North Korea's day of the 'Big Cold' lives up to reputation

PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of -- The date known on traditional calendars as the day of the "Big Cold" lived up to its reputation Wednesday in North Korea.

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The country has been hit by a severe cold wave sending temperatures plummeting to minus 16 degrees Celsius -- or about minus 24 when the wind chill is calculated.

Wednesday was the coldest day of the year so far, though forecasters said the worst may be yet to come.

Some pedestrians in the capital Pyongyang walked backward to avoid facing into the biting wind, but the cold did not stop intrepid fishermen from squatting on the frozen Taedong River in the centre of the city in the hope of catching a local delicacy -- a fish called sokari in Korean, golden Mandarin fish in English.

They hack holes through 40 centimetres (16 inches) of ice to send thin lines into the water below.

Pyongyang's indoor ice skating rink has also been teeming with skaters, despite the freezing temperatures inside as well as out.

North Korea's power shortages mean that few public buildings, homes, offices or even hospitals have much heating, so it is hard to escape the cold, particularly in the countryside and in rural areas.

Getting from place to place also means walking or riding a bicycle for most people, so thermal underwear, multiple layers, big coats, furry hats and hoods, scarves and gloves to cover any remaining exposed skin are everyday necessities.

North Koreans are accustomed to the severity of their winters -- and often take pride in how hardy they are to endure it -- but this week's cold snap has been worse than usual.

"This kind of cold can come once or twice a year," said Ri Yong Nam, from North Korea's State Hydro-Meteorological Agency. ". It seems that the "Taehan" (big cold) has not forgotten and now it's here."

Ri said this winter is colder than the last, and temperatures likely would drop further over the weekend.

After that it should get warmer -- closer to the freezing point.


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