Int’l Press Gets Glimpse of N.Korea’s Daily Grind

The Choson Ilbo recently posted an article which contained several interesting facts.  Quoting from the article:

A W35 million price tag for the Internet connection to transmit a five-minute piece of footage is only one of the endless list of inconveniences that make up daily life in North Korea (US$1=W1,163). Kristine Kwok, a reporter for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post who accompanied Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on his visit to North Korea on Oct. 4 to 6, recounts them in a story titled “Life in the Hermit Kingdom.”

“Accessing the Internet is a distant dream for North Korean citizens and an expensive luxury for visiting foreigners,” Kwok wrote. “Filing a news report of Wen shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il would cost a TV station the equivalent of HK$233,472. The North Korean Foreign Ministry eventually decided to pay all the Internet fees for the reporters –much to their relief.”

The report said North Korea’s 24 million people are barred from the Internet, with connections available only in some hotels, where sending a picture costs around W68,000 and a single email W3,400. North Korea has set up road blocks along the information super highway and is committing “robbery,” Kwok added.

The last time I visited the DPRK, I recall that emails and phone calls from the Yangakdo Hotel are exorbitant–also, there are no phone books available and switch board operators (yes, they still have them) are of no help. If you don’t know the number you need to call you have to get creative.  But, with prices like that you would think the DPRK would like more journalists to visit!

Also mentioned in the article is Pyongyang’s new fast-food Samtaesong Restaurant, which I blogged about here when it opened.  According to the article “Samtaesong” translates to “three big stars”.  I am going to go out on a limb and guess that those three stars are the “Three Stars of Paektu: Kim il Sung, Kim Jong Suk, and Kim Jong il.”  now you can show your loyalty to the three stars while eating a burger, which is much more pleasant than standing silently in line formation under the hot sun for hours on end while political leaders you have never met read long speeches to you.

Also, “The most expensive item on the menu is ‘crispy chicken,’ which costs 3 euros, while a hamburger costs between 1.2 to 1.7 euros. That is high given the fact that North Korea’s per-capita GDP was US$1,000 last year, but AFP said Samtaeseong sells 300 burgers each day.”

Read the full article here:
Int’l Press Gets Glimpse of N.Korea’s Daily Grind
Choson Ilbo
10/13/2009

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  • For normal tourists the internet is not accessible at all from Pyongyang, from the Yanggakdo Hotel for example it is possible to send an email but not to get online or check your own web-based mail or anything like that, the connection speed is mind-blowingly slow also. IDD is available from rooms at the Yanggakdo and Koryo (Potonggang Hotel too I think) but again the cost is high 1.5 Euros pr min to China and up to 7 or 8 Euros for Western Europe, North America, etc depanding ont he exact country called. Some other hotels can make international calls as well but this either has to be routed to the rooms by hotel staff (Chongnyon Hotel, Hyangsan Hotel) or made from a telecoms centre (Chongchun Hotel in Mt Myohyang for example) most other hotels have no access to international phone lines. Interesting to note tat the Air China office in the Chongnyon Hotel in Pyongyang has no internet access at all, when yo buy a ticket there they ahve to call to Beijing and then either read or fax passenger details, all tickets issued here are hand-written.
    In-room internet is available though at both Yanggakdo and Koryo hotels but only with special permission (ie; invited media personnel) this is what is being referred to in the article above, however the prices are high but from what I have heard nothing like the amount mentioned in the article where something like USD25,000 for sendig a picture is suggested, as I understand you could spend something like 300-400 USD in a week and have reasonably steady albeit very very slow connection from one of those hotels so the many thousands of dollars fee is maybe from somewhere else or calculated using an official exchange rate, hope this helps!

  • Neil Robinson.

    Can reporters not take a mini satellite terminal like an Inmarsat BGAN or somthing, that would save on paying DPRK internet costs…..

    But i guess they wont let them in with such a gadget……or perhaps they wont work from the DPRK……

  • Dugan

    For whatever its worth, the the “three big stars” that “Samtaesong” refers to are the stars making up the belt of Orion. But its not too much of a stretch to imagine some ideological double entendre so to speak going on there. Anywho…


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