Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

DPRK restaurant in Dubai

Friday, December 31st, 2010

NPR published a story about a North Korean restaurant in Dubai.  According to the article:

The Dubai branch of the Okryu-Gwan restaurant is tucked into the corner of a nondescript business park in Dubai’s Deira neighborhood. In the dining room, the all-female staff is dressed in colorful gowns and robes. Most speak decent English and are happy to guide newcomers to Pyongyang cuisine through the menu.

The signature naengmyon cold noodles are recommended, but the menu is extensive, with varieties of kimchi, the pickled cabbage dish popular on both ends of the Korean peninsula, as well as Korean meat and fish dishes. It’s not quite as spicy as they do it in Seoul, says one waitress pressed for the difference between North and South Korean cooking.

As the food begins to arrive, a synthesizer strikes up a theremin-sounding introduction, and soon the waitresses are onstage, belting out Korean songs and decades-old American pop.

The Okryu-Gwan restaurants are an important source of hard currency for Pyongyang, says Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, via e-mail.

Since so few North Koreans get to travel, Noland says, being picked to work in the restaurants is a plum assignment.

Potential staff members are thoroughly vetted for political reliability, he added, and pressure may be used against family members to minimize the risk of defection. But as long as the restaurants meet their monthly revenue quotas, the regime tends not to interfere.

Dubai’s Okryu-Gwan is tiny compared with the cavernous original in Pyongyang, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The official North Korean news agency reported that leader Kim Jong Il himself provided “on-site guidance” when the restaurant added a 60,000-square-foot extension.

The foreign branches do have their advantages, however: Unlike the average North Korean, I did not have to endure a lengthy waiting list to purchase a ticket from my work unit to get in.

If any readers can find this restaurant on Google Earth, please let me know.

Read the full story here:
Dubai Restaurant Offers A Taste Of North Korea
Peter Kenyon


Friday Fun: New year’s close out

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Item number one: the DPRK’s domestically produced film camera, Hakmujong-1 (학무정-1):

This picture comes via the Russian blog “Show and Tell Pyongyang”. You can read about this camera in the original Russian here.  You can read about it in English (via Google Translate) here. This is the same blog that informed us about the DPRK’s PDA device and the DPRK’s Linux OS, Red Star.  He also has some fabulous pictures of the Kim Jong-suk Pyongyang Silk Mill here.

Item number two: DPRK’s domestic “Coke”:

This photo comes from the collection of Eric Lafforgue.  If you have not already seen his photos, please do yourself a favor and click over.

The soda is “Crabonated” which is a pretty funny typo.  Also worth noting are the lengths they have gone through to copy the Coca-Cola brand–as if they are trying to win back market-share from the foreign firm.  The colors, red, black, silver and white are the same.  The familiar cursive English “C” at the beginning of the word is a close copy.  They even tried to replicate the Coke “wave” by adding a literal wave in a similar curve along the bottom of the advert.

Item number three: DPRK caviar (Okryu Restaurant)

“Thanks to our leader Kim Jong-il we have managed to breed sturgeons.  People from Pyongyang and other provinces can come here to taste caviar and turtle meat.”

See the full video here. Here is a satellite image of the restaurant.

Item number four: Women’s fashion

Uriminzokkiri has posted a clip on DPRK women’s fashion to their Youtube account.  You can see it here.  I have blogged about women’s fashion before here and here.

Item number five: New Koryolink advert (Koryolink is the DPRK’s new 3-G mobile phone service founded by Orascom)

The video comes from this NK web page.  For South Koreans I posted it to my Youtube account.  You can see it here.

Item number six: DPRK verison of The Diary of Anne Frank

Michael Rank has scanned the introduction and uploaded it here.

Item number seven: Happy new year!


North Korean restaurants generate revenue overseas

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The Okryugwan chain of North Korean restaurants opened its first China branch in Beijing in 2003. Located in the Wangjing district, which has large numbers of Korean residents, it apparently makes more than W7 million (US$1=W1,141) a day in revenues.

The chain is most famous for naengmyeon or cold noodles, but its beef rib stew and kimchi are also popular, and customers can buy them to take home. Seasonal North Korean delicacies such as steamed crabs from the East Sea or wild mushrooms are also served.

So popular are the restaurants that a knockoff has popped up in Shanghai employing Korean Chinese instead of North Koreans.

North Korean restaurants are also famous for the performances put on by their staff, who sing not only their country’s folk and pop songs but also South Korean pop songs. Staff at the Shanghai Okryugwan reportedly sing even American pop songs like the “Titanic” theme.

Most of the North Korean staff are graduates of Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce or attended professional culinary school in Pyongyang. Earlier this year, a beautiful waitress at a North Korean restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia gained near-celebrity status in South Korea after a picture of her was posted on the Internet.

North Korean restaurants began opening overseas branches during the 1990s. Okryugwan has outlets in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Russia, Nepal and Dubai. North Korean provincial governments, their affiliated agencies and other organizations raced to open restaurants abroad, and now there are more than 100.

Depending on the size of their staff, the restaurants must wire back between US$100,000 and $300,000 to North Korea each year. Those with poor revenues are forced to close, so they advertise heavily, even featuring ads in South Korean community journals abroad.

The North Korean staff have experience working at restaurants in Pyongyang and spend around three years abroad. Even if they come from privileged backgrounds in the North, they are still vulnerable to the temptations of capitalism. In Qingdao, China, a North Korean restaurant was forced to close for months because its staff absconded. Last week, the manager the Okryugwan in Nepal apparently fled to India with a stash of dollars that were supposed to be sent to the North.

But with a drop in the number of South Korean customers following North Korea’s artillery bombing of Yeonpyeong Island, compounded by the defections, North Korean restaurants abroad may face a cold winter.

Read the full story here:
Why N.Korea Values Its Restaurants Abroad
Choson Ilbo
Oh Tae-jin


Jon Il-chun re-surfaces

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

South Korean intelligence officials breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday. They had finally located Jon Il-chun, the head of a special department in North Korea’s Workers Party that manages Kim Jong-il’s slush fund. Jon, who had eluded intelligence officials for the past six months, was finally spotted on a North Korean TV broadcast featuring one of leader Kim Jong-il’s so-called on-the-spot guidance tours in Pyongyang.

The 69-year-old Jon went to high school with Kim (68) and was appointed head of the department, known as Room 39, early this year. It manages 17 overseas branch offices and around 100 trading companies and even owns a gold mine and a bank. The US$200-300 million those companies make each year is funneled into Kim’s secret bank accounts around the world.

Room 39 is targeted each time the U.S. and other foreign governments apply financial sanctions against North Korea. Kim replaced its head early this year because the former director, Kim Tong-un, was put on an EU list of sanctioned individuals late last year, making it impossible for him to manage the leader’s secret overseas bank accounts.

Due to the importance of the department and the clandestine nature of its business, the director of Room 39 rarely appears in public, but he sometimes accompanies Kim Jong-il on guidance tours when they involve organizations linked to Kim’s slush funds, an intelligence official said.

In the TV clip on Sunday, Jon is seen with Kim on an tour to Hyangmanlu, a popular restaurant, and Sonhung food manufacturing plant. A North Korean defector who used to live in Pyongyang, said the restaurant was built in the 1990s by a wealthy ethnic Korean from Japan and is located in a busy part of Pyongyang. “It was always packed with wealthy party officials,” the defector said, adding the party manages the restaurant so the entire proceeds probably go into Kim Jong-il’s coffers. He added there is a strong possibility that the food factory also belongs to the party.

The last time Jon appeared on North Korean TV was on June 20, at the opening of a mine in Yanggang Province. A North Korean source said the Huchang Mine is a famous copper mine that had been closed for some time but must have reopened. “Judging by the fact that Jon took part in the opening ceremony, it appears to be one of many mines run by Room 39.”

Jon was also spotted at Kim’s inspections of two fisheries companies last year and one this year. A Unification Ministry official said, “North Korean exports of fisheries products are handled by the party or the military and they’re sources of revenue for Kim Jong-il’s slush fund.” Fisheries products accounted for the second largest North Korea’s W1.64 trillion exports to South Korea last year, amounting to W173 billion or 16.3 percent. Textiles totaled W477 billion or 44.8 percent.

“This is one of the reasons why we blocked imports of North Korean fisheries products” following the North’s sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, the official said.

Additional Information:

1. Michael Madden has written a biography of Jon Il-chun here.

2. Here is a satellite image of the Hyangmanru Restaurant.  Here is a satellite image of the Sohung Foodstuff Factory (right next door).

Read the full story here:
Elusive Manager of Kim Jong-il’s Slush Funds Pops Up Again
Choson Ilbo


DPRK restaurant manager allegedly defects

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

UPDATE (1/3/2011): According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea has shut down a restaurant in Kathmandu and recalled all of its staff after the manager absconded with the takings in late November.

South Koreans in Kathmandu said the 13 to 15 North Korean staff of the Kumgangsan restaurant were recalled to the North right after the manager fled.

But the Kathmandu branch of the Pyongyang Okryugwan restaurant chain, which had been misidentified as the one where the manager worked, is still in business in a back alley about 1 km across the street from Kumgangsan.

Most South Korean tourists and about 400 expats in Kathmandu have stopped going to the restaurant since the South Korean Embassy in Nepal wrote to expats and tour operators asking them to refrain from visiting North Korean restaurants after the North’s torpedo attack on the Navy corvette Cheonan in March last year.

“Please refrain from visiting North Korean restaurants that are becoming sources of funds for the Kim Jong-il regime. Anyone who has visited such restaurants will be subject to investigation on charges of violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Law and the National Security Law upon returning home,” the embassy warned in an email.

A South Korean resident said the Kumgangsan and Okryugwan restaurants had depended largely on South Korean customers, so their sales must have dwindled.

The Kumgangsan manager, identified as Yang, reportedly came to South Korea via India. Nepalese police released two South Koreans who were arrested after North Korea accused them of kidnapping him and were deported on charges of violating immigration law.

UPDATE (12/23/2010): According to the AFP, the Nepalese have released the two South Koreans who allegedly assisted the North Korean to defect.

Nepal has released two South Koreans held for their alleged involvement in the case of a missing North Korean, the South’s foreign ministry said Thursday.

The two men, who live in Nepal, were ordered to leave the country within 15 days after being freed, the ministry said.

Yonhap news agency said the pair were accused of helping a North Korean surnamed Yang flee the Himalayan nation across the border into India, after which he defected to the South.

A local media report in the Himalayan country had said they were arrested following pressure from Pyongyang’s embassy in Kathmandu, which wanted them charged with kidnapping Yang.

South Korean newspapers have said Yang was the manager of the local franchise of an overseas restaurant chain operated by the North.

The franchises are an important source of scarce foreign currency for the cash-strapped regime.

Some 20,000 North Koreans have fled their homeland and arrived in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 war, almost always through a third country.

UPDATE (12/15/2010): According to the Choson Ilbo the defector left with some substantial funds from the DPRK restaurant in which he worked.

ORIGINAL POST (12/14/2010): According to the Choson Ilbo:

A North Korean who went missing in Nepal recently had been the manager of a North Korean restaurant there, it emerged on Monday.

A diplomatic source said the man, identified as Yang, managed the Kathmandu branch of the Pyongyang Okryugwan restaurant chain and had been there for about a year. It seems he defected and is believed to be in New Delhi, India now.

Overseas branches of Okryugwan are a main source of hard currency for North Korea, and the regime carefully selects managers. The North is apparently very sensitive about Yang’s defection, according to South Korean intelligence, because he made off with a stash of dollars that were supposed to be sent to the North.

The North Korean Embassy has asked the Nepali authorities to investigate two South Koreans identified as Choi and Sun who it says had friendly ties with Yang and kidnapped him. Choi and Sun have been arrested, and South Korean Embassy officials are negotiating for their release.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Restaurant Manager Absconds from Nepal
Choson Ilbo


Hoeryong “Food Avenue” completed

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010


Above (UPDATED): Google Earth satellite imagery of “Food Avenue” in Hoeryong

According to the Daily NK:

A North Korean source from [Hoeryong] has reported that “Food Avenue”, a project designed to attract Chinese tourists to the city which began almost two years ago, has been completed.

According to the source, who spoke with The Daily NK on the 18th, “’Food Avenue’, below Kim Jong Suk University of Education in Nammun-dong, has just been completed, and now they are making a fuss about it as it will appear on television today. Several restaurants like Hoiryeonggak, a noodle restaurant, held opening ceremonies today, too.”

North Korea launched the construction project on orders issued by Kim Jong Il during a visit to his mother’s home town on February 24th, 2009, causing the provincial and city Party committees of North Hamkyung Province and Hoiryeong to launch a 150-day battle to complete the work between April 20th and September 16th.

However, even though workers, housewives and students were pressed into service during the period, the project was not even 50% complete by September. Although North Korea tried to attract Chinese investment, it did not work and the project finally limped to the finish line more than a year later.

The avenue starts from the front gate of Kim Jong Suk University of Education and ends in front of ‘Hoiryeong coal mining machinery factory’, a little more than a five minute walk away. Among other things, the restaurants on the street sell North Korean-style noodles, cold noodles, dog-meat soup and Chinese-style kebabs.

The authorities are hoping that by using the geographical location of Hoiryeong, on the border with the Chinese town of Sanhe, they will be able to attract tourists to Kim Jong Suk’s hometown and earn hard currency at the same time.

Needless to say, however, that while the North Korean propagandist media is busy advertising the glorious completion of Food Avenue, local citizens are looking on with disdain.

As the source put it, “I have no idea what the purpose of building this avenue is, since who on earth would come and eat here? Only a few officials from foreign currency earning enterprises who travel back and forth to China will come, so it is pathetic to even imagine that the businesses will be successful.”

“The restaurants on Food Avenue were as good as forced to open since they were assigned to individual enterprises,” he went on, before adding, “The people just ask, ‘Is there any way for businesses run by enterprises and the nation to be successful?’”

I have not seen any North Korean television this week, but if I see ground level pictures, I will post them.

Read the full story here:
Food Avenue Finally Complete in Hoiryeong
Daily NK
Yoo Gwan Hee


Pyongyang night life

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

According to Sify News:

Life in Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea, is boisterous and fun-filled even as the country is threatened with military action from the West due to its nuclear programme, reports Xinhua.

Screams from roller coaster rides, karaoke and clink of beer glasses at night clubs seem to be quite a picture of metropolitan areas like New York, Tokyo or Beijing.

Well, make no mistake. This is what actually happens at night in Pyongyang.

Though without dazzling neon signs, the hustle and bustle of discos or the notorious red-light districts, night life in Pyongyang is not cloaked in silence.

Built in the 1980s in Pyongyang’s Moranbong area, the Kaeson Youth Park used to operate only a handful of simple rides and was open to the public only during the daytime and on holidays. With a restoration being done by authorities, tourists can now have fun, even at night, with an Italy-made ‘jumping machine’, pirate ship and roller coaster being rated at the top by visitors.

There are also video-game lounges, where children were seen shooting flying saucers and racing cars.

‘Over 5,000 people visited the park every night. And it is a good place for people to be relaxed after a day’s work,’ Kim Hyok, the park’s director, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

While a visit to the park is not free of charge, it does not cost that much either.

An adult ticket costs 20 won (21 cents) and one for a child 10 won. And it costs about 250 won or $2.65 to take part in all the facilities. For foreigners, however, the ticket costs one euro ($1.27).

Even though electricity is in short supply in North Korea, authorities have specially laid two cables to guarantee regular service to the park.

Karaoke – popularly known in Pyongyang as ‘film-accompanied music’ – is another popular night time entertainment.

Even the country’s leader, Kim Jong Il, has supported popularising karaoke as he says it was a good way to make the lives of all people varied and rich.

In many restaurants in the capital city, karaoke as well as popular music is played for the pleasure of customers. To liven things up, waitresses are also trained to sing.

Beer bars and pubs are also reporting huge turnouts as night falls upon Pyongyang.

Bars are seen filled with laughter, cheers, and the aroma of tasty homemade beer.

The Qingxing beer house, Pyongyang’s largest bar, opened in April this year with a capacity of 1,000 people.

While retired people and housewives are seen in the daytime, government officials, public servants and workers would arrive after office hours.

Interestingly, the beer bar prepares only tables for customers and provides no chairs. Drinkers have to stand, while waiters serve beverages in carts.

During summer, the beer bar receives an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 customers per day.

Meanwhile, in a bid to attract more female customers, the Taedong Beer Brewhouse, which produces beer in a Pyongyang surburb, was preparing a fruity flavour.

Read the full story here:
North Korean capital has a night life – minus the dazzle
Sify News


Rakwon Department Store

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

According ot the Daily NK:

A source from inside North Korea has offered an insight into the lives of the rich and powerful Pyongyang elite thanks to some rare pictures of the Rakwon Department Store.

Rakwon Department Store, which can be found on Changgwang Street in the capital’s central district, is operated by Daesung Corporation, part of the powerful No.39 Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party. Lying in an area near Changgwangwon, Air Koryo HQ and the Changgwangsan Hotel, with one of the city’s nicest apartment complexes directly behind it, the store boasts state-of-the-art facilities.

On the first floor, there is a supermarket selling food and other daily requirements, while electronics and clothes are to be found on the second floor.

On the third floor, there is a restaurant with a separate exit to the street which boasts an advanced microbrewery imported from Germany to produce various draft beers.

The restaurant has a main area with twelve tables and a further fifteen rooms. Each room houses a 30” wall-mounted TV and karaoke facilities used by Party officials and their families. The restaurant is known to be among the best in the city, comparable with Roksanwon, which is run by the People’s Security Ministry.

The restaurant’s draft beers are particularly popular with the rich, and other restaurants in the city are now also seeking to import similar facilities, the source told The Daily NK.

As the pictures show, all restaurant prices are denominated in Euro.

There is also a sauna in the basement, the source said. Inside the sauna, there is both a swimming pool and family bathing area. As it happens, there is another popular swimming pool, Changgwangwon, right next door, but The Daily NK’s source explained which is better, saying, “Changgwangwon is for middle-class Pyongyang residents, but they really envy those Party officials and the privileged few who can go to Rakwon Department Store.”

A $30,000 grand piano was sold by Rakwon Department Store even during the currency reform period, causing a sensation among Pyongyang insiders, he added.

Here are the pictures from the story:

rakwonstore-1.jpg rakwonstore-2.jpg rakwonstore-3.jpg rakwonstore-4.jpg rakwonstore-5.jpg rakwonstore-6.jpg rakwonstore-7.jpg rakwonstore-8.jpg rakwonstore-9.jpg  

The Rakwon Department store used to sell the highly-demanded, high-quality Japanese goods for yen.  It is interesting to see how their business model has changed since the 1980s.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang’s Fine Dept. Store, Rakwon
Daily NK
Park In Ho


Park – Gomes Saga

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

UPDATE 16: 10/27/2010 – Robert Park has spoken of long-term psychological problems stemming from his captivity in North Korea.  According to the Choson Ilbo:

The evangelical activist Robert Park, who was detained in North Korea for 43 days after crossing the border from China in December last year, has spoken for the first time on South Korean TV about the ordeal. “They have really thought about this. How can we kill these people, how can we starve these people, how can we enslave these people, how can we control these people,” the Korean American told KBS on Tuesday.

He pledged to devote the rest of his life to fighting for the demise of the North Korean regime and the human rights of North Koreans.

Park recalled how he crossed the Duman (or Tumen) River on Dec. 25 last year, and was immediately arrested and beaten. “The scars and wounds of the things that happened to me in North Korea are too intense,” he said. He added that to prevent him from divulging the details of his detention, the security forces carried out humiliating sexual torture. “As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I’ve thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship.”

He attempted a suicide immediately after he returned to the United States and had to be treated by a psychiatrist for seven months.

Park insisted that an apology he read on North Korean TV was dictated to him. Asked why he decided to enter the North illegally armed with nothing but a Bible, he said, “I hoped through my sacrifice, that people will come together and they will liberate North Korea.”

UPDATE 15: 8/30/2010 – Doubts raised over whether Gomes attempted suicide. According ot the Choson Ilbo:

The North’s official KCNA news agency on July 9 reported Gomes tried to kill himself “driven by his guilty conscience and by frustration with the U.S. government’s failure to free him.” It said he was being treated in hospital.

After the news, the U.S. administration quickly decided to send Carter to Pyongyang. In mid-August, a U.S. State Department medical team visited the North to check on the prisoner.

But in an interview with the New York Times last Saturday, Gomes’ uncle Michael Farrow denied he attempted suicide but had gone on hunger strike.

“I wouldn’t say that he was anywhere near sick at all,” the daily quoted Farrow as saying. “Naturally he probably had some discomfort of being away from home, but other than that he held up pretty good.” This suggests that Gomes was protesting against his detention.

Gomes arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston on the same plane as Carter on Friday and went home with his family without talking to the press.

UPDATE 14: 8/27/2010- Here is KCNA coverage of Cater’s visit to secure the release of Gomes:

Report on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to DPRK

Pyongyang, August 27 (KCNA) — Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the United States, and his party visited the DPRK from Aug. 25 to 27.

Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, met and had a talk with them.

He discussed with Carter the pending issues of mutual concern between the DPRK and the U.S.

Kim Yong Nam expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks.

In particular, he emphasized that it is the behest of President Kim Il Sung to denuclearize the peninsula.

Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes’ illegal entry into the DPRK and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again on behalf of the government and the ex-president of the U.S. He asked Kim Yong Nam to convey to General Secretary Kim Jong Il a message courteously requesting him to grant special pardon to Gomes to leniently forgive him and let him go home.

After receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, Kim Jong Il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes, an illegal entrant, pursuant to Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK.

Carter expressed deep thanks for this.

Earlier, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for Consular Affairs and his party visited Pyongyang from August 9 to 11 in connection with the case of Gomes and met officials of the Foreign Ministry and a relevant legal body of the DPRK.

The DPRK side took measures as an exception to ensure that they met Gomes three times and confirmed his condition. The U.S. side offered gratitude for these humanitarian measures.

The measure taken by the DPRK to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.

During the visit Carter and his party met and had an open-hearted discussion with the DPRK’s foreign minister and vice foreign minister for U.S. affairs on the DPRK-U.S. relations, the resumption of the six-party talks, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.

They also enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.

The Pyongyang visit paid by Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the U.S., provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries.

UPDATE 13: 8/25/2010 – Jimmy Carter has arrived in Pyongyang for the second time in his life.

UPDATE 12: Jimmy Carter is reportedly gearing up to go and get Mr. Gomes.

UPDATE 11: According to All Headline News:

The United States confirmed on Monday that a four-person team visited Pyongyang recently to meet with 30-year-old Aijalon Gomes, who has been held captive since January.

Asked to comment on the visit, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told journalists, “It was a four person team: one consular official, two doctors, and a translator. We requested permission to visit Mr. Gomes. That permission from the North Korean Government was granted. The basis of the trip was simply our ongoing concerns about Mr. Gomes’s health and welfare.”

“They (the team from the State Department, Washington) were in Pyongyang from August 9 through August 11. I believe they returned on August 12,” said Crowley, adding, “They visited him (Gomes) in a hospital.”

Crowley said that although the U.S. and Swedish officials on its behalf, “requested permission to bring Mr. Gomes home,” adding, “Unfortunately, he remains in North Korea.”

“We have had conversations directly with North Korea on this issue. We have encouraged them to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds and we will continue to have that direct conversation with North Korea as needed,” Crowley noted.

UPDATE 10: US in direct contact with DPRK re: Gomes (Daily NK)

UPDATE 9: (2010-7-19) Robert Park has apparently broken his silence to speak out for Gomes.  According to KOLD News 13 (Tucson, AZ):

For the first time since his release from North Korea, Tucsonan Robert Park is speaking out.

He’s speaking out now to send a message about Aijalon Gomes, a U.S. citizen who’s currently being held in North Korea.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Park said. “He’s a very good friend of mine.”

Gomes, a Boston resident, crossed into North Korea one month after Park did. Gomes has been sentenced to eight years in a North Korean labor camp. But North Korea has recently threatened to increase that punishment, by invoking the country’s “wartime law,” citing growing tensions with the U.S.

It’s still not clear exactly why Gomes entered North Korea, but based on limited communications with his friend, Park believes it’s because of him.

“He was very concerned about me,” said Park, who added that crossing into North Korea was uncharacteristic for Gomes. “He was so concerned that (I) was dead, so that’s why he took this risk and he just went in.”

Park says he’s now going on a hunger strike to raise awareness and urgency about Gomes’ situation.

“I’m on the third day of my hunger strike,” he said. “I plan to not consume any food until he is released, even if that means my death.”

Park is also urging Americans to contact lawmakers to intervene.

“If you would please contact your government leaders and plead with them, raise awareness with them concerning Aijalon Gomes’s case, and ask that they make a direct visit.”

UPDATE 8: KCNA reports Gomes attempted suicide:

American Prisoner Attempts Suicide
Pyongyang, July 9 (KCNA) — American Gomes serving a prison term in the DPRK recently attempted to take his own life, according to information available from a relevant organ.

Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide. He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital.

The Swedish embassy here representing the U.S. interests acquainted itself with the condition of the patient at the hospital.

According to the New York Times:

In April, North Korea sentenced Mr. Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him the equivalent of $700,000 for entering the country illegally and for “hostile acts.”

North Korea recently threatened to increase the punishment for Mr. Gomes under the country’s “wartime law,” saying worsening tensions with the United States had created a warlike situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Gomes’s motivation for entering North Korea is unclear. He had been teaching English in South Korea before his arrest in the North. In late April, he was allowed to speak to his mother by telephone.

UPDATE 7: DPRK threatens to increase punishment of Gomes over the Cheonan situation.  Apparenlty there is no North Korean word for “Double Jeapordy“.  According to the BBC:

North Korea said it would use “wartime law” against the 30-year-old if the US continued its “hostile approach” over the sinking of a South Korean warship.


According to North Korea’s state news agency, US requests to free Gomes will not be accepted while the dispute over the sinking of the warship continues.

Instead the Korean Central News Agency says “there remains only the issue of what harsher punishment will be meted out to him”.

“If the US persists in its hostile approach, the latter will naturally be compelled to consider the issue of applying a wartime law to him,” state media reported.

Analysts say “wartime law” could mean a life sentence or the death penalty.

UPDATE 6: Gomes has phoned home.  According to the AP (4/30/2010):

An American imprisoned in North Korea was allowed to speak to his family by telephone Friday, state media said.

North Korea sentenced Aijalon Mahli Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him $700,000 in early April for entering the country illegally in January and for an unspecified “hostile act.”

Gomes, from Boston, was the fourth American detained by North Korea for illegal entry in less than a year. He had been teaching English in South Korea.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Gomes spoke with family on Friday. The call was allowed after Gomes asked “for a phone contact with his family for his health and other reasons,” the report said.

The brief dispatch from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang provided no further details on the call.

KCNA also said Gomes had contact in prison with a Swedish Embassy official to whom he handed a “written petition.” The report said that happened before the phone call but wasn’t specific.

The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and Sweden handles U.S. interests in the North.

UPDATE 5: Gomes has been sentenced.  According to the BBC:

North Korea has sentenced a US citizen to eight years’ hard labour for illegally entering the country, state news agency KCNA has said.

The man, named as 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, admitted his wrongdoing in court, KCNA reported.

Gomes had worked as an English teacher in South Korea, and reportedly crossed the border from China on 25 January.

Swedish diplomats were allowed to attend the trial, as the US has no diplomatic presence in North Korea.

Gomes, described by colleagues as a devout Christian, was also fined 70 million won ($700,000; £460,000 at the official exchange rate). It is not clear why he entered North Korea.

Goodwill gesture?
Despite the jail sentence, analysts suggested Gomes could be freed before too long as Pyongyang tries to improve bilateral relations with the US.

“The North is not going to hold him for eight years,” Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University told the AFP news agency.

“It is likely to suspend the implementation of the sentence and expel him as a goodwill gesture toward the United States.”

Gomes was the fourth American citizen to be accused of entering the country in the past year. In February, North Korea freed Robert Park, who had entered the country from China by walking over a frozen river.

He had reportedly wanted to highlight human rights issues in North Korea, but was said before his release to have admitted his “mistake”.

Last year two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were also arrested by North Korea on the border with China.

They were sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour but freed in August after four months in captivity, as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former US President Bill Clinton.

According to KCNA:

Central Court Gives American to 8 Years Hard Labor

Pyongyang, April 7 (KCNA) — A trial of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, male U.S. citizen, was held at a court of justice of the Central Court of the DPRK on Tuesday.

An examination was made of the hostile act committed against the Korean nation and the trespassing on the border of the DPRK against which an indictment was brought in and his guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK at the trial. On this basis, the court sentenced him to eight years of hard labor and a fine of 70 million won.

The accused admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation.

The presence of representatives of the Swedish embassy here to witness the trial was allowed as an exception at the request of the Swedish side protecting the U.S. interests.



North Korean restaurants in Asia

Monday, March 29th, 2010

According to Slate:

North Korean government-run restaurants have existed for years in the regions of China adjacent to the DPRK’s northern border, but the 21st century has seen an expansion of the business into other parts of Asia. In 2002, the first Southeast Asian branch of Pyongyang opened in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap, and it became an immediate hit with South Korean tour groups visiting the nearby temples of Angkor. The success of the restaurant, reportedly opened by Ho Dae-sik, the local representative of the DPRK-aligned International Taekwondo Federation, led to the opening of the Phnom Penh branch in 2003. This was followed by more elaborate establishments in Bangkok and the popular Thai beach resort of Pattaya, as well as a small branch in the Laotian capital, Vientiane.

Little is known of how the restaurants operate, but experts say they are closely linked with other overseas operations run by the reclusive regime in Pyongyang. Bertil Lintner, author of Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korean Under the Kim Clan, says that in the early 1990s, North Korea was hit by a severe economic crisis caused by the disruption in trading ties with its former Communist allies. At that time, both the Soviet Union and China began to demand that Pyongyang pay for imports in hard currency rather than barter goods, forcing it to open “capitalist” foreign ventures to make up funding shortfalls. He says the restaurants are part of this chain of trading companies controlled by Bureau 39, the “money making” (and money-laundering) arm of the Korean Workers’ Party.

“The restaurants are used to earn additional money for the government in Pyongyang—at the same time as they were suspected of laundering proceeds from North Korea’s more unsavory commercial activities,” he says. “Restaurants and other cash-intensive enterprises are commonly used as conduits for wads of bills, which banks otherwise would not accept as deposits.”

According to reports from defectors, the eateries are operated through a network of local middlemen who are required to remit a certain amount every year to the coffers in Pyongyang. Kim Myung Ho, a North Korean defector who ran a restaurant in northern China, reported in 2007 that each establishment, affiliated with “trading companies” operated by the government, was forced to make annual fixed payments of between $10,000 and $30,000 back to the North Korean capital. “Every year, the sum total is counted at the business headquarters in Pyongyang, but if there’s even a small default or lack of results, then the threat of evacuation is given,” Kim told reporters from the Daily NK, a North Korean news service run by exiles and human rights activists.

A year ago, the Pyongyang restaurants in Cambodia and Thailand suddenly closed their doors, only to reopen again after a six-month hiatus. Lintner cited an Asian diplomat in Bangkok saying the restaurants, like all “capitalist” enterprises, were hit hard by the global economic crisis, but locals familiar with the establishment in Phnom Penh offered another explanation. One worker at a nearby business said Pyongyang closed after a dispute with a Cambodian customer who tried to take one of its North Korean waitresses out for “drinks” after dinner.

If true, it would not be the first time. In 2006 and 2007, Daily NK reported several incidents in which waitresses from North Korean restaurants in China’s Shandong and Jilin provinces tried to defect, forcing the closure of the operations. Kim Myung Ho added that two or three DPRK security agents live onsite at each restaurant to “regulate” the workers and that any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.

Read the full story here:
Kingdom Kim’s Culinary Outposts
Sebastian Strangio