Gregory Pence’s latest cartoon for Daily NK juxtaposes the striking mountains of South & North Korea, and the colloquial sighs of two weary hikers (“아이고”’s modern English equivalent is either “Whew” or “Ugh” depending on context). Whereas in South Korea people regularly flock to mountain trails for recreation, the same is not altogether true in North Korea where people still eke out a living by harvesting berries or herbs by hand. This contrast has become even more severe due to the North Korean state’s mandates. Following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the Sino-North Korean border, many North Koreans cannot participate in the market as before due to the collapse of supply chains. Consequently, they have adopted alternative methods en masse—such as mobilized berry-picking—to meet quotas and fill government coffers. This is not an exception to the norm; North Korea has invariably forced citizens to either contribute money or labor to state efforts ranging from construction projects to road maintenance. And while picking berries can prove laborious, reports from the country suggest that it’s not all bad: scaling the mountains of Ryanggang Province may actually constitute both a welcome distraction from the frightening realities of the state’s cash-strapped economy and a valuable opportunity to see a world beyond the Kim dynasty’s rule.
Views expressed in this cartoon do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.