On the online version of ‘The New York Times’, Thomas Fuller filed his story: ‘Where Koreans go to reunify [hint: it’s not the Koreas].
In a way, it’s not a ‘new’ story since the heart of the reporting described a North Korean venture in restaurants appropriately called ‘Pyongyang’, with waitresses who sing, dance, and play drums, the accordion, synthesiser, and the like. The food is prepared by North Korean professional cooks.
The restaurant is part of a chain which extends to Bangladesh, Dubai, Laos, and Nepal.
North Koreans are nothing but ‘entrepreneurial’, a quality which the US, South Korean, and western press overlook at their own peril since they are more engaged in a propaganda war against the DPRK.
Of course, ‘Pyongyang’ is a means to earn hard currency that onerous and mean spirited sanctions deny North Korea.
What Fuller does tell us: Cambodia, more specifically Siem Reap, the home of the famous temples of Angkor Wat, is a pole of attraction for South Koreans. ‘Pyongyang’ allows them to rub shoulders with fellow Koreans from the North, something which, under the ‘revanchist’ regime of Lee Myung bak is denied them. Like the ‘forbidden fruit’, the North intrigues the Southerners who are not only curious about the North, but cherish the hope that one day North and South will be finally reunited. If anything, the ‘fraternisation’, no matter how superficial, indicates a desire for a thaw on a ‘person to person’ basis on the part of the South Koreans.
‘Pyongyang’ does not engage in heavy handed propaganda but appeals to common Korean identity ethnically and historically between the two Koreas. As such, it might not come as a surprise that a modified ‘Sunshine Policy’ could be restored after the 2012 presidential elections if the GNP loses which it very well might.
Westerners might blink at the thought of a North Korean restaurant, say, in Cambodia. Why Cambodia? Well, if the western media had been on their toes, they would have found out that the Kingdom of Cambodia and the DPRK have long standing good relations. A son of Norodom Sinhanouk studied there; Kim Il Sung offered refuge to the former prince and king during the American and Vietnam invasions of his kingdom, when he was much vilified by the US and afterwards by the Vietnamese in Hanoi.
In spite of sanctions and threats of war, it may come as a surprise to Americans in particular, North Korea is not unwelcome in Asia and Africa and spottily in Latin America, as well as in some countries in Europe.
Fuller’s article does not dwell on these details since they do not add colour to his story of South Koreans thoroughly enjoying themselves at a North Korean owned and run ‘Pyongyang’ in Cambodia.