- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 1129 Hour
- Reading permission
Editor's note: The following was translated and edited from a blog post that appeared on iFeng.com's blog highlight section. In it, a Chinese blogger visits North Korea on a work trip and manages to gain a rare glimpse of North Korean life not usually afforded to tourists. The article talks about the challenges of love and marriage in a poverty-stricken, militaristic society, with occasional comparisons to his own country in previous eras.|
When I went to North Korea, I was told I couldn't bring a cell phone or a computer, just a camera. And I couldn't take photos freely. Later I met the president of a local Chinese organization who told me that, because North Korea knows about 3G phones, they're afraid people might upload some unflattering photos and instantly disseminate them across the globe via satellite, humiliating the Great Leader. I did as I was told, leaving my cell phone and my laptop back in China. Thus I entered the poor and mysterious nation known as North Korea armed with only a camera at my side.
My first stop was the city of Rason, the northernmost city in Korea. Because I was here on business, not travel, I was able to avoid the usual tourist route and actually sit down with some real North Koreans and have a chat over some beers. When I was little I saw the North Korean film The Flower Girl. Back then I didn't even have facial hair, but I knew the beauty of North Korean women. After arriving in North Korea, the first attractive woman I saw was a waitress named Eunhee Park. When she brought over a plate of fresh mushrooms, I tried out a Korean phrase I just learned: "Arundasumida" ("You're very pretty"). She blushed instantly, as cute as a red Fuji apple. I was surprised to hear her respond in Chinese: "Xiexie".
Eunhee wasn't wearing makeup, just some lipstick, but she still looked as pure as a lotus flower. It wasn't until I got a better look at the rest of the city that I realized there's only one kind of cosmetics in the whole town, an oily, milky substance like something out of a rural Chinese factory in the 80's. Eunhee's actually only 25 years old, and as the official accompanying us divulged, she doesn't have a boyfriend. Such a cute girl and no boyfriend? Now that's what I call a waste of resources.
Not enough men to go around
Mr. Kim, an economics official in Rason's municipal government, told me that in North Korea, the ratio of eligible men to women is extremely lopsided. Unlike China, it's not the men that are frequently left behind—it's the women. There simply aren't enough eligible bachelors, leading to cities full of "surplus" women.
When I asked, Mr. Kim told me why: under the national principle of songun ("military first"), the military is the soul of the nation, thus young people must serve in the military, usually 10 years for field army recruits. That's why even the prettiest girls often never get a chance to meet Mr. Right. When the men – who are usually poor – finally retire from military service at age 30, single women can get very competitive, and the advantage usually goes to whoever's family has the most money.
Eunhee saves money constantly, almost never buying unnecessary food or makeup, all so she can have enough to win over a returning hero and show him she's got enough for a large dowry. I suddenly felt sympathetic toward Eunhee. In China, she could probably get a nice guy with a car and a house without spending too much of her own money. She even speaks some Chinese.
International marriages have no chance
I jokingly asked her, "What if you married me?" She blushed again, saying "No way". It was only later when I asked Mr. Kim that I realized Eunhee didn't mean "No way, I don't want to", she meant "No way, that's impossible". The reason is simple: there's no such thing as an international marriage in North Korea. If a Chinese person wanted to marry Eunhee, the only possible way would be for him to become a North Korean citizen.
Rason is also home to a large body of water called Rason Bay. Next to the bay, there's a small forest of pines with a plaque designating "Ocean Park". I went there on a walk one day and discovered this place doesn't look anything like what I would call a park, besides a little road and a few places to sit. But it's exactly this kind of place that young North Koreans visit to be romantic. No hugging, of course, and no kissing, nothing crazy, just some reserved giggling and general shyness. Suddenly I felt like I was back in the 70's. At the time, Chinese people were like this too: pushing a bicycle, arms-length away from your girlfriend, walking foolishly along a little road like this until dusk, not daring to hold hands, just an innocent mess of emotions. Boys are scarce here, so even though there are a few brave couples who meet on their own, most are still coworkers or introduced by family or friends.
When North Koreans get married, their new living space is allocated by their work unit, but the furniture they provide themselves. The woman's family must provide a bicycle, a sewing machine, and a chest. Wealthy families throw in a TV or a quilt. Cars are still a far-off concept for them. In the entire city, only the People's Chairman (mayor), has a car. That's why you never see trucks on the roads, just tractors from the farms. North Korean weddings are always held at home, since there are no hotels in the city, plus there's no money for it anyway. Rason's biggest eatery is a recently built cold noodle restaurant. Kind of like a Chinese worker's inn (工农兵饭店) back in the day: a nationally-owned restaurant, one in every small town. A North Korean's love story is as simple as that. One kiss and you're in it for life.