Rason is the main Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of North Korea. Theoretically at least this means it is not under the same constraints as the rest of the DPRK and is more open to capitalist, market-socialist, or joint-venture enterprises.
Personally this is one of my faourite parts of North Korea. You can see why I like Rason so much and indeed how great the food in here.
Every year in around the third week of August Rason hosts a trade fair in which (theoretically at least) global business, local enterprises, or those wishing to enter the market in Rason take part.
I first went to the Rason International Trade Fair back in 2014 on a tour that took in the fair as well as obviously see all the local sites. On this occasion we merely spent a day looking around the event, but it got me thinking about other opportunities that might be had.
After returning from that initial trip we contacted the relevant partners in Rason dealing with business, rather than RITA (Rason International Travel Agency). After some negotiation it was agreed that we would be able to participate in the 2016 Rason International Trade Fair as exhibitors, rather than just participants. Being travel agents and not truly having products to sell we decided to make a number of branded bottle openers, as well as sell gadgets like battery packs and USB torches, useful in a country that suffers from blackouts.
Any trip to Rason usually requires first going to Yanji,, which is where we met up with the rest of our group. If you are keen on Korean food or indeed dog meat then Yanji as a Korean Autonomous prefecture is the place to be.
After a night in Yanji we headed to the Hunchen border to go into Rason. To put it in the politest possible way this is not the easiest of border crossings and combine that with actual bringing in tourists and goods then you need to be prepared to lose a few hours of your life. Like any form of bureaucracy it eventually ended and we headed off to Rajin where we would be staying at the Rajin Hotel.
The next day we headed for the opening creepy of the trade fair which had all the pomp and ceremony that you would expect from North Korea, before being ready to open our stall.
As soon as the gates opened it looked like the whole population of Rason was in the building and when the news got through we were giving away free shit things went made. This was honestly the closest to a stampede I have been the DPRK! Things calmed down as you would expect them to do and aI finally got a chance to look around the other stands. Under no uncertain terms Chinese stalls by far outnumbered those of other countries, but there was still a decent amount of local and overseas stands, particularly from places such as Russia and the Ukraine.
The most interesting thing I discovered on my walk was potato soda which was being given out for free. I remember first trying it and being amazed at how good it was, until the aftertaste kicked in. I will not be mixing vodka with potato soda any time soon.
We celebrated that night with dinner at the famous Ukrainian restaurant of Rason, which sadly I no longer have photos of and karaoke at the Pippa Hotel. And after a few more days of looking at stuff and mincing about the trade fair we were back off to Yanji.
We’ve since been back to the Rason Trade Fair as a company, but sadly I personally have not.
Unsparingly the 2020 edition has been almost certainly been cancelled, but in 2021? Who knows….