Young Pioneer Tours

Changes in Pyongyang

From following various NK watcher sites lately, it seems change in Pyongyang especially in terms of lighting, electricity, income and traffic girls seems to be a big cause for debate.

Not one to overvalue my two cents, I thought i’d throw them in anyway. Visiting Pyongyang as frequently as I do, probably makes me a little more qualified than most armchair critics. Unfortunately too many people form an opinion or even worse adopt someone elses based on little first hand information or research and then cling doggedly to it. I wish these people would come visit for themselves and then go again a year later, at least it will give them grounds to make comparisons.

The point i’ll focus on is electricity and lighting- I can unequivocally say based on my own first hand observations that Pyongyang is getting brighter at night. Kaeson Youth Park, belts out truckloads of delightful brightness and nearby are apartments so well lit externally, it led one of our punters to call it “Pyongyang’s Vegas”.

There are in my opinion two reasons for this:

1.) Pyongyang is improving economically. As much as this comes as a surprise to people who are determined that the country is stagnant, it’s pretty clear to most frequent visitors. Cellphones, cameras and computers in the hands of locals no longer surprises me. People have a lot more stylish clothing than before and more cars are around.

2.) Chinese mass production of inexpensive energy efficient lighting. Light bulbs have never really been out of  the DPRK’s price range, but producing the electricity to keep them all running wasn’t so easy. Much as the Western world has benefitted from Chinese mass production, so has the DPRK. Lights are now brighter than ever before while simultaneously requiring less energy. Furthermore clothes, cameras and so on are also cheaper.

Now of course, i’m not saying it’s a neon jungle like Tokyo or New York City, merely that it’s definitely clear that it’s progressing in the right direction. Also it’s important to realise that Pyongyang is not always representative of the rest of the country.

Of course lighting is just one factor in the changes seen in Pyongyang, but it’s a good example to use, as it’s clear to anyone who cares to go and see. The downside of this is that the rumours that traffic girls will be retired seems it may be true. It was common over the last two trips I did (April12th-21st for Kim Il Sung’s 100th Birthday and 24th-5th of May featuring Military Foundation Day and May Day) to see traffic girls standing beside the road waiting to catch infringers, rather than actually directing traffic, while local drivers adapted to the ever more present traffic lights.

Hopefully, we’ll see Pyongyang’s traffic girls re-employed as a full on traffic police force. That way everyone will win, even those who speed.


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