A look inside Pyongyang’s Central Market

Jerry Guo, a Yale University economics student who recently traveled to Pyongyang, wrote some interesting articles this week detailing his illicit adventures into Pyongyang’s Central Market (pictures below).



Pyongyang’s Central Market is located along the shore of the Taedong River and is visible from the Yanggakdo Hotel.  Unlike the larger Tongil Market located on the south side of town, the Central Market does not receive tourists or foreign visitors—and given the location, its customers would probably prefer to keep it that way.  So in a sense, an impromptu stroll to the Central Market offers every visitor to the DPRK exactly what they are looking for: a spontaneous glimpse at every-day life in Pyongyang.

According to Guo, that is exactly what he received:

But I wanted to catch a real glimpse of Pyongyang nightlife, so late one afternoon, I sneaked off unsupervised and hit the city streets. And much to my surprise, I didn’t see a single People’s Army cadet goose-step past me with those missile-launchers-on-wheels that appear on the nightly news. What I did witness: a mother buying a soda for her daughter from a sidewalk snack cart; two older women sitting on a bench, gossiping and eating pears; businessmen coming out of the subway, sans Bluetooth headsets; a grimacing teenage boy getting a haircut at a salon. (Washington Post)

Eventually he meandered into the Central District Market:

I had found myself in the North Korean version of Macy’s, but here, every day is the Friday after Thanksgiving. There were delicate blouses and dresses for around 15,000 won (roughly $4 at black market exchange rates), all sorts of fruit — thought to be nearly impossible to find in this mountainous hermit kingdom — and enough varieties of mystery meats to make my high school cafeteria green with envy.

…and he took some pictures (These pictures belong to Mr. Guo, and I thank him for letting me post them):

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Above: Fruits and chickens for sale

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Above: Side dishes/Sauces and clothing for sale


Above: View of the Central Market from the Yanggakdo Hotel

Taking these pictures, however, ushered in an unpleasant afternoon:

No one paid much attention to me, until I stopped to snap a few photos. Then a group of stocky women in pink dresses magically appeared. They half-wrestled me to a second-floor office while blowing fiercely on blue whistles, as if to announce, “Look at me! My first American spy!” For the next six hours, I was questioned and scrutinized by a procession of Public Safety Bureau officers, their rank identifiable by the quality of their outfits: the first wore an undershirt, the last what seemed to be a custom Italian suit.[…]

Eventually, they forced me to write a hyperbolic but harmless self-criticism, describing myself as “an American student,” “an incompetent trouble-maker” and “a genuine lover of the Korean people.” Then they booted me back to my five-star hotel.

Mr. Guo’s adventures have been chronicled in the following publications and they are well worth checking out:

My Excellent North Korean Adventure
Washington Post
Jerry Guo
9/14/2008; Page B02

A writer journeys into North Korea with Chinese tourists
Christian Science Monitor
Jerry Guo

Yale Senior Enjoys Uncensored Day in N. Korea
National Public Radio

And a caveat for future visitors: Although I personally appreciate knowing this type of information about the DPRK, I do not recommend other tourists take this course of action for numerous reasons!


4 Responses to “A look inside Pyongyang’s Central Market”

  1. Jack says:

    One thing I will say right now: that guy had balls of steel. I am VERY surprised those pictures made it out!

  2. No one under 25 has any fear whatsoever and thank goodness for them.

  3. Marc says:

    Great to see some photos of real life NK. thanks for your efforts