Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week’s question is:
Are there regional rivalries in North Korea? Do people from Kangwon Province look down on those from the Hamgyong provinces, or vice versa?
Regional rivalries exist in North Korea but not to the extent of those in the United States and South Korea. Regional rivalries exist between Northerners and Southerners in the U.S. and between Gyeongsang and Jeolla residents, for example, in South Korea. Regionalism in North Korea is not that prevalent.
But people do have names to call people from other provinces. It’s hard to tell whether people from other regions in North Korea have the same opinion. But I’ll tell you everything I know about the regionalism that existed in my hometown in North Korea.
The image of Pyongyangites is that they are lazy people who like to have fun in life
First, Pyongyang: The image of Pyongyangites is that they are lazy people who like to have fun in life and that they are not the people who work the hardest. I think there’s some truth in this. I met many people from Pyongyang while I was in North Korea and most of them were more into having fun in life rather than work. People in rural areas are more honest about their feelings. Therefore, when they don’t feel like working or studying, they would speak their mind and say that they want to take the day off.
But people from Pyongyang aren’t direct and they won’t speak their mind or feelings to you. So, when they don’t feel like working, they don’t want to say it directly, probably because they don’t want to offend you. But they will find a way to get out of work earlier anyway. I’m not saying this applies to all people in Pyongyang. But this is the notion most North Koreans have about people from Pyongyang.
Second, people from Chagang Province: Again, I’m not saying this is true about everyone from Chagang Province, but people think that those from Chagang province are more likely to be frauds than people from other regions. Back in my hometown, seven out of 10 people who were scammed got scammed by those from Chagang province. Chagang province was not that far away from my province, but they spoke with a very different accent. People in my hometown sound very abrupt and stern. But people in Chagang province speak very gently, which makes people feel comfortable. Thanks to this, those from Chagang province find it easy to scam people from my province.
In fact, I got scammed three times in North Korea, and all three times it was someone from Chagang province who scammed me. Fortunately, I got my money back in the end, but it took lots of time and effort to catch them and get my money back. Since then, I have become more cautious toward people from Chagang province. Of course, not everyone from Chagang province is a scammer, but I can’t help but be suspicious and have low opinions of those from Chagang province.
Third, people from Hwanghae Province: They’re the most innocent, naïve people in North Korea. There’s one legendary story: Back in the day when Korea was under Japanese imperialism, when Hwanghae people were captured and transported by a Japanese police officer, who fell asleep on the way, they didn’t even dare to run away. Instead, they would try to wake him up by telling him, “Mr. Police Officer, we won’t get there in time. Please, wake up.”
Women from Hamgyong tend to be more tough and aggressive than those from other regions
Next, people from Hamgyong provinces: Women from Hamgyong tend to be more tough and aggressive than those from other regions. I think it’s a good quality for women to survive in this tough world. But because these women tend to be aggressive in every situation, people don’t want to deal with women from Hamgyong. Back in my hometown, we had a neighbor who was a woman from Hamgyong. People in my hometown didn’t have a good opinion of her because she was loud and she would do anything to get what she wanted for her own interests and benefit. People in my neighborhood never liked her. When she sensed that people started avoiding her, she tried to change her attitude and later, she became more accepted by people in my hometown. Still, most women from Hamgyong make good housewives since they’re tough and they work hard to support their families.
Lastly, people from Ryanggang province: Ryanggang province is the most capitalist province in North Korea. Everything has a price there. Money can buy everything there. People in Ryanggang province must be very used to it, but to people in other regions this capitalist culture appear to be heartless. But surprisingly, Ryanggang people are the most giving people in North Korea. Ryanggang province is where most kotjebi – homeless children who wonder in search of food – settle in because people are likely to give them more food out of generosity.
Because the viciously cold weather in Ryanggang province, it isn’t the ideal place for farming or growing fruits. Yet, these kotjebi head to Ryanggang province because people in Ryanggang are the biggest givers. In other provinces and regions, when kotjebi steals food, people are likely to chase after them, hit them, and take the food back. But in Ryanggang province, people are so generous, they don’t chase after kotjebi even when they steal food. Most of times, they would voluntarily give some money to these kotjebi. My own mother even took kotjebi to our house and invited them to have dinner with us. She also shared some of our holiday foods to these kotjebi. One of those kotjebi stopped by our house later and thanked us. He told us that he stopped begging for food and began running small errands for people and even started a family. Before, I didn’t understand why my mom would invite kotjebi to have dinner with us at our table. But after I met this guy who came by our house to thank us, I changed my mind and realized what my mom did was a right thing and it could even change one person’s life.
Please, keep in mind that you shouldn’t make a generalization based on what I said in this column. All of these are purely my opinion and based on my particular experiences and encounters. Other North Koreans may never sense or notice any kind of regional rivalries in North Korea. It’s never good to have a prejudice about some people or objects. Likewise, you shouldn’t form your opinion about North Korea based on the rumors or prejudice.
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Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld