Beautifying the City

One thing l noticed about Pyongyang was how clean and tidy the city (or certainly the parts there-of we got to see) was. There are two reasons for this – one proffered by our guide and an additional one added by me.

The guide will tell you that the cleanliness is due to the pride that citizens have in their beloved city. Rather than have paid council workers clean the streets, etc (though I imagine there would be some) a major part of the cleaning and beautification is carried out by local residents. Residents, including their children, (organised into work groups, working on a rota basis) on their day off normal work, ‘enthusiastically and lovingly’ engage in trimming or planting hedges and grass (blade by blade), watering grass and plants, picking up rubbish and painting the trunks of trees (pest control) and other beautification activity along the roads and in public areas of the city. This activity was particularly evident during our stay, as residents readied their streets and the city generally for Kim Il-sung’s 102nd birthday celebrations.

What was explained to us as people planting grass (a new everlasting strain just developed by Kim Jong-un!) was greeted with some scepticism by a number of our group. This scepticism was based on well publicised stories of starving North Koreans harvesting grass for human consumption. Personally, I believe that those we saw bent over containers of grass on roadside verges in Pyongyang were, in fact, planning it as opposed to harvesting it. I would need a lot more convincing that those bent over containers of grass along the country highways we travelled were planting as opposed to harvesting the grass.

I indicated that I felt there was an additional reason for the cleanliness of the city and that is that people have little to drop in the street in the first place. Counter to this argument is that 90% of North Korean males smoke (it is rare for females to smoke) and I do not recall seeing a cigarette butt anywhere in the city. Perhaps the penalties for littering are such that people do not litter!

It was a little unclear as to whether taking photos of this beautification activity was permitted or not. Did it fall under one of the prohibited categories such as taking photos of people going about their day to day business or taking photos of things that might portray the country in a bad light (certainly our taking photos of a broken down trolleybus was deemed to fall into the latter category and was thus prohibited)?

I have included photos here on the basis that they help portray the image of Pyongyang as a clean and tidy city in which the citizens take pride.

This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang.  I suggest you continue with my next entry – Street Advertising and Murals – or to start the loop at the beginning go to –  Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other


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