Scholar makes use of trash as treasure to check life in North Korea | Health and Health

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — When the waves wash trash onto the seashores of front-line South Korean islands, Kang Dong Wan can usually be discovered attempting to find what he calls his “treasure” — garbage from North Korea that gives a peek into a spot that’s shut right down to most outsiders.

“This can be very important material because we can learn what products are manufactured in North Korea and what goods people use there,” Kang, 48, a professor at South Korea’s Dong-A University, instructed The Associated Press in a current interview.

He was pressured to show to the fragile information-gathering technique as a result of COVID-19 has made it a lot tougher for outsiders to seek out out what’s occurring inside North Korea, one of many world’s most cloistered nations even with out pandemic border closures.

The selection, quantity and rising sophistication of the trash, he believes, confirms North Korean state media studies that chief Kim Jong Un is pushing for the manufacturing of varied sorts of client items and a much bigger industrial design sector to fulfill the calls for of his folks and enhance their livelihoods.

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Kim, regardless of his authoritarian rule, can’t ignore the tastes of customers who now purchase merchandise at capitalist-style markets as a result of the nation’s socialist public rationing system is damaged and its financial woes have worsened in the course of the pandemic.

“Current North Korean residents are a generation of people who’ve come to realize what the market and economy are. Kim can’t win their support if he only suppresses and controls them while sticking to a nuclear development program,” Kang mentioned. “He needs to show there are some changes in his era.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kang repeatedly visited Chinese border cities to fulfill North Koreans staying there. He additionally purchased North Korean merchandise and photographed North Korean villages throughout the river border. He can’t go there anymore, nevertheless, as a result of China’s anti-virus restrictions restrict overseas vacationers.

Since September 2020, Kang has visited 5 South Korean border islands off the nation’s west coast and picked up about 2,000 items of North Korean trash together with snack baggage, juice pouches, sweet wrappers and drink bottles.

Kang mentioned he was amazed to see dozens of various varieties of colourful packaging supplies, every for sure merchandise like seasonings, ice cream bars, snack muffins and milk and yogurt merchandise. Many carry a wide range of graphic components, cartoon characters and lettering fonts. Some nonetheless can appear old-fashioned by Western requirements and are obvious copycats of South Korean and Japanese designs.

Kang lately revealed a ebook primarily based on his work titled “Picking up North Korean Trash on the Five West Sea Islands.” He mentioned he’s now additionally began to scour jap South Korean front-line seashores.

Other specialists examine the range of products and packaging designs in North Korea via state media broadcasts and publications, however Kang’s trash assortment permits a extra thorough evaluation, mentioned Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a web site specializing in well being points in North Korea.

Kang’s work additionally opens up a captivating window into North Korea.

Ingredient info on some juice pouches, as an example, exhibits North Korea makes use of tree leaves as a sugar substitute. Kang suspects that’s due to a scarcity of sugar and sugar-processing tools.

He mentioned the invention of greater than 30 sorts of synthetic taste enhancer packets might imply that North Korean households can’t afford dearer pure components like meat and fish to cook dinner Korean soups and stews. Many South Koreans have stopped utilizing them at house over well being issues.

Plastic baggage for detergents have phrases like “the friend of housewives” or “accommodating women.” Because the belief is that solely girls do such work, it could possibly be a mirrored image of the low standing of girls in male-dominated North Korean society.

Some wrappers show extraordinarily exaggerated claims. One says {that a} walnut-flavored snack cake is a greater supply of protein than meat. Another says that collagen ice cream makes youngsters develop taller and enhances pores and skin elasticity. And one more claims {that a} snack cake made with a sure type of microalgae prevents diabetes, coronary heart illness and getting older.

Kang has been unable to confirm the standard of former contents inside his trash.

North Korean snacks and cookies have typically develop into a lot softer and tastier lately, although their high quality nonetheless lags behind that of South Korea’s internationally aggressive merchandise, in line with Jeon Young-sun, a analysis professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University.

Noh Hyun-jeong, a North Korean defector, mentioned she was “ecstatic” in regards to the South Korean bread and muffins that she ate after her arrival right here in 2007. She mentioned the confectionaries and candies she had within the North had been usually bitter and “as hard as a rock.”

Kang Mi-Jin, one other defector who runs an organization analyzing North Korea’s financial system, mentioned that when she had South Koreans attempt new North Korean cookies and candies in blind style assessments, they thought they had been South Korean. But Ahn, the web site head, mentioned the North Korean cookie he obtained in 2019 was “tasteless.”

Kang mentioned his trash assortment is an try to higher perceive the North Korean folks and examine learn how to bridge the hole between the divided Koreas within the occasion of future unification.

In 2019, Kang mentioned he was denied entry at Shanghai’s airport, apparently due to his earlier, principally unauthorized work alongside the China-North Korea border. During a earlier interval of inter-Korean detente that led to 2008, Kang mentioned he visited North Korea greater than 10 instances however might solely purchase restricted items that didn’t assist him perceive the nation.

Picking up trash on the islands, about 4-20 kilometers (2.5-12 miles) from North Korean territory, is a troublesome job. He most frequently visits Yeonpyeong, an island shelled by North Korea in an assault that killed 4 South Koreans in 2010.

On some journeys, South Korean marines quizzed Kang as a result of residents who noticed him amassing trash thought he was doing one thing suspicious. He was typically stranded when ferry companies had been canceled due to dangerous climate. Kang mentioned he sometimes cried in frustration on the seashore when he failed to seek out North Korean trash or obtained calls from acquaintances jeering or doubting his work.

“But I was heartened after collecting more and more trash … and I determined that I must find out how many goods are in a country where we can’t go and what we can find from that trash,” Kang mentioned. “When the wind blew and the waves ran high, something always washed ashore and I was so happy because I could find something new.”

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