A trail of thirtyish couples with coffees in hand floated on the streets this morning, like wood planks and barrels from a wreck at sea. Gradually their density increased as I approached a hulking shape looming through the fog, which turned out to be an elementary school releasing parents with free coffees as they returned to their now-childless homes.
It’s back-to-school season in America.
North and South Korea both operate on different school calendars; for them, the school year begins in spring. When I taught English in South Korea, the school year ended in December and started again in early March. North Korean schools start about a month later at the beginning of April.
The difference is probably hard to imagine for most Americans; it conflicts with our whole concept of summer as a time of vacation, of idleness and play, of long days to fill with things other than school.
But for all the difference, going back to school is pretty much the same in spirit everywhere. Kids still have that anxious, excited energy to them and haven’t yet rediscovered the boredom of regular school days. And parents still want to take photos with their darlings before leaving them.
Parents take photos with their children on the first day of school at Pyongyang Middle School No. 1 on April 2, 2012. (Photo credit AP Photo / Jon Chol Jin).
In the News – Kaesong Firms Start Paying Tax to N.Korea
South Korean firms in the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea had to pay their first taxes there since it opened in 2004. Four companies paid a combined US$153,000 in corporate income tax on profits in fiscal 2011 this year, according to the Unification Ministry, and one of them was taxed $7,000 for fiscal 2010.
The tax regulations were agreed during the Roh Moo-hyun administration on Sept. 18, 2003. Under the rules, firms are exempt from corporate income tax for the first five years after they start making a profit and are given a 50-percent reduction on the 14-percent rate for the following three years.
That the four firms have started paying tax means that they have gotten into their stride. A ministry official said more firms are expected to pay income tax to the North from next year because most firms in the industrial park are now making profits.
There are 123 South Korean companies in the industrial park employing 51,518 North Korean workers as of last April. Their annual output rose from $14.91 million in 2005 to $400 million last year.
North Korean workers’ average monthly wage is about $110, but most of that goes straight to the regime. The total amount of wages paid out from 2004 to November last year was $193.58 million.
In the News – Kaesong Firms Still Suffer from N.Korea Sanctions
South Korean firms in the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea lost about W2 billion each due to sanctions on the North implemented in 2010 (US$1=W1,173).
Some 61.8 percent of 200 firms said it has been hard to recover from losses, according to a survey published by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday. Some 24.8 percent said they have recovered slightly and 13.4 percent they have fully recovered.
The firms suffered average losses of W1.94 billion, about double the W970 million estimated in a survey right after Seoul imposed sanctions on the North on May 24, 2010.
With Christmas just days away, the streets here in South Korea seem even more crowded than usual. There are people rushing around doing their Christmas shopping and Christmas carols playing at every store you pass. There’s just something about this time of year that makes the world seem more at peace, more joyful. It’s a time when we can forget our troubles and just enjoy the company of the people we love. Or even just enjoy the time away from work.
But there is at least one place that I can think of that won’t be enjoying the same things that you and I will be enjoying this Sunday. Continue reading →