
Over 150,000 South Koreans have applied for only 1,060 tickets for the rare opportunity to see the Samjiyon orchestra play in two performances in the Olympic city of Gangneung on Thursday, and Seoul on Sunday.
The Ministry of Reunification, a South Korean government department aimed at promoting inter-Korean dialogue and culture, said that initially only 560 tickets were available for the Gangneung performance, and 500 for the Seoul concert.
Tickets are free for the 90-minute performances but have been so over-subscribed that the South Korean authorities reduced the number of government-invitees in order to increase public participation. As such, it has increased the seats available for the Seoul performance to 1,000.
Audiences will be selected through a raffle, in which organizers will randomly draw among those registered under police observation to ensure it is "clear and fair." Two tickets will be allocated per selected person, the ministry said. The musical program that the orchestra will play is unknown.
The 140-member orchestra is part of a wider delegation sent by North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK) to the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. As well as the musicians, the group contains dancers, singers, Taekwondo experts and a 230-strong cheerleading squad. And there is, of course, the 22 athletes sent by the DPRK to compete in the Games.
With the men dressed in suits and women in identical red coats with fur collars and calve-length boots, the North Korean delegation of around 400 people was met with international curiosity. The media was keen to get a glimpse of the DPRK's athletic and cultural delegation arriving in South Korea by air, land and sea.
The orchestra is led by Hyon Song-wol, a North Korean singer and politician rumored to have once been the lover of leader Kim Jong Un. Once in a pop band herself, she reportedly had hits in North Korea with the songs "Excellent Horse-Like Lady," "Footsteps of Soldiers," "I Love Pyongyang," "She is a Discharged Soldier" and "We are Troops of the Party," according to an NPR profile.
Public interest in the orchestra has not necessarily spread to the Games themselves with ticket sales for the Olympics getting off to a slow start with the cold and windy weather (the current temperature in PyeongChang is minus-10 degrees Celsius) putting people off.
On Tuesday, Lee Hee-beom, the president of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee (POCOG) conceded that overall ticket sales were "not bad."
Lee also told a press conference that the committee had basically achieved a balanced budget, news agency Xinhua reported.
"As of February 5, we had sold 77.3 percent of the tickets, meaning, 826,000 tickets were sold, with a daily average sales of more than 7,000 tickets," said Kim Ki-hong, a POCOG senior official at the press conference.
He added the tickets for the opening and closing ceremony and events such as figure skating, semifinals and finals for men's ice hockey had been particularly popular with the public.
To allay fears over the cold, POCOG President Lee said the estimated 35,000 people at the opening ceremony would have a kit to protect them from the cold, including a beanie, a blanket, a hot pack set, a cushion and a raincoat.
He also promised more heaters, wind shields, snack bars with hot food and heated rest areas at the roofless opening ceremony venue, Xinhua reported.
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