Saturday, April 6, 2013

AP's Jean Lee visits Kaesong

With the inter-Korean industrial park at Kaesŏng, just inside North Korea, at ground zero in the war of words between Seoul and Pyongyang, the Associated Press bureau chief for Pyongyang decided to pay a visit and describe just what this limbo land is all about.
An excerpt, via the Orange County Register:
Kaesong seems like a slice of South Korea transplanted in North Korea, especially when driving in from Pyongyang.

From downtown Kaesong, the road to the factory park on the outskirts of town runs past rice paddies and simple cottages with tiled roofs. Oxen trudge along the sides pulling carts and a man cycles by with a dead pig strapped to back of his bicycle. A woman sitting by the side of the road has her head in her hands, a small cooler of drinks for sale next to her.

Enter the military-guarded gate to the vast, sparsely populated factory park and you'll find a Hyundai Oilbank gasoline station, two convenience stores with plastic picnic tables outside and a branch of the South Korea's Woori Bank. There are blue road signs in English and Korean, and lane dividers and bike lanes on the road. None of those things exist in the rest of North Korea.

The complex has stoplights, unlike downtown Kaesong, but not much traffic besides the Hyundai buses that shuttle North Koreans workers to and from work, and the Kia, Hyundai and Ssangyong cars driven by the South Korean managers.
She tours one of the factories:
The propaganda on the walls here is about health and safety: "Beware of fires!" ''Wash your hands carefully!" There's a ping pong table with balls emblazoned with the word "peace" — sometimes the competition is fierce.

The interaction between the North and South Koreans is collegial and cordial, but Chun and Hong say socializing is kept to a minimum. The South Koreans dine separately from the North Koreans, eating food brought from the South and stored in their own refrigerator.

The question of how North Korean workers are paid is a thorny one, with many believing that the government takes a large cut of the salaries. Hong said he pays the employees directly.

The average Kaesong worker makes more than $110 a month, said Pak, the North Korean official. Trainees make less, but an "incentive-based" system allows workers to earn as much as $150 a month, he said.

"With overtime, they can earn bonuses," Pak said, speaking to AP in September in a conference room with portraits of Kim Jong Il and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung hanging behind him. Discussion of bonuses and incentives has been associated with directive from leader Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Il and grandson of Kim Il Sung.

At clothing maker ShinWon's three gleaming, futuristic buildings, the toilets are South Korean and the sewing machines are Japanese. Even the pantry is stocked with South Korean snacks.

Workers are dressed in blue bonnets and in uniforms with "ShinWon" stitched in English on the spot where they'd normally wear a loyalty pin bearing their leaders' portraits.
Frankly, the Twilight Zone-esque quality that I imagine Kaesŏng to hold is one big reason I'd like to visit this place. Articles like this only add to that, but I'll wait until this all blows over just the same, thanks.

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