Some street smarts for the sidewalks of Pyongyang
And clicking along the cobbled stones
That's the sound of the ice-cream man
Comin' up the lane callin'
Workin' while the rain's fallin'
Ragman, your song of the street
Keeps haunting my memory.
-The Band, Rags and Bones
As Buckaroo Banzai once said: “No matter where you go…there you are.” Although sometimes in Pyongyang it is difficult to know exactly just where you are. Not every building has a clear signage as to what it is and some areas of the city look surprisingly similar, at least to the first time visitor.
Along Pyongyang’s sidewalks are small ankle-level square markers delineating the boundaries between different organizations and their respective regions of roadside responsibility. On each, squarely facing the street is written “Road Responsibility Area” (도로담당구간) and on either side is the name of each of the two units the marker separates. Let’s look at some examples:
Example #1: History Museum (력사박물관)
Example #2: Vegetable Shop (남새상점*)
Example #3: Western Suit Shop (양복점)
In each case, the denoted work unit is responsible for keeping the sidewalk clean and maintaining the grass in their delineated area. Roadside grass patches are a relatively new development in Pyongyang. At least between 1980’s-2000’s much of today’s roadside grass areas were formally exposed dirt, making the city of the past a much dustier place than in recent years.
Citywide grass upkeep is highly decentralized, like many things, and one can regularly see a particular work unit’s employees or a neighborhood’s residents out in the mornings or evenings watering or cutting a particular patch of grass. Such decentralization of turf territory is also common at farms, schools, or institutions, where a particular production brigade, class of students, or department is assigned a specific plot of grass to maintain. Usually a small hand painted sign demarks their turf.
At locations of national importance, specific works units from nearby also take responsibility for a particular plot of grass. However, these locations also have their own on-site grounds keeping staff.
Pyongyang has a Turfgrass Institute, which is part of the State Academy of Science and carries out research on grass varieties. From time to time, information on how to best maintain grass is disseminated in state media, such as in the newspaper Rodong Sinmun (로동신문).
Those of us at The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the DPRK hope our postings will help to make any visit to Korea well-grounded and informative. As always, remember: “Don’t be mean. We don’t have to be mean. Cause remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”
*남새 is a northern Korean word for vegetables. When in Pyongyang, you must try the 남새방 or vegetable bun.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the DPRK – Practical tips for travel in Korea.