Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

DPRK imports digital televisions

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s imports of digital television sets from China have more than quadrupled this year, a South Korean trade group said Sunday, amid reports that the country is moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting.

In the first four months of the year, China shipped digital TVs amounting to some US$17.66 million to North Korea, up 338 percent from $4.02 million during the same period last year, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

The figure is the fifth-largest amount for any single item shipped from China to North Korea in the January-April period. Gasoline topped the list.

The North earlier said on a state-run website that it was moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting. The country also asked the U.N. International Telecommunication Union in 2011 for assistance in switching from an analog to a digital broadcasting system.

“The move by the North Korean government to switch to a digital broadcasting system appears to be an effort to win greater public support by showing that the people’s lives are improving,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

Read the full story here:
Trade report says N. Korea importing large number of digital TVs
Korea Times
2014-5-25

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Social Science Institute on the DPRK’s Economic Development Zones

Monday, January 20th, 2014

According to the Hankyoreh:

The latest issue of the quarterly publication of North Korea’s Social Science Institute – published on Nov. 15, 2013, and viewed on Jan. 19 – included an article titled, “Major Issues Pertaining to Making the North Korean Economy Stronger by Establishing and Expanding Economic Development Zones.”

According to the North Korean article, there are five important tasks that must be accomplished if the new Zones are to be successful.

1. building infrastructure such as roads and railroads

2. enacting laws for the special economic zones that take into account the profit of the government and of investors

3. providing benefits for foreign investors

4. operating and managing projects in a way that is suitable to the characteristics of the zones

5. creating the right political and military environment

Read more here:
N. Korea connects politics and military to economic development
Hankyoreh
Choi Hyun-june
2014-1-20

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North Korea promoting localization of raw materials for light industry and construction sectors

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-1-20

North Korea is encouraging “localization” of raw materials in light industry and construction from this year to improve the lives of the North Korean people.

On January 7, RodongSinmun reported that various cabinet organizations were espousing the New Year’s address of Kim Jong Un. It reported that the Ministry of Light Industry’s executives and employees are engaging in discussions to explore ways to increase localization of raw materials in light industry factories.

A rally was held in Pyongyang earlier this month at Kim Il Sung Square where people pledged to accomplish the national tasks put forward by Kim Jong Un. Tong Jong Ho, Minister of Construction and Building-Materials Industry,delivered a speech that vowed to “make an unprecedented leap in localization of building materials (cement, glass, metals, and other construction materials),” by repairing building materials factories in all provinces.

The Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan,reported on January 2 that at the New Year meeting at the Pyongyang Socks Factory, the plant manager, Lee Sung Hui, made a speech and promised to “raise the level of socks production and localization of raw materials to a higher level in Vinalon and PP fibers (synthetic) this year.”

North Korea is promoting light industry and construction as the key sectors to improve the living standards of the people and asserting localization of raw materials as a priority to make advancements in these fields.

In his New Year message, Kim Jong Un emphasized that lighting industry must play a “major part in improving the people’s standard of living” and that the construction sector is “an important front for solidifying the foundations of a thriving country and creating bases for the people’s happy life.” He called for modernization of factories in light industry and normalization of production, placing importance on increasing the proportion of locally-available raw materials.

Many experts analyze this year’s rising emphasis on the localization of raw materials as reflecting the intentions of the North Korean authorities to focus on pragmatically achievable policy goals first. Of course, increasing the proportion of locally-available raw materials requires the construction of domestic production base, which remains complicated because of international sanctions and lack of foreign currency — issues that cannot be easily resolved– among other limitations.

From 2012, North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket and third nuclear test was accompanied with rising emphasis on the importance of localization. On December 3, 2013, Rodong Sinmun carried an article entitled, “Localization and National Pride,” that reported on the onsite inspection visits by Kim Jong Un to various economic sectors where he underscored the importance of “equipment, materials, and elements of localization” and “our strengths and technology.”

North Korea acclaimed that the launch of the long-range rocket in December 2012 was a “successful launch of a satellite based on 100 percent domestic science and technology.” Then in February last year, immediately following the nuclear test, it boasted that “Thrilling clap of independent nuclear thunder broke out based on 100 percent of our own wisdom and technology.”

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Kim Jong-un’s new year address (2014)

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year has begun, so most DPRK watchers are analyzing Kim Jong-un’s new year address (a return to a practice established by Kim Il-sung which was replaced by the “joint editorial” in the Kim Jong-il era). I have compiled most of the good analysis of the speech below.

First of all, you can watch the full speech here (in Korean):

You can read the full speech on KCNA here (English, Korean). For those of you who cannot access KCNA, click here to read a PDF of the speech in English and Korean.

Commentary:

38 North and here

New York Times

Washington Post

Institute for Far Eastern Studies

Yonhap and here

Choson Exchange

Stephan Haggard

Council on Foreign Relations

Nautilus Institute

Hankyoreh

New Focus International

Evans Revere

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DPRK’s “Economic Research” focuses on regional economic development zones

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is focusing more on diversified development of its economy and pushing regional industries to play a greater role in earning foreign capital, Pyongyang watchers said Sunday.

Observers in Seoul said that the Oct. 31 issue of “economic research” published in the North highlighted the need for regional governments to generate more revenue, bolster industrial output and earn more foreign capital.

According to papers in the research journal that offer a glimpse into how Pyongyang wants to run the country, factories in the provinces must strive to modernize and form close knit alliances with industries located in the capital city and with laboratories.

This call is similar to a speech given by Vice Premier Ro Du-chol on Wednesday at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of regional governments being given authority to generate profits and manage their respective budgets.

The senior official stressed that all cities and counties need to do their utmost to improve their economies and come up with necessary policy plans.

Such a move calls for redoubled efforts to attract overseas investments in mineral mines and other manufacturing facilities.

Ro’s remarks have been interpreted as Pyongyang paying more attention to regional economies and getting local authorities to take charge of providing for its citizens, instead of relying on the central government.

Related to such calls, the North recently announced that it will set up a total of 14 special economic zones across the country to pursue economic growth and bring in more investments. At present the communist country only has four such special zones, including those set up in Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang resort.

“There has been a trend coming into this year of the North paying closer attention to building up its regional economy,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute. The North Korean expert said that this may be a move by the North to bring about results on the economic front under the Kim Jong-un leadership.

Kim, who took over running the country following the sudden death of his father in late 2011, has called for the simultaneous development of the country’s nuclear capability and its economy.

This move is seen as a departure from the “songun,” or military-first politics, pursued by his late father, Kim Jong-il.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea focusing more on regional development: research journal
Yonhap
2013-11-10

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Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-14): North Korea accelerating economic reforms? Wages and prices to be self-regulated (IFES):

North Korea appears to be pushing for internal economic improvement measures. Chosun Sinbo, the pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, released an article on November 6 that discussed various performance-enhancing management and operational changes that took place at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory this year.

Chosun Sinbo referred to Kim Jong Un’s speech made last March at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party about improving economic management and named the recent changes at the food factory as a pilot project for this purpose. The news article added that “There are studies to bring fundamental changes in economic management and specific measures are being made to turn this into a reality.”

The main systemic changes made at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory were the increase in autonomy of the company and the enforcement of wage differential based on performance. Based on the principle of cost compensation, prices of products produced with raw materials at the factory may be freely adjusted after consulting with the state.

The news article further explained that “The principle of socialist distribution is a simple system of distributing as much as you earn and the cost of living is determined by labor productivity.”  It also reported that some of the employees’ wages increased. Such news is likely intended to advertise to the outside world about North Korea’s changing domestic economic policies.

The North Korean economic journal Kyongje Yongu has also been increasingly reporting on the principle of distribution based on economic performance. In the recent issue published on October 30, 2013 (issue No. 4), an article titled “The Principle Problem of Properly Implementing the Socialist Labor Wage System” criticized the equalization of product distribution as it decreases the enthusiasm of workers toward production: “The strength and life used during the process of labor must be compensated through the principle of earning the amount of your labor.” The article stressed that wages must increase with production and rationalized the need for such wage increase.

Chosun Sinbo and Kyongje Yongu articles reveal the long-term efforts by the North Korean government in enhancing research about economic improvement measures and expanding projects in various factories, companies, and cooperative farms to implement these measures.

Recently, North Korea launched the State Economic Development Commission and organized a number of international forums on special economic zones.  These can be construed as possible signals toward economic reform, as North Korea continues to make various changes in its internal economic policies.

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-7): Another story of note in the Daily NK ties factory wage increases to the ability of enterprises to negotiate prices with the state:

Choson Sinbo, the regular publication of the pro-North Korea General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), has published news of a Pyongyang-based food factory being used as a testing ground for independent economic management. The enterprise fixes prices semi-independently in discussion with the state and pays increased wages, the piece, published yesterday, explained.

The publication conveyed, “Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory became a test unit and conducted research in order to enact changes to overall economic management. They are currently implementing these.”

It continued, “Of particular note is the organization of production and economic management based on cost compensation principles and the socialist rules of division. Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory has enacted the measures for themselves and prepared the collateral to allow for expansion and reproduction.”

“This factory has shed the state planning model and sources its own materials, and in discussion with the state it has been able to set its own prices as it sees fit. There is also a measure currently being adopted that provides monthly allowances in consideration of the labor of the employees,” it further emphasized.

However, a high-ranking defector was skeptical when asked about the piece, telling Daily NK, “These factories produce things like soybean paste, soy sauce, salt and side dishes. They have always played the role of distributor to the people, so there is no way that they would be able to just set prices how they wish on these products. It’s likely that the measures focus on work teams making apple and pear beverages, liquor and beer; things that do not relate to improving the lives of the people.”

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-7): The Daily NK follows up on the DPRK’s strategy to bring official wages in line with the price level:

North Korea’s decision to drastically increase the wages of workers in parts of the heavy industrial sector is designed to boost morale and improve productivity, the better to expand the country’s capacity to generate foreign currency income from investments in the exploitation of its mineral resources.

As exclusively reported yesterday by Daily NK, major industrial concerns in North Hamkyung Province such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex have raised wages by a factor of approximately one hundred, from a derisory 3,000 won per month, around half the market price of a kilo of rice, to 300,000 won. Thus far, 100,000 won of the total has been paid in cash and the remainder in kind in an attempt to head off the very real danger of dramatic price inflation that would result from 100% cash payments.

That such a substantial wage rise was only deemed feasible in enterprises with the potential to export primary or secondary resources for foreign exchange should not come as a surprise. Smaller domestic enterprises don’t have the liquid resources to take such a step. As with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, wages in cash and kind have always been more generous for workers in joint venture enterprises than elsewhere. The latest move reflects an extension of that reality.

At this early stage, experts believe that the measure is designed to create a business model for North Korea not unlike that on show at Kaesong, under which each province can improve its economic performance and attract greater quantities of foreign capital. By actively nurturing those rare businesses that are competitive in the regional environment, the country hopes to raise productivity overall.

A researcher with Industrial Bank of Korea, Cho Bong Hyun told Daily NK, “Raising salaries for enterprises in the minerals sector looks like an inevitable choice, since productivity couldn’t have been expected from light industrial enterprises when the operational level of most of those factories is so low.

Cho continued, “The Kim Jong Eun regime, which is currently concentrating on producing results in the economic sphere, made this decision based on the fact that for some time it has been earning foreign currency quite easily by exporting its mineral resources. They also hope that by raising salaries they can induce greater productive effort, since workers have not wanted to work properly since the public distribution system collapsed [in the 1990s].”

Yoon Deok Ryong, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy added, “Kim Jong Eun has granted this autonomy to firms and raised wages in order to earn foreign currency and firm up his system. He wants to right the economy by discriminating in favor of businesses that are somewhat competitive.”

However, despite cautious enthusiasm for the latest step, the two experts cautioned that unless North Korea moves further in the direction of a market economic system, the measure might not prove effective.

Cho explained, “No matter how tightly the North Korean authorities seek to control economic activity, they will find it almost impossible to stop these wage rises inciting inflation and causing the value of the North Korean Won to nosedive even more. There is also the danger of conflict with between military and Party-Cabinet elements over the management of mineral resource enterprises that can be used to produce military goods.”

Yoon added that workers in enterprises excluded from the latest wage rises will not see the bigger economic picture, and will simply be aggrieved at there being no improvement in their own conditions. “Conflict is unavoidable,” he concluded.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-6): According to the Daily NK:

Wage levels for workers in some larger industrial enterprises have risen by a factor of approximately one hundred times, Daily NK has learned. The move, which was put forward as part of the “June 28th Policy” in mid-2012 and is designed to bring wages more into line with market price levels, appears designed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of major industrial concerns.

According to a source from North Hamkyung Province, the monthly wage of people working at Musan Iron Mine, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and Sungjin Steel Mill rose from an average of just 3000-4000 won up to 300,000 won in September and October. In an attempt to forestall the inflation that such a step would otherwise guarantee, 200,000 won of the payment is issued in goods, with just 100,000 won provided in cash.

The source explained to Daily NK on the 5th, “In September the order was handed down in the name of the State Economic Development Commission to Musan, Kim Chaek and Sungjin; it was about guaranteeing independence in terms of production and the authority to set salary levels. At the time most workers did not believe that they were going to be given a wage of 300,000 won, and are really surprised now that they are actually getting it.”

The source went on to assert that the same instructions have been handed down to all provinces, not only North Hamkyung. “Relatively more competitive” industrial enterprises in each province have been selected, he said, and are resetting wages at a higher level.

Explaining the system of payments in kind, the source said, “Because they are concerned about the danger of inflation being created by the wage rises, they give 200,000 won of it in rice, vegetables, side dishes, other necessities, and electronics. Only the remaining 100,000 won is given in cash.” Workers have been told “not to make purchases in public markets since the state is now providing for your daily needs,” although the instruction is not likely to be adhered to.

Predictably, the source revealed that the move has attracted attention from surrounding enterprises. “Workers who had been ‘off sick’ are coming back,” he said, “and workers from other enterprises have been descending on us after hearing that we are getting a lot of wages and other stuff.”

The move appears designed to increase the competitiveness of major industrial enterprises in North Korea, and to improve the attractiveness of joint ventures to companies in China.

At the time of writing, the dramatic wage increase has not generated rice price inflation in public markets in the North Hamkyung Province region. For example, the price of rice in Musan is currently stable at around 5,800 won/kg.

On this, the source concluded, “Because some of the wages have been given in kind, demand in markets will not rise for the time being.” However, he cautioned that later, when workers attempt to buy and sell the products they have received, instability and inflation could result.

Read the full story here:
Wages Rise 100x in Heavy Industry
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2013-11-6

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US hip hop performers film video in DPRK

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): You can see the video here:

UPDATE 3 (2014-1-7): The Guardian offers additional information on the rap video trip here:

Pacman and Peso have granted the Guardian an exclusive preview of the video – as well as their first interview about an adventure in the world’s most despotic regime.

The genesis of their music video was a random encounter earlier this year with Ramsey Aburdene, a 25-year-old Washington-based investment banker who liked their music and became their manager. Aburdene had a friend who used to be in the military and specialises in getting people into Pyongyang, so they hatched the plan to shoot a rap video there.

No one involved in the trip could easily articulate why exactly North Korea was an appropriate backdrop for the music video. But they still managed to raise $10,400 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

Interviewed recently in Aburdene’s bedroom in a shared house in Mount Pleasant, Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, recounted their surreal, eye-opening experiences in North Korea.

They managed to film their rap video inside Pyongyang’s faltering metro, beside the demilitarized zone bordering South Korea, on a rice farm and in front of various North Korean monuments, not least the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, an ornate mausoleum for Kim Il-sung, the so-called founder and eternal president of the country, and his son, Kim Jong-il.

Before arriving in North Korea, the group took part in a tour through Asian countries including China, Hong Kong and Mongolia. But it almost began in disaster in Beijing, when the rap entourage, which included some of Aburdene’s university friends, decided to hire motorcycles.

Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, collided with a car near Tiananmen Square and, aware that he was not insured, fled. An angry crowd apprehended Pacman, whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I was like, man, we ain’t going to North Korea. I’m gonna get locked up in Beijing,” Pacman recalls. “This shit gonna be on the news.”

After some ad-hoc diplomacy and a visit to a car repair shop, the group was let free, but missed their flight to Hong Kong, arriving late for the next leg of the journey – hosted by their main financial backer.

James Passin, a 41-year-old hedge fund manager who has poured millions of dollars in Mongolia, and also has business interests in North Korea, donated $5,100 to their Kickstarter campaign.

Described in BusinessWeek as ‘The American Who Bought Mongolia’, Passin was keen to be involved in the project. “He actually wanted to be in the North Korea video, but then his advisors told him it was probably better not to be,” Aburdene said.

Instead, Passin invited the rapping tour to Hong Kong, where he happened to be hosting his investor conference – and birthday celebration – in the Grand Hyatt hotel. Later, Passin flew the group to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. It was Peso’s favourite stop on the whole tour, not least because of the generous hospitality of their host. “The moment we arrived we got chauffeur rides to the hotel,” he said. “I had lobster with some fries while I was sipping on Sprite,” said Pacman.

Returning briefly to Beijing, the group picked up some tailored silk suits in preparation for North Korea. But by then the situation in Pyongyang had changed.

It was the end of November, and Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, had been detained in North Korea. The State Department strongly discouraged American citizens against visiting North Korea, the first warning of its kind since Pyongyang began allowing tourists into the country in 1995.

Pacman and Peso were being compared to Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star who has developed unlikely friendship with Kim Jong-un. Unlike Rodman, who is currently in Pyongyang accompanied by a fleet of former basketball players, the DC rappers did not have the blessing of Kim Jong-un, or indeed anyone else from North Korean officialdom.

Instead, they had always planned to travel beneath the radar, shooting their video under the cover of a sightseeing tour. With the five-day trip just hours away, the entourage began to realise that an interview with the BBC was probably not the best way to maintain a low-profile. Shortly before boarding, they read a Gawker article mentioning how, despite the State Department advice, “a much-publicized trip by two DC rappers, Pacman and Peso, is going ahead as planned.”

“All the buzz we were getting, I thought we were gonna get hemmed up, captured,” said Pacman. His rapping partner agreed: “I was like: uh-oh. Are we gonna make it?” They put their worries behind them and flew to Pyongyang regardless.

When the aircraft doors opened, they walked out to the sound of snapping cameras. “As soon as I seen cameras, I started being myself,” said Peso. “I started flipping my jacket open, smoking my cigarette in front of the cameras, turn[ing] round to make sure they got the suit.”

Despite the the flurry of attention from Associated Press journalists at the airport, the rappers succeeded in going largely unnoticed in North Korea.

Each day, Pacman and Peso hopped on a tourist bus, which ferried them to approved locations across the country in the company of government-sanctioned tour guides. So as not to attract attention, they used a small, Canon camera to shoot video, filming segments surreptitiously whenever their minders were looking the other way. Microphones, headphones, or amplified music were out of the question. Instead, they improvised. “We were just spitting the voice that was in our head,” Peso said. “It was just work, work, work, non-stop.”

They were not helped by the sub-zero temperatures and snow. There was rarely heating in any of the buildings and the silk suits provided little comfort. “One of the North Koreans, he gave me his coat,” Pacman said. “I asked him if he wanted it back, and he was like, ‘Nah, just keep it for the rest of the night.’”

Memories such as that left both young men with a positive experience of North Korea. They still speak about their recollections in dreamy monologues. “The old ladies looked like they were carrying the heaviest things. The army people walking down the street had guns,” said Pacman. “You see a whole bunch of rice fields. People was riding bikes. The little kids was walking down the street by themselves, they must have been in first grade. But everybody waved.”

One month on, both Pacman and Peso say they still feel energised by their journey to North Korea. They look and sound more animated than before they departed, when the anxiety was showing on their faces. “No-one has made a music video in North Korea before. Or even thought about it,” Peso said proudly. Pacman said his rapping had improved since their return. “It sounds stronger, the words are coming faster, quicker,” he said.

Smiling, he remembers the elation he felt when they departed Pyongyang. “The first thing I thought was: we made it out,” he said. “We beat the odds.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-12-1): According to the Associated Press:

The two rappers said their trip shied away from politics.

“I mean we did not go there to be political. We just go down there to shoot our video and that about the reason why we went, not political,” said Pacman – whose real name is Anthony Bobb.

The duo from the Washington area spoke to reporters at an airport in Beijing upon their return from a five-day trip to North Korea.

“Nobody shot a video in North Korea, let alone thought of it. Nobody even thought of making a video in North Korea. You know what I’m saying?” said Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis.

More in The Guardian.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-8): According to the Guardian:

Pacman and Peso have never traveled much beyond the poor suburb of Washington DC where they live. But after a successful internet fundraising drive, the unsigned hip-hop duo will next Saturday embark on a trip, to shoot a video they hope will jumpstart their career, with an unlikely destination – North Korea.

After raising $10,400 from their  Kickstarter campaign, the pair will first fly to China and then on to Pyongyang, where they plan to film songs such as “God Bless Amerika” on a party bus.

Neither of them have flown on an airplane. They say they only recently discovered that North Korea was a foreign country.

Comparisons are inevitably being made with Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player whose visits to North Korea resulted in an unlikely friendship with the country’s dynastic leader, Kim Jong-un. But Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, unsigned artists in search of a record deal to lift them out of poverty, are on the cusp of a very different kind of trip.

The story of the rap duo’s adventure could only be forged in a place like Washington, a deeply divided city where separated communities only occasionally overlap. A few months ago, Pacman was walking through his neighbourhood, Congress Heights, when he came across a group of twentysomethings shooting a music video. He struck up a friendship with one of the group, a white, 24-year-old investment banker named Ramsey Aburdene, who has since been managing the pair in his spare time.

Aburdene, from DC’s affluent north-west quadrant, had an acquaintance who happened to be an expert on North Korea. Mike Bassett, 34, is a former Iraq war veteran who was lived for seven years in South Korea, four of them with the US army.

A self-described pacifist, Bassett has become a fixer for people interested in traveling to Pyongyang. A Master’s student at American University, he has coordinated several cultural exchanges and traveled extensively in the country since restrictions were eased in 2010.

He has arranged the two rappers’ flights and visas, and laid the necessary groundwork for their tour. Bassett insists North Korea is misunderstood in the eyes of the west, and says Pacman and Peso will be treated with courtesy. Still, he has felt it necessary to provide the young rappers with some cultural advice, and instructed them to amend some of their lyrics.

An entourage consisting of Pacman, Peso, Bassett and Aburdene, plus other friends, departs next Saturday. At their leaving party in Washington on Thursday, in a bar near Aburdene’s house, Peso and Pacman provided well-wishers with an introduction to their debut mixtape.

Once or twice, the crowd broke out into chants of “North Korea”. But no-one really seemed to know exactly why the pair were traveling to the autocratic state, least of all Pacman and Peso. “I’m a thrill-seeker, I don’t fear nothing,” said Pacman, a smiley, baby-faced teenager whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I like an action movie. I can’t sit and watch a drama flick – it takes too long.”

Pacman said people keep telling him not to go; his aunt tried to talk him out of the trip and his mum told to him to watch his back. “Me personally, I don’t pay too much to politics, so I can’t say what is right. Then again, who is to say what is right and what is wrong?”

His serious-looking partner Peso, from Landover, said: “I’m excited – the only thing I’m not excited about is the plane.” He added: “We’re changing the game. Nobody has shot a video in North Korea like we’re about to do.”

Asked if he was worried for his safety, Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, replied: “You don’t think this is a dangerous place to be living at right now? There’s your answer, then.”

The idea that Pacman and Peso are just as likely to be subject to arbitrary detention, arrest and mistreatment in the streets around their home as Pyongyang has become a theme in the promotion surrounding their trip. It was the thrust of a piece profiling the pair in the Washington Post, which helped them easily surpass their fundraising goal of $6,000. The 4,000-word feature gave the pair huge exposure in the city, not least because the reporter interviewing them, Monica Hesse, was stopped and searched by police in the process.

“We’re not trying to be political heroes or anything like that,” said Aburdene. “We understand there is terrible stuff going on in North Korea, but there is terrible stuff going on here that people aren’t straight up about.”

Both Pacman and Peso have spent time in jail for minor offences. There is no doubt their day-to-day lives are not comparable to that of of the predominantly white community that is fast gentrifying America’s capital.

Aburdene said that he trusts Bassett when it comes to protecting the party’s safety in North Korea. He is not worried they will be detained, but is concerned their footage might get confiscated and said he realised they may need to tread carefully. “Even if it’s not a standard, crazy, party-like thing, I’ll enjoy the anthropological side,” he said.

But beneath the bravado, there appears to be at least a hint of anxiety on the part of the two young rappers.

At one point during a pre-show interview, Peso seemed only half-joking when he talked about the pair maybe being killed in North Korea. “If we don’t die, it will probably be a big life-changer,” he said.

He looked a little uncertain, before adding: “Can I ask you a question? What do you think is going to happen when we go over there?

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-18): US hip hop performers to film video in DPRK. According to the Washington Post:

A few weeks ago, a Kickstarter project was posted on the Internet featuring two young men who went by the names of Pacman and Peso. The duo and their producer were using the crowdsourcing site to raise money for a creative endeavor; they wanted to make a music video. A rap music video. They wanted to do it on a karaoke party bus. They needed only $6,000, a fairly modest sum, considering that this estimate also included lodging and two overseas flights. The video, you see, was going to be filmed in Pyongyang.

North Korea.

Rappers Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, are raising $6,000 to make a music video. They want to do it on a karaoke party bus in Pyongyang, North Korea. Here, they spend time in the District and Maryland, making music and spending time with family and friends.

“This trip will be a fantastic opportunity for Pacman and Peso to meet young, dynamic people and significantly broaden their horizons,” read the proposal, which was posted Aug. 30, “in addition to jump starting their musical careers.” The title was straightforward and surreal: “Pacman & Peso Make a Music Video in North Korea.”

So, yes, it sounds weird. Two African American youths from Southeast D.C. and Prince George’s County have paired with a white part-time producer from Northwest D.C., and they all want to go to North Korea because they see it as their best shot at a better future. Call Christopher Guest. Call Dave Chappelle. Someone is pulling your chain.

Unless, of course, it’s real. Unless it’s complicated. Unless it’s a whimsical windmill-tilt of a heartbreak.

“My goal was to rap,” says Peso, 20, whose real name is Dontray Ennis. If it wasn’t that, it was football. “But other than that, it was either doing wrong in the streets, or getting locked up.”

“This is my only option now,” he says of North Korea. “If it was to work.”

Read more here.

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Kim Cheol Woong performance in Virginia

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Apologies to readers outside the DC area, but I am posting a “local” event. I hope to see you there.

North Korean pianist, Kim Cheol Woong, who now lives in Seoul, will be performing at an event in Burke, VA. You can learn more about Mr. Kim in this New York Times article.

Here is the marketing flyer with the date, time, and location:

MaJoong-Poster-EN

Here is the flyer in Korean (한국)

Here is a, invitation letter (PDF) from NKUS, North Korean Refugees in the USA (Homepage, Facebook).

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North Korea stressing science and technology in agricultural sector

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)
2013-3-14

North Korea is emphasizing the importance of science and technology in the agricultural sector.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), recently featured an article written by Ri Yong Gu, director of the Ministry of Agriculture, titled “Key Issues to Pay Attention for Introducing Technology Products in Farming Operations.” The article emphasized the importance of science and technology in the WPK’s policies and claimed technology products, such as farm machineries, fertilizer, pesticides, and soil conditioners must be introduced to promote agricultural production.

In addition, the article called for accurate assessment of economic benefits to be gained by introduction of technology products and for evaluation of scientists, technicians, and farmers to mobilize the public and to integrate science and technology with production in all units of the agricultural sector.

Technology products were explained as an important factor for reducing agricultural production costs, making crucial the selection of appropriate technology based on the experience and skill level of farmers and soil conditions of each farm.

Choson Sinbo, the Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, featured an article on February 27 that scientific farming methods were incorporated in the Samji River Collaborative Farm that linked with the Center for Agricultural and Technology Dissemination through a computer network.

It is not new for North Korea to emphasize the use of science and technology in agriculture; however, in recent years, more emphasis is being placed on this factor.

In the 2013 New Year’s speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, agricultural and light industries were named as the frontline industries for economic construction. In the speech, Kim stressed that “incorporating science and technology into agricultural production and increasing the level of integration must be accomplished in order to reach wheat production target for this year.”

In time for rice planting season in May, North Korea is hoping to increase fertilizer production and to promote agricultural technology in order to boost production countrywide.

This emphasis is in line with the successful launch of the long-range rocket launch last December, preferential atmosphere toward scientists, and promotion of science and technology in the economic sector.

Increased grain production last year may be due to improved fertilizer supply. Production is expected to improve this year as scientific farming continues to be emphasized.

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Mansu Hill statue drama…

Monday, February 11th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-10): Kyodo (via The Telegraph) solves the riddle of just why the Kim statues on Mansu Hill were covered up in October 2012 (See below)–a new version of the Kim Jong-il statue was put up. It replaced a statue that was erected in April 2012.

Below is a before/after comparison.

NKOREA_STATUE_COMP_2476186c

UPDATE 1 (2012-10-3): A reader sends in this image of the statues covered up.

Ruedeger Frank also publishes an image at 38 North.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-24):

Pictured above are satellite and ground-level images of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues on Mansu Hill. Although these statues were unveiled just this past April, word on the street is that they are once-again  hidden under a protective covering  that was placed on the site sometime in mid-September. Unfortunately, there are not yet any pictures of the new wraps.

Although it is unclear why the statues have been covered up, Occam’s razor tells me that they are doing some maintenance work of some kind.

On a related note, the Mansu Hill model replica at the newly constructed Pyongyang Folk Village is missing its Kim statues as well. North Korean television footage of Kim Jong-un’s visit to the newly-opened park revealed a Mansudae Grand Monument that looked rather hollow in the center owing to the absence of the Kim statues:

As we all know, official images of the leaders are produced exclusively by the Mansudae Art studio in Pyongyang’s Phyongchon District. Either the art studio has not gotten around to making miniature replicas of the statues on Mansu Hill or this exhibit will never have them.

I believe the latter is probably the case.

From an ideological perspective, miniature Kim replicas would not inspire the masses the way the real [large] statues are meant to. They would almost certainly cause confusion. Can you imagine bowing to a statue shorter than you? Actually from the television footage it is difficult to make out the scale of the site, but it is quite probable that even miniature statues would be larger than life-size.

From a fiscal perspective, installing real [miniature] Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues would be expensive for the park managers. In addition to the cost of commissioning the two statues, the park managers would have to begin treating this part of the park as an actual revolutionary site–with all the formality, expense and protocol associated therewith. I don’t think anybody wants that.

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