Sundays in Shenyang: Exploring the Shenyang neighborhood where the Koreas meet.
Xita | Shenyang's Korean Neighborhood
When it comes to meetings between North and South Koreans, our first thoughts may be of the recent summit between the two leaders or a table in a blue hut straddling the demarcation line on the DMZ. Yet such talks are rarely, if ever, open to the casual outside observer. To find a place where Koreans from north and south live and work side-by-side, one should come to the Xita, literally ‘West Pagoda’, neighborhood of Shenyang in northeast China. While there are many other places in the world where North and South Koreans may encounter each other, few can compare to the diversity and density of Xita for all things Korean.
Located in the heart of Shenyang, Xita is the centre of the city’s Korean Chinese (Kr. 조선족, Ch. 朝鲜族) community, itself part of a larger Korean minority traditionally found in China’s northeast provinces of Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang. A large sign topped with a traditional Korean drum and a statue of a Korean woman in chogori, or traditional Korean women's dress, and holding a drumstick welcomes you. Alight from your taxi and your ears immediately attune to the sounds of neo-traditional North Korean melodies competing for airtime with noise of South Korean K-Pop strung out on a mindless electronic beat and the infused with the occasional unintelligible English phrase — note that one of these forms of music is better than the other, if the latter could even be classified as music.
The North Korean tunes are emanating from one of a number of restaurants affixed with the DPRK flag (Yes, there are more than one here). To your right is the Pyongyang Restaurant and across from it is the Rainbow Restaurant, both staffed with cooks and services staff from North Korea. In the lobby of the Pyongyang, you are greeted by waitresses in colorful dresses standing next to photos of North Korean cuisine, requisite restaurant fish tanks, and boxes of imported Taedonggang Beer — definitively the best Korean beer brand (sorry Cass and Hite lovers, if such a person even exists in this world). Inside there is a small café and a larger dining hall. The food is excellent.
After lunch, take a short stroll next door to the local Xinhua Bookstore, a regular fixture across Chinese cities. This particular branch, however, specializes in books in the Korean language published in China. The store has an excellent selection of book on Korean Chinese literature, history, culture, and society. Part of the store is devoted to textbooks for youth attending Korean Chinese schools, where instruction is still done in Korean (Korean Chinese students also study Chinese and a second foreign language, typically English or Japanese). The Korean used in these textbooks is closer to that used in North Korea than those of South Korea, and the content is wide diverse. The opening chapter of the 7th year Language Arts course features poems by the one South Korean writer, Yom Ki Won; two Korean Chinese writers, Yu Yong Ho and Sok Hwa, as well as Cho Ki Chon, the North Korean poet responsible for the modern epic poem 'Mt. Paektu' and the popular song 'Whistle'. These textbooks are an excellent medium for those wishing for a general introduction to the language of North Korea without diving into North Korean books, which can be somewhat overwhelming for language learners.
From the bookshop, take a left down the alley way and you will find yourself in the local Korean market selling mostly foodstuffs and housewares. This is the place to visit if you want to pick up pepper sauce, dried fish, a bibimbap stone pot, or parts for your Korean grill. At a time when such markets are on the decline in South Korea, at least in Seoul, and the North Korean equivalents are largely off-limits to foreigners, a good Korean market is a beautiful thing.
There are twice weekly flights between Shenyang and Pyongyang. Shenyang is a possible stop-off on the rail line between Pyongyang and Beijing. To add a visit to Shenyang to a North Korea group tour or private independent tour, we recommend exiting Korea by train and ending your trip in Shenyang. From Shenyang there is ample transport to other destinations in China, including Beijing and Shanghai.