food / travel

A Trip on North Korea’s First Cruise Ship

Little by little, North Korea is looking to build tourism in the otherwise isolated Communist country. A reconverted freighter has been unveiled as the first chance to take a cruise, replete with evening entertainment and great scenery. Certain amenities,

North Korea has some breathtaking scenery (David Stanley)
North Korea has some breathtaking scenery (David Stanley)
Marianne Barriaux

RAJIN - Aboard the Man Gyong Bong, fresh coffee is served, along with dried fish and local beer. Karaoke parties pep the night life.

That said: turn on a faucet and there's usually no water -- and cabins are more like dormitories. Welcome to North Korea's first cruise ship.

If all goes according to the plans of North Korean authorities, the 21-hour cruise on the converted freighter from the down-at-heels port city of Rajin to the northeastern part of North Korea -- known for its scenic Kumgang Mountains -- will boost tourism and provide this isolated country with an immediate injection of much needed foreign currency.

To promote the project, North Korea's usually publicity-shy regime invited foreign journalists and Chinese tour operators on a beta-test tour.

For the cruise, authorities spruced up a nearly 40-year-old freighter that, until 1992, ferried between North Korea and Japan. "The conversion work on the ship was only completed a week ago," said Hwang Chol Nam, deputy mayor of the Rason special economic zone.

The cruise idea was hatched by Taepung, a North Korean investment group, and the regional government of Rason. In 1991, the whole area on the northeast coast of North Korea that borders Russia and China, including the cities of Rajin and Sonbong, were declared a free-trade zone in order to stimulate investment. However, due to poor infrastructure, frequent power outages, and a lack of confidence induced by a Stalinist-era management style, foreign investors stayed away, and the zone never took off.

Now, the authorities are trying anew to infuse life into the project. North Korea's economy is suffering bitterly due to international sanctions imposed on the totalitarian state because of its nuclear weapons program.

After decades of isolation and bad economic policies, the country is desperately poor and its population has to cope with constant food shortages.

According to Hwang, the way forward in the zone is a mix of tourism and seafood processing.

Gradually, North Korea is opening to Western visitors. Presently, only the Kumgang Mountain area has been developed for tourism, although – ever since a North Korean solider shot a vacationing South Korean in 2008 – there is considerable political conflict in the region.

Careful monitoring

On our tour at the end of August, when the Man Gyong Bong left Rajin, hundreds of students and workers with flowers saw the ship off.

Any contacts with natives took place only with guides, the owners of tourism companies or hotel employees. Out the window of the excursion bus, North Koreans can be spotted, in monotone clothes, cycling by or driving one of the rare cars on otherwise empty roads.

Portraits of Kim Jong Il and his deceased father Kim Il Sung adorn the vast lobby of the hotel in Rajin. The rooms are Spartan but clean. Internet connections are not available, and connection by telephone is unreliable and expensive.

Passengers who decide to go on shore must hand over their cell phones to cruise managers. According to Hwang, communication possibilities in the free-trade zone will improve shortly, and Internet access – albeit only to websites relating to the local economy -- should be available later this month.

For Simon Cockerell, managing director of the Beijing Koryo Group that's specialized in North Korea travel, the attractiveness of the tour lies in the fact that the destination is utterly obscure: "Lots of people love to travel to unknown places," he says. "And this is the least visited part of the least visited country on the planet."

Read the original article in Germany

photo - David Stanley

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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