Summit Reveals Fashionable Pyongyang

Korea Times
Kim Tong-hyung
10/5/2007

It will be quite a long time before Pyongyang earns its stripes as a hip and happening city if it ever does. But, judging by the glimpses revealed during the three-day summit, it seems that not all is gray and grim in the North Korean capital.

First lady Kwon Yang-suk and other South Korean officials ran into a room full of headsets Wednesday at Pyongyang’s Grand People’s Study Hall as students managed to keep a straight face scribbling down English conversations played on tape.

“Repeating is the best,” said a North Korean student when asked what is the secret to learning English, providing no relief to his peers in the South who hear the same thing until their eardrums wear out.

Perhaps improving cooperation between the two Koreas will do little to better the foreign language skills of students from either side of the border who grab English books with the same enthusiasm as a kid force-fed vegetables.

However, it seems clear that Pyongyang’s youngsters of today are more concerned about internationalization than they appeared in the first inter-Korean summit seven years ago.

South Korean delegates went on to tour the Kim Chaek University of Technology where they found students, mostly studying English, searching for video files and text stored in computers.

The university’s library has 420 desktop computers, 2 million books and more than 10 million electronics books that can be accessed via a local area network (LAN) connection or from telephone modems at home.

North Korean officials were eager to show their elite students studying English to South Korean authorities, quiet a surprise from a country dominated by the “Juche,” or self-reliance, ideology.

And at least on the educational front, it seems that computers are becoming a part of everyday life for Pyongyang’s younger generation, although they are far behind their tech-savvy southern neighbors who have television on their cell phones.

Not every picture of change in Pyongyang was staged. South Korean correspondents have sent photos of young North Korean women gliding through the streets in clothes that seemed to be ripped from Vogue magazine. Some even had heavy mascara that would qualify them for a Johnny Depp pirate movie.

Bright colors of yellow and pink were easily seen among the women waving their hands to the limousine convoy of South Korean delegates upon their Pyongyang arrival.

Surely, North Korean fusionists have come a long way since their universally pale makeup and grayish attire seen by South Korean reporters during the 2000 summit.

Even North Korean government officials involved in the formal talks looked a little more contemporary than last remembered, with many of them suited up in tailor-cut, three-button suits.

The security officials looked better too. Gone were the bodyguards with big hats, khaki uniforms and oversized gun holsters who flocked around former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung back in the first talks.

Instead, North Korean bodyguards today were dressed in black suits and moved with a hand on their earpieces, making them hardly distinguishable them from their South Korean counterparts.

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