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Russian Railway Expands North Korean Connection

Published: October 9, 2013 (Issue # 1781)



  • North Koreans applauding at the opening ceremony of the rail link that will connect the reclusive nation to Russia.
    Photo: Yury Maltsev / SPT

RAJIN, North Korea — Russia has opened an upgraded rail link with North Korea, a first step to re-animate the Trans-Korean Mainline, which could once again unite the two countries, but the question remains as to whether these changes can transform the Communist state that is still living in the past.

Blazing a path for possible interaction by businessmen of other nations, Russian executives had mixed reactions to the experience of investing, building and running a project in North Korea.

 “It was quite difficult to work here because of all these rules and regulations. After a month, the atmosphere seemed almost unbearable,” said Yury Loskutnikov, head of a Russian state company in North Korea that was involved in the construction works in the country.

But Aleksei Shvets, an RZhD-stroi worker who was a Russian expat in North Korea for three years, rotating in and out on shifts while building the railroad, said he did not experience problems with the regime.

“You just have to follow certain rules, that is all,” he said.

A Korean Communist party member, standing near Shvets as he talked, smiled knowingly.

Visiting Russian dignitaries, along with a band of international journalists, who came for the opening ceremony, got firsthand exposure to the unique atmosphere the secretive nation offers.

Once the special “early sparrow” train heading to inspect the newly built rail line connecting Hasan on the Russian border and the North Korean port Rajin rolled across the border, it was met by a polite Korean customs officer.

“Computer? Camera? Telephone?” he inquires, quickly glancing around the train compartment.

Computers and cameras are written down in the customs declaration and allowed to enter the country. Cell phones are another story. We were told that, if found, they might be confiscated by customs. Most left them at Hasan station, the last outpost in Russia before the crossing. The mobile signal would be dead in North Korea anyway, as those brave enough to keep their phones soon find out.

The polite customs officer, speaking passable Russian, wishes us all the best, but bundles up and takes away our passports, to be returned on the way back. And so we enter one of the most closed countries in the world.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Oct. 22


English teachers can expect to receive a few useful pointers today from Evgeny Kalashnikov, the British Council regional teacher, during the EFL Seminar this afternoon hosted by the British Book Center. The topic of today’s seminar is “Grammar Practice.”


Young Petersburgers will get the chance to jumpstart their careers at “Professional Growth,” a job fair and forum featuring more than 40 major Russian and international companies vying for potential candidates for future positions. The forum not only is a chance to network but also to learn more about the modern business world and to understand what it takes to get the job you want.



Thursday, Oct. 23


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee meeting is scheduled to meet this morning at 9 a.m. in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center.


Sportsmen get their chance to stock up on all kinds of gear at the Hunting and Fishing 2014 exhibition starting today at Lenexpo. Everything from rods and reels to boats, motorcycles and equipment for underwater hunting will be on sale so that any avid outdoorsman can always be prepared.



Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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