Thursday, 13 March 2014

Professional trouser hunters


An acquaintance of mine, a North Korean refugee currently living in South Korea, told me how, in the early 2000s, she broke a bone. The incident happened one afternoon when she was on the way home. A few streets away from her house she encountered a patrol of regular police and militia, and she instantly knew she was in trouble because she had done something seriously improper. She had no choice but to run, and while trying to get away from her pursuers she broke a bone in her feet. But she still escaped the hand of law.

What was the crime she had committed? She was wearing trousers while walking the streets of a major North Korean city.

This story might seem strange. As every visitor to North Korea can testify, there are a great number of women clad in trousers on the streets of major North Korean cities. Nonetheless, a theoretical ban on women wearing trousers has existed since the late 1970s. Its enforcement has, however, been rather patchy at best.

My acquaintance did not blame her pursuers for the above-mentioned incident, instead she blamed herself. She knew that patrols of professional trouser hunters could be encountered only in certain parts of the city and only at certain times of the day, and she believes she was foolhardy to venture into such a high-risk area dressed in such an “indecent” way. 

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