It feels as if time has forgotten Kaechon. This 400,000-strong city is suspended in a temporal limbo still hovering between the dark and gray scenery of a coal mining city of the 1980-90s and a revival toward the new opportunities that are challenging North Korea.
In the wide streets, the cars that crowd cities like Pyongyang, Wonsan or Chongjin have not arrived yet. There are a few refurbished buildings, but An Chul-woo, an agronomist who works at the Kaechon Duck Farm, one of the largest farming companies in the country, says apartment prices are already leavening, a sign that the city will also know shortly the entrepreneurial frenzy that already energizes other North Korean centers.
The sleepy city of Kaechon is the focus of attention by international experts, who follow the events of North Korea for several reasons. There are two prison camps near the city: Camp Number 1 and Criminal Colony Number 14, made famous by the Shin Dong-hyuk’s book, Escape from Camp 14, in which the author describes life inside the camp (for the record, in 2015, Shin Dong-hyuk admitted that some facts illustrated in the book had been dramatized).