History15 Nov 2010 05:40 am
The difference between North and South Korea is genuinely jarring: while mass starvation and a dying economy continue to plague North Korea, one only has to look south of the border to see a cosmopolitan nation thoroughly enjoying the fruits of its prosperity and success. In particular, the “sister” villages of Daeseong-dong and Kijong-dong- divided by the three-mile-wide, 151-mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the democratic Republic of Korea in the south and communist North Korea- dramatically illustrates the shocking disparity in the quality of life enjoyed in both countries.
By way of background, as part of the armistice agreement that “ended” the Korean War, each side was allowed to keep one village within the demilitarized zone. The only civilians on the southern half of the DMZ live in Daeseong-dong – nicknamed “freedom village” – who are protected by the UN command and receive above average, tax-free incomes. In return for this potentially Faustian bargain, the approximately 210 villagers must spend at least 240 nights a year at home in order to retain residency. Sure, Kim Jong Ill’s trigger-happy minions are only a few miles away, but you really can’t beat these benefits.
Alas, conditions aren’t quite so luxe in the Northern village of Kijong-dong, though it is home to the world’s highest flagpole (525 ft) and heaviest flag (600 lb). The North Korean government swears up and down that the village is home to a 200-family collective farm, serviced by a childcare center, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and a hospital.
The picturesque village features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments, many apparently wired for electricity – these amenities represent an unheard-of level of luxury for any rural Korean in the 1950s, north or south. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings next to the massive DPRK flag would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from across the border.
However, scrutinizing Kijong-dong through a half decent telescopic lens suggests otherwise. The town is actually uninhabited, and the Easter egg colored apartment buildings are mere concrete shells that lack window glass or even interior rooms, with building lights turned on and off at set times and empty sidewalks swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity. North Korean farmers till nearby fields during the day and are removed from the area at night.
In an effort to make this little northern gem even more enticing to potential southern defectors, blaring loudspeakers blast condemnatory anti-Western propaganda speeches, Communist agitprop operas, and patriotic marching music at high volume for up to 20 hours a day.
The North Korean government needs to inject some new blood into their marketing department, because this ad campaign is not selling anyone….
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