Wandering Camera

North Korea (DPRK) - Pyongyang: Parks, streets, food, perestroyka. Part II
(Translated b
y Pavel Sokolov)


Let's continue…


First we will take a short walk in a park.

This park is situated on Moran hill, which means Peony hill.

As far as the name of the park itself, it is called "Moranban youth park", or something along those lines.

A book says that about 180 kinds of trees grow in the park and about 70 bird species live here.
The area of the hill is about 270 hectares.

A painter.

He was highly unhappy about us hanging around him :)

This couple was crossing the bridge, when we were trying to take a picture of them. They immediately stopped and started posing :)
In this and the next picture, the people are singing and dancing in the park on a Sunday.
I even recorder a short video (542kb)

A group of Japanese tourists.

While Chinese tourists could be recognized by the large number of people in the groups, the Japanese are recognizable in the same way the Americans are in Russia - loud talking, gesticulation.

A few words must be said about the food.
I should say that regular Koreans don't eat like this. Dishes like these are cooked in their families only on big holydays.
Their regular rations include different kinds of rice (kasha, soup, rice tea, etc.)
We tried to invite the tour guide girls to restaurants. But things are quite tricky over there, in the sense that the travel agency seems to understand what we need, and tries to help. For example, in some cases it turned out that we didn't have to pay for the food at a restaurant. At the moment when we have to ask for the check all of the service staff seems to disappear, and there is no one to pay.
A scene in a restaurant, where all the waitresses sing and play musical instruments.

Of course tourists are fed like slaughter pigs. A couple of pictures earlier you could see fresh meat, which is placed on a gas burner and fried. In this picture a dish called "Sinsollo" is being prepared. It's kind of a soup and a second dish in one. It consists of thirty or more ingredients, which are added one after another. What's interesting is that the girls were clearly aware of how this or that dish is cooked - they actively cooperated with the waitresses on this.

As a rule, about half the food is very spicy. I.e. it burns so much that it is impossible to eat. Especially prevalent are Kim-Chi - some kind of vegetables with spices. Naturally everyone eats with chopsticks. I used to think that wooden chopsticks were hard to eat with. Boy, was I wrong! : The wooden ones at least catch onto the food, as opposed to the metal ones. However, by the end of the trip I was able to use the metal ones quite well. Although I wasn't holding them quite right (I couldn't hold them the way the girls did). Then, forks are handed out as well.

The food hardest too eat is the local noodles. They are very long, sticky, and cooked to form some type of a clot. Before you eat it, you need to break up the clot with the chopsticks (which supposes being good with them). Even after that, when you try to pick up some of the noodles, the rest of them try to follow :)

A funny situation happened in Vonsan. On the left you can see a small bowl of transparent liquid. Is it water? Yes, that's what we thought. I first started to doubt it when I realized that there is also a glass of water. However, Alexey wasn't bewildered by that, and took a sip out of the bowl.
Right! It was alcohol :)
In addition to this dinner we were offered strawberries (for a fee). They were 10 euros for a little dish.

And this is food to go.

We had somewhat of a picnic in a park. Here you can see kimpab (rice formed in a ring, with dark center, wrapped in sea cabbage), some fried sea food, eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers, and some very exotic food (I just can't remember).

A quite common sight is a person or several people gathering seeds of some weed on the lawn.

In the background - an ice cream sale.

An ice cream saleswoman at another site.

We tried it - it's tasty. It's different from ours, if only a little like the 10 kopeck milk ice cream (childhood memories :)

There are more ice crystals close to the stick, so the ice cream holds on pretty strong.

Now I will talk about something important - perestroika is ongoing in North Korea. It's been about a couple years. It was initiated by Kim Chen Ir. At least there is a feeling that it has to do with the change of leadership after the death of Kim Ir Sen.

Though the North Korean perestroika has much in common with ours, there are differences.

For example in our country everything started with so called "glasnost" or "freedom of speech". I.e. all of the sudden we were allowed to say anything about anyone. As a consequence, situation was out of the government's control rather quickly, since (in addition to an obviously bad economic situation) the government was no longer accepted as legitimate power by the people.

In regards to North Korea, one can not talk about any freedom of speech. Apparently there hasn't been any political change; the government is still in control of the situation in the country.

However there have been economic changes. The foreign currency stores (in the picture) are more widespread. That is to say that (by hearsay) they existed here since the mid-70's, and locals were not denied access to them.

The selection in the stores is wide, especially when it comes to food. It's a little worse with the industrial goods. The modern electronics are pretty expansive (for instance, a SD/MMC card costs about twice as much as in St. Petersburg).

I saw some Koreans in the store (they were well to do of course), there are no noticeable checks or restrictions at the entrance.

Now there are joint businesses with foreigners - restaurants. A restaurant can only be owned by a foreigner - for example Japanese (see a photo above, where a waitress is playing an instrument). The local population can work for a foreign owner, but can not own the restaurant.
Not a bad way to keep the economy under control.

In the picture: The Koreans are shy of carrying their babies behind their back sometimes. As I was told, the South Koreans do this also, however this is "countryside style". Also, I heard that as a result of being carried this way, children's legs can often get disfigured.

A few small streets in the central Pyongyang I would call the window of Perestroika, because all the ground floors are either already renovated in the "euro fix up" style with foreign currency stores or restaurants, or are in the process of such renovation.

About computers in foreign currency stores: interestingly, every single one of them has a monitor filter. This seems to be a directive of the local health ministry (rather strange, if so).
OS is something like Win 95-98 with a Korean local.

Also, there are cooperatives. In the North Korean version, a cooperative is a team, which produces some articles (for instance, collects and dries cochlea beer snack, or makes chewing gum), sells them, and splits up the profit equally among all the members. The types of business and products are limited, and a state license is required.

The result is approximately the same as in our country in the late 1980's: the selection in the cooperative stores is wider than in the state owned stores, but the prices are considerably higher.
The cooperative products are usually of a lower quality than those in the state owned stores (sometimes it's enough to look at the package to realize that).

Among other signs of Perestroika - expansive cars next to regular old ones.

By the way, about cars: there are almost no private cars here. So we were told. I think that makes sense considering the ratio of prices to people's incomes. Among the citizens, only famous actors, scientists and officials can own cars.

The good cars are often driven by military personal (though bad ones are too:)

Some trolleys have stars on them to mark the number of years of driving without accidents. Numbers next to them are thousands of kilometers.

As opposed to our Perestroika, here there is no such side effect as "new Koreans".

It is possible to tell a working man from one with a big salary. But I couldn't notice any extreme showing off one's status or mutual dislike between the social groups.

In general, much about the economy here is reminiscent of the 1987 USSR.

I'll take the freedom to assume that Kim Chen Ir is expecting to implement the Chinese version of reforms.

Though, I suspect that soon he will face serious obstacles. The problem is that next door is the capitalist South Korea. A transition to capitalism by the Chinese method can be seen by the population as a defeat in the war with South Korea. Moreover, such a transition will remove obstacles for unification with the South, which can then swallow the North simply because it has immeasurably more experience in free market existence (remember the "unification" of DDR and FRG)

At the same time, a rapid return to an economy without any private property ownership is hardly possible at this stage (the officials have already realized what profit they can make of a free market).

Though, I am not an Asian scholar. There might be some significant characteristics of mentality, which would save the situation.

Next we will briefly look at Korean nature…



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