Where in the world is this? DPRK of course, but I find it striking that the below pics from the Rason seaside park could be of healthy and happy children at play in any random park in the first world – more visual testimony of how quickly North Korea is modernizing for the better.
The Rason shoe factory is one of the various light industry sites open to tourists in the North Korean Special Economic Zone. Unlike the bustling Rason textile factory, the shoe factory was only running at half capacity on my visit. Factory officials embarrassingly explained that output was down due to sanctions – although that seemed a dubious excuse after having witnessed the busy textile factory production floors. But then again, I’m not an expert on sanctions, and keeping North Korean high heels off the international market might truly be part of American strategy to force regime change.
Closed during the height of the spring 2013 tensions, the Kaesong Industrial Complex will probably never be a tourist attraction, even if reopened. But if light industry is your thing, it is still possible to gain access and check out the behind the scenes action at various factories in the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Despite sanctions, one of the busiest factories I visited in Rason was the textile and garment plant. During our visit my group was led to the 2nd floor production halls where we watched Chinese supervisors make rounds to oversee the quality of work of the local North Korean staff.
There were no children working at the plant, the work space was clean and well ventilated, and in the parking lot we witnessed the distribution of the worker’s monthly rations. But for those who must have controversy and scandal when it comes to North Korean issues, I can report that the tags on the jackets being produced there claimed “Made in China”.
Students hit the books at the Pyongyang Grand Peoples Study House.
I’m out on the Pacific Ocean, 4 days Southeast of Hawaii, and just one month into a four month rotation on a scientific research ship conducting expeditions from San Diego to Japan.
Being on the ocean gives a person the gift of a lot of free time away from the normal distractions of life. With that time I have started to study the Korean language; for these cruises I brought with me the Pimsleur audio Korean course (great for the days when I’m walking the deck for a little exercise), as well as several textbooks and workbooks, and a ton a Korean language learning podcasts. Its going as well as one could expect, some things are starting to stick, all the honorific tenses are confusing, but the hangul characters are not too bad – kinda fun actually.
Of course nothing beats time working with a real teacher in a native environment, and that’s just what Young Pioneer Tours is offering this summer to those who join up with their first ever Rason Korean Language Tour.
Far off the beaten track (up until 2009 no western foreign tourist had ever visited), a trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone allows for special opportunities; Rason is the only place in the DPRK where foreigners are legally allowed to use North Korean currency and to mix freely with locals while shopping in the public markets – this is your opportunity to pick up all your own school supplies and practice your daily lessons as you buy fresh seafood for the nightly BBQ. Rason is also the only place where visitors (expect for Americans and Japanese) can get a North Korean visa stamped into their passport.
This tour has time scheduled for local sightseeing but the focus of this trip will be classroom time for the study of basic Korean with a North Korean instructor. You will also visit the local foreign language institute for conversational exchanges with older students, and have the chance to develop a lesson plan and teach an English class to elementary children!
Already proficient at the basic level? Alternative intermediate or advanced class time can be arranged.
Young Pioneer Tours will be running this tour in Aug 2013, unfortunately I’m going to be at my professional job at that time, but I’m certainly interested in doing this trip myself. I will be making my first trip up to Rason this spring; by my following vacation in the fall of 2013 I will be qualified to run this program on a custom basis if anyone is interested.
I peaked into a North Korean hotel kitchen and found this sign.
For the scheduled Aug language tour, as well as any of Young Pioneer Tours scheduled tours, a referral from me can get you 5% off!