A Pyongyang Home Companion
No. 2: Exploring the
Cosmos - UPDATED!

The DPRK's ubiquitous flower and hairpin.

Cosmos in Kaesong

In spring and summer a small colorful flower lines the roads of Korea in pinks, purples, whites, reds, and oranges. Bowing gently in the wind against a pale blue sky, this is the Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus; Kr.코스모스).

The Cosmos is a New World flower native to Mexico’s highlands and Spanish explorers first brought it to the Old World. This hardly plant eventually made its way to mountainous Korea sometime between 1910-20. It is well-suited for Korea’s climate and can be grown in almost every region of the country.

Cosmos in full bloom on the roadside.

Easy-to-grow and hardy, one can directly seed Cosmos after the last frost. Cosmos can grow in poor soil and like full-sun, which is why they well accompany roadside spaced, and also make a good addition to any garden. They require little maintenance and are rarely afflicted by pests. At the end of the season, seeds can be collected for planting next year. Sometimes the Cosmos reseeds by itself.

Cosmos hairpins!

In Korea the Cosmos is considered bright and beautiful, "just like the women of Korea- the brightest and most beautiful in the world," according to one local floral guide. The flower is said to inspire happiness, romance, and the purity of youth. For this reason, the largest hairpin brands in the country share the name.

Like the flower,“…Cosmos-brand hairpins are different in kind, shape, pattern and colour to suit the aptitude and liking of the Korean women” (Naenara.com).

These make for excellent gifts unique to the DPRK and can be purchased for around 2 EUR. You can find Cosmos hairpins at the Minye Handicraft Exhibition in the Central District, Kwangbok Shopping Centre in Mangyondae District, and other locations throughout the country.

Update: A reader brought to our attention to the Japanese 1980's synth band 'Cosmos', themselves of no known direct relation to the DPRK, but whose style and funky jams seems all together appropriate. The best keytarist we know personally is North Korean.

A Pyongyang Home Companion is a guide to daily life in Korea: how-to, food, sports, modern culture, and romance.

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