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S. Korean Workers to Spend Summer Vacation in NK

Posted July. 29, 2009 07:06,   


Ten employees of a South Korean shoe manufacturer will travel to the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea Saturday through Monday. The Busan-based Samduk Corp. has a factory inside the complex.

Between 200 and 700 South Koreans visit the complex every day, but this is the first time for workers of a company operating there to go on vacation there.

Samduk assistant manager Ryu Won-ho said, “People seem to believe that the Kaesong industrial complex is facing a crisis. They consider the complex a different world. North Koreans working at our plant are no different than my South Korean colleagues, however. Over my summer vacation, I’ll have a heart-to-heart talk with North Korean workers.”

Samduk staff will cooperate with their North Korean counterparts to fertilize vegetable farms inside the complex and make shoes at the plant. They will also eat North Korean cuisine together at the restaurant Bongdonggwan.

The company said this summer vacation will be different from tours to Kaesong in that its workers can meet North Koreans in the complex without difficulty.

Three weeks ago, Samduk’s honorary chairman Moon Chang-seop, 59, suggested the idea of spending three days of summer vacation at the complex. He said he has a firm belief in the significance of personal interaction between South and North Koreans at a time when government-level relations have turned sour.

After making his suggestion, he said he worried whether his employees could visit the complex for summer vacation because of strained bilateral relations in the wake of the North’s provocations.

His fears proved groundless, however. Shortly after Moon made the suggestion, 20 employees applied for the summer vacation plan, and 10 were chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis. Getting official invitations from North Korea took three weeks.

Nine of the workers to visit Kaesong are in their 20s and 30s and the other is in his 50s. Most of them are new employees who have never visited the complex. The company will pay the cost of the trip, which is 350,000 won (283 U.S. dollars) per person.

Certain Samduk workers said they hope to form personal relations with North Korean workers with whom they have communicated for business. Kwon Jae-hwan said, “I’ve been to the Kaesong industrial complex, but I could only talk with North Koreans about business issues. I want to communicate with them on personal issues.”

Fellow staff member Ahn Jin-hyeon said, “I’ve talked with North Korean workers only over the phone. Now, I’m ready to meet them in person.”

The workers said they also want to dispel worries over the fate of the industrial complex after their summer vacation. Yun Hee-jeong said, “I want to ease my husband’s and other relatives’ worries that the complex might be closed down soon.”

Yun Su-jin said, “Some friends believe South Koreans can no longer visit the industrial complex. I want to give them the right information.”

Song Mi-jeong said, “I thought it would be more meaningful to visit North Korea when all tours are suspended rather than visit other tourist attractions that I can visit at any time.”

Yet Song expressed regret over not being able to spend summer vacation with her husband in Kaesong. “I hope to visit Kaesong with my husband next year. By doing so, we can tell our children about our experience in North Korea, where South Koreans work and enjoy alongside with North Korean workers,” she said. “It could be a great education on unification.”