The North Korean traffic girls are instantly iconic and one of the most immediately recognisable sights of the DPRK. But what, exactly, is their story?
Once upon a time, traffic lights were, much like the rest of the world, not a thing in North Korea. In this benighted time, it was necessary for some good old-fashioned human traffic control; this came in the form of traffic police. Traffic cops can still be found throughout North Korea, but whereas they tend to be more mature gentlemen in the rural areas, in Pyongyang they have wisely opted for traffic officers of a more comely persuasion. In the process, a Pyongyang legend was born.
But progress marches on, and in the past few years North Korea’s traffic has increased significantly, resulting in the need for the newfangled automated control system we in the West call ‘traffic lights’. At this point many pondered what such a techno-dystopian future might hold for the beloved Pyongyang traffic girls (and also the elderly gentlemen of the likes of Chongjin). Thankfully North Korea is a socialist state, and socialism mandates jobs for everyone. Thus it is that North Korea traffic girls remain in business and we continue to have our iconic photo opportunities.
Whilst there is no official Pyongyang Traffic Girl Tour (one wonders quite how it would be marketed without straying into lasciviousness), we do try to provide photo ops when in the capital. When we visit the excellent Korean Foreign Language Publishing House (the bookshop), there is usually a traffic girl directly in front of the building. If you’re really lucky, you might get to see the quasi-militaristic ‘changing of the guard’ when she finishes her shift. Those visiting Pyongyang in the winter need not fear – neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night (OK, so the last one maybe) stays these fearsome ladies from their appointed duties; they simply don fetching fur hats before continuing their traffic direction.
Many a customer has inquired after buying a traffic girl costume, for reasons we discreetly did not delve into. Alas, traffic lights may now be a thing in North Korea, but cosplay has yet to reach their innocent shores.
Check out Pyongyang Traffic Girls for yourself on one of our many tours!.