Bikes in Kaesong

parked bike
parked bike

Daily NK reported this week that a 20 year old order forbidding the riding of bikes by women was repealed in August. No one seems to know exactly when the order was instituted, nor when it was repealed. North Koreans I talked to disagreed amongst themselves, with some saying the rule had actually been dead for three or four years, and others saying several months.

Certainly, whatever they'd been, the rules seem to be another example of Pyongyang exceptionalism: to see a woman on a bicycle in the capital is rare, but elsewhere it is exceedingly common. Moreover, some have estimated that while a decade ago, 30-40% of households had a bike, now it is up to around 70%.

The increase shows. Recently, both Koreans and visitors have noted that bicycles in and out of the capital generally seem shiny and new.  Absent are the clunky 25 kilo rustbuckets than one finds all over Beijing. (Of course, Beijing's plummeting bicycle use is now something the government seeks to reverse.)

On a recent trip to the DPRK, we noted that in particular, Kaesong seems to have enjoyed an explosion of bike use. Streets that were a few years ago dominated by pedestrians are now clogged with bicycles. (Check out this gorgeous shot, apparently from this winter. More here from the same photographer.) This can only be due to to the influence of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The KIC has grown consistently since it opened in 2005 and now has over 50,000 employees. This is out of a total Kaesong population of something like 300,000, so one in six Kaesongers/Kaesongites/Kaesongians works directly in the zone. This means the vast majority of Kaesong families will be in some way dependent on the KIC for income. Income that apparently that has gone towards more bikes. Good news for them, wages have been bumped up 5% this month. The bad news being this almost certainly does not keep pace with inflation.

Nonetheless, people can now get around better than ever before in this city where someday they will literally bike to South Korea in under half an hour.