Red Light, Green Light



North Korea is, in many ways, living in the Dark Ages. Things that westerners take for granted, such as on-demand electricity, are notably lacking.  Private car ownership is almost entirely unheard of — as of 1990 (per Wikipedia) there were only about a quarter of a million cars in the country as a whole, and most of them, by a large margin, were owned by the military. There are only about 1,000 miles of paved roads, and the purchase of fuel is extremely restricted. So there are not a lot of cars on the roads (as seen, for example, here) — and even in places of relatively heavy traffic, the lack of infrastructure means no traffic lights.

But no traffic lights would mean more traffic accidents, and that would be a very bad thing. The solution? Young women, trained to direct traffic, and stationed atop an umbrella-adorned platform in the middle of an intersection, as seen above. Meet a Pyongyang traffic controller.

As seen in the video below (via Laughing Squid), the traffic controllers — all female – are trained to be robotic and purposeful with their movements. Each action is crisp and exact, and the traffic controller only rotates counter-clockwise, directing traffic with nothing more than a baton and a whistle.



Think that this is another example of the insanity that is North Korea? You’re probably right — but it gets stranger. These female traffic controllers have been around since the 1970s but the platforms are relatively new. North Korea’s state-run media agency, the Korean Central News Agency, reported on the addition of these platforms in 1998. The report has the markings of the dictatorial nation’s obsession with propaganda over truth, noting that “[t]he traffic controllers are moved by the warm affection shown for them by General Secretary Kim Jong Il who saw to it that the platforms with umbrellas are being set up this time after raincoats, rain boots, sunglasses, gloves and cosmetics as well as seasonal uniforms were provided to them.”

As anyone who watches the above video will surely attest, “warm affection” simply exudes from the woman directing traffic.

Bonus fact: As ridiculous as the North Korean traffic solution above is, it does, perhaps, solve one real problem — colorblind motorists who have trouble with traffic lights. Other areas have come up with less ridiculous solutions, such as a traffic light with different shapes for each color, as seen here in Nova Scotia.

From the Archives: (1) Land of Darkness: North Korea is really, really lacking in electricity and infrastructure. (2) Year 100: See the words “Juche 98” on the Korean Central News Agency report? This explains it.

Related: “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West” by Blaine Harden. Five stars on 35 reviews.

Image via John Pavelka on Flickr; original here.

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