Spending Christmas in Pyongyang


On Dec. 24, my plane landed in Pyongyang to a wintry landscape. The ground was peppered with snow and the chill of Pyongyang, in contrast with the lighter winter in Beijing, was a shock. In more pleasant circumstances, I would not have come back so early during winter, over Christmas, especially not after having just visited the previous month. But given the news coming out of North Korea this period, I cannot help but check-in to see how programs for 2014 might be affected.

I managed to squeeze in a Cheese Fondue and some Baileys on Christmas eve (check out Pyolmuri restaurant for goat cheese fondue). Christmas day in Pyongyang was not festive. However, this suited my purpose, as I was able to squeeze in meetings all day long, and even interviewed 9 candidates for a fellowship. This was easy. None of them were suited to the specific program.

The message that was conveyed to us was that people would like to see programs we are working on - focusing on economics, entrepreneurship and legal training - continue. We had a change of partner, and briefed our new partner on programs for 2014. As yet, it is hard to say if there will be policy headwinds for the type of work we do, but at this point in time, partners indicate otherwise.

We will be focusing our attention in the coming month on our Annual Report, as well as examining the New Year Address issued by North Korea every January 1. Through our Women in Business program, and some initial programs in the provinces, we have had over 260 participants take part this year. We are proud that more than 50% of participants were female, that we had 90% female participation rates in our overseas program, and achieved 15-20% selectivity for our overseas programs. As one young participant remarked, she thought Choson Exchange had launched the first-ever female-focused training program in North Korea.