19 Dollars a Month Means Three Corn Meals a Day

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

“100,000 won (approx. US$32.2) doesn’t cut it.” This is a sigh-ridden comment of a North Korean citizen, who states that even if he has 100,000 won, it is not much to spend.

The recent currency depreciation of the North Korean won has been exacerbating the North Korean citizens’ burdens of their costs of living.

Such a situation has been ongoing since the July 1st Economic Measure in 2002, but with the concentration of money in the privileged class, the grim realities of life of vulnerable persons have been becoming more difficult.

Hoiryeong citizen Park Hyun Sik (pseudonym), in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 30th, stated that “a decent Chinese jumper costs 30,000 ~50,000 (approx. US$ 9.7~16) won for one, 3,000 won for 1kg of meat, and 2,700 won per a bottle of oil. After eagerly awaiting a month, I go to the market with 100,000 won (approx. US$ 32.2), but end up with nothing even though I did not buy much.”

Mr. Park, who conducts the wholesale business of relaying goods received from overseas Chinese emigrants to the provinces, receives a monthly income of 300,000 won. This puts him in a good class in North Korea. Mr. Park’s family, which consists of his wife and son, plans to secure food with this money.

Evidently, a family of four needs 50kg (50,000 won) of rice, which costs 1,000 won per kg, and 20 kg (7,000 won) of corn, which costs 350 won per kg, to survive. Additionally, the cost of buying a bottle of bean oil at 2,700 won as well as pepper powder, vinegar, garlic, onions and other vegetables is almost equal in value to the cost of buying rice.

On top of this, the family says they eat pork meat about once a month, which costs 3,000 won per kg. The rest of the money goes to the three family members’ clothing and cigarettes and drinks for Mr. Park, all of which cost about 300,000 won. Even then, Mr. Park tends to be on the well-fed side.

Working Citizens Cannot Eat Meat Even Once A Month

Kim Jung Ok (Alias), who sustains her living through a noodle business in the Hyeryung South Gate jang (market), has a monthly living expense of approximately 60,000 won. Ms. Kim is a housewife, who has taken on the responsibility of her three-member family.

Even if she sells noodles all day, she only makes 2,000~3,000 won. She merely earns around 60,000 won per month, all of which goes to food. Making a profit from her business is a mere dream, she expresses. She cannot even think about rice; after buying 70 kg of corn (23,000 won), bean oil, beans (950 won per kg) and other vegetables, she has nothing left.

The monthly income of her husband, who works at a machine shop in Hoiryeong, is 4,000 won. That is enough to buy 4kg of rice. Fearing starvation if she solely depended on her husband, she opened her noodle shop 10 years ago. “Even if we are both working like this, it is barely enough for corn meals. It is difficult to buy a kg of meat in a month. It has been a long time since I fed meat to my child,” she confessed.

Currently, with the exception of storekeepers who trade with Chinese emigrants, foreign currency traders, and those who have relatives in China, a majority of residents in Hoiryeong live daily as Mr. Park.

Recently, the Ministry of People’s Safety Agency issued the order that “Rations will be distributed in April. So, stop engaging in illegal trade.” Due to this decree, the control of the jangmadang (market) has been tightened. Discontent among residents who sell Chinese industrial products has climaxed, “How can we live if they feign ignorance while not providing the rations?”

The regulation of jangmadang (market) by ministry officials has only raised the price of Chinese industrial products. Before that, there would be joint bargains, but now, purchasers are visiting the merchants and so the costs of products are going up.

On one hand, the influence of the dollar’s recent bearish turn in the international market is fully reflected in the North Korean black market. The exchange rate of 800 won to a dollar between the Chinese Yuan and the dollar remains unchanging, but the North Korean currency following suit to the dollar and the Yuan changes day to day. Ultimately, North Korea is not “a region with a fixed exchange rate” due to the fact that exchange merchants occasionally apply the exchange information received from China.

Due to the dollar’s slump, the ratio of the North Korean won to the dollar and to the Yuan has been on the decline for several months. Mr. Park said, “In January, the North Korean currency went up to 42,000 won per 100 won RMB, but has drastically gone down to 36,500 won per 100 won.”


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