There are more than North Korea's titles would indicate, at least for Simon Cockerell and Katharina Hesse, two Beijing-based foreign professionals whose projects are often in an isolated country and bring them into contact with North Korean nationals.
Hesse and Cockerell experience with North Korea as a way of studying contrast. Through his work with Koryo Tours, Cockerell understanding North Korea is a deeper sympathy for the long-term friends with whom he worked together for years. Hesse work with North Korean refugees, meanwhile, brings more gloomy prospect of food shortages that are encountered in the DPRK.
As an experienced immigrants, as Cockerell and Hesse know a few things about the movement of China, to share their stories of Chinese taxi driver, and how you used to use Beijing as an entry point in a remote area of northeastern China, and of course North Korea. Here's what they had to say about the little known country that looms large in the imagination.
AT: How do strangers who know so little about the country, trying to define North Korea along the lines of familiarity. Have you seen this phenomenon in their daily lives?
Katharina: In the last few weeks I've spent enough time with Chinese people in their twenties. I was kind of interesting that they are just trying to put North Korea in perspective in relation to their own country. The comparison to China during the Cultural Revolution has come up often. It was an interesting observation as to reach the beautiful young people.
Simon: I find that interesting too. There's something about North Korea that attracts people to compare with what you know, because so little is known about the site. Again, this will be a big generalization, but almost all the Chinese people will say: "Well, this is the same as China." Anyone from East Germany or from Albania will say: "They are the same as the East Germans or Albanians."
So I think that is very interesting how people project their knowledge and experience in place, and sometimes does not help develop a deeper understanding of North Korea.
People also tend to ignore the Juche. North Korea is often described as Stalinist country, but the Juche idea is really based on the assumption that everyone has the same blood. All have the same origin. So when people make these direct comparisons, I think the painting in very broad strokes.
AT: When working with North Korea, which have advantages of China as a base for their projects?
Katharina: I do not think that's really the advantage of being based in China. There are also some aspects of work that can not be done in China, it must be done with the (South) Korea. However, Beijing and Shanghai are both bases for foreign media in China, and Beijing is very close to the border of North Korea. It may be an advantage. But you could be based in Bangkok or Seoul, you can communicate much more openly than in China, I suppose.
Simon: For our business, tourism in North Korea, Beijing is the starting point. It is not just one, but this is by far one prevalent.
The main drawback to Beijing that he was poisoned! And every breath that has weeks of your life. So that is a major disadvantage, but what you do.
AT: Simon, would you say the air is cleaner in Pyongyang?
Simon: I'd say so. Despite the presence of two coal plants in the city, the air in Pyongyang is very, very fresh. There just is not much industry or trade. So, go there for no other reason than clear lungs! This is our new terrain.
AT: As polluted as Beijing may be, to have made the city their home for a while. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to be the Western Foundation of China?
Katharina: I'm not sure if there's any advantage. I think that just like other countries, they sometimes have a few stereotypes about individual countries. Like Germany, we are supposed to work very hard, or we have BMW, Mercedes-Benz, would not see any advantages or disadvantages.
Simon: When I take a taxi in Beijing and the driver asks where you're from, if, say England, this means you'll have a conversation about football. So I generally say, Belarus, Iceland, or something similar, if you want to talk about anything, if I want Russia to talk about alcohol, or Germany, if you want to talk about cars.
I do not want to generalize too much or anything, but you're still a laowai, is not it? There is not that much difference. You're still a stranger.
AT: You were both in the northeast of China. How solid is the region in North Korea?
Katharina: This is a pretty remote area. There is a fairly large ethnic Korean minority lives. They are also people who actually help refugees from North Korea when they first come out of the border.
I read that China has already set some limits, in the past few weeks. It would probably be trying to get North Korea to China, that China might not exactly welcome. So I really do not know what will happen.
Simon: A lot of Chinese companies that are going on in North Korea. A lot of Chinese business people, lots of imports and exports. There are people making money there. Their main market is China. China is flooded with cheap labor, of course, but still North Korea would work for less than the Chinese.
So to make some advantage of Chinese manufacturing firms that have such places in North Korea. And do not forget - there is free trade, the Chinese border for a long time, Rezin area, but it's not a great success. Infrastructure is poor, it is very remote, it does not work so well, so it's hard to see, it could go both ways, really.
Katharina: What about the opposite Dandong? Because when you go to Dandong see so many business people from China and North Korea.
Simon: Absolutely. It is really great hope. And it seems to me, much more viable prospect. When I was last in Dandong, a few months ago, you could see the islands, there was nothing but a few houses on them, but the law to turn it into a free zone of production has just been passed.
There are also new bridges being built between Dandong and Sinuiju area on the other side of the river. So it seems much more sustainable.