Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

2.16 Turtle soup

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

February 16 is Kim Jong Il’s official birthday and the second most important national holiday in the DPRK. I will let you guess the first.  The celebration actiities were predictable: fireworks, synchronized swimmingpublic pledges of loyalty, dancing, and of course the Kimjongilia flower show. The usual.

KCNA, however, pointed out one new tradition of which I was unaware:

Turtle Dishes Begin to Be Served
Pyongyang, February 13 (KCNA) — Okryu Restaurant in Pyongyang has begun serving dishes made of snapping turtle on the occasion of the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, February 16.

One can be treated in the restaurant with various kinds of turtle dishes such as turtle soup, raw dishes made of turtle heart, liver or spawn, steamed or fried turtle and turtle porridge.

Liquors of famous brands including Pyongyang Soju brewed at the Taedonggang Foodstuff Factory are adding to the taste of the dishes.

The dishes are associated with leader Kim Jong Il’s loving care for improving the people’s diet as required by a thriving nation.

He gave meticulous instructions as to turtle breeding and cookery, hoping that turtle dishes, good for health, would be served well to the people at restaurants.

Refurbished Okryu Restaurant, famous for Pyongyang cold noodles, took the lead in making preparations to successfully realizing the leader’s wish.

Its employees built a habitat in order to raise turtles on a large scale.

They completed a unique cookery for diversified turtle dishes to suit the Korean people’s taste through several sampling parties.

Along with turtle food the restaurant also delights customers with caviar and other rare dishes.

It has a plan to include bullfrog, salmon and other high-grade dishes in its menu.

The Okryu Restaurant is located here.

The Daily NK offers some unofficial news about Kim Jong il’s birthday holiday:

While the North Korean media praises Kim Jong Il’s greatness on his 68th birthday, the common citizens are having a quiet time, suffering under a growing food crisis.

This year’s Lunar New Year holiday fell around Kim Jong Il’s birthday, so sources report that the authorities gave the people time off from the 14th for three days. However, special distribution for the holiday was patchy this year, differing in quantity from province to province.

One source from Musan, North Hamkyung Province reported, “Even though we are facing the General (Kim Jong Il)’s birthday, there is no liquor being distributed. Just for cadres and soldiers, a 500ml bottle of liquor and a kilogram of pork are being supplied.”

The source added that general food prices are fluctuating. “Rice prices in the jangmadang are different all the time. On the 15th, over 450 won, but in the afternoon it went down to 400 won. And, now it is up to almost 500 won.”

“There are a number of people who are starving. Even though the jangmadang is open, these people cannot purchase rice due to its high price. However, liquor sellers are seemingly able to earn money because people need it for memorial ceremonies for their ancestors.”

A source from Yangkang Province reported the situation there, “The authorities have provided us with four days of mixed rice and corn. There has been no other special distribution, except cookies for children from their schools. However, even though people have received food distribution, the price of rice is up around 500 won.”

Only in Hoiryeong have residents received as much as Pyongyang citizens. They got one bottle of liquor and one day’s rice, according to a source in the city.

Links to previous birthday posts can be found here.


Samtaesong fast food restaurant in Pyongyang

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

UPDATE 6 (October 15, 2010): The restaurant has opened a second branch in the Kaeson Youth Park.  This Voice of America article reports on the restaurant’s popularity and offers a bunch of other information that I do not necessarily see at accurate.

UPDATE 5 (November 29):  The origins of the project were featured in a recent article in the Straits Times:

It began two years ago when Mr Quek, managing director of the Aetna Group, which deals in metal and minerals, was approached by his North Korean business partners to invest in the country.

His company has been trading with the North Koreans in steel and minerals for more than 25 years.

Mr Quek then roped in his business friend Mr Tan, whom he had met eight years ago in Shanghai.

Together, they set up Sinpyong International to invest in North Korea.

Asked if he was worried about investing in North Korea, Mr Tan admitted that he prepared himself mentally for red tape.

Initially, the two men mulled over business ideas such as opening a supermarket. But after market research, they were drawn to the idea of a fast-food restaurant.

‘There was nothing like that there at that time. It was probably the only country in the world that doesn’t have fast food,’ said Mr Tan.

Despite neither of them having any experience in the fast-food business, the pair quickly got down to work.

They roped in a third person, Mr Patrick Soh – who holds the franchise in several Asian countries for Waffletown USA – to help them set up the operation and train the local staff in Pyongyang.

Waffletown USA is not a big regional player and it currently has only two franchise outlets in Singapore, in Balmoral Plaza and in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Samtaesong, however, is not a Waffletown franchise, Mr Quek stressed. ‘We borrowed the concept and menu, and tapped Mr Soh’s expertise, but it’s not a Waffletown franchise,’ he said.

Early this year, a four-man team from North Korea discreetly came to Singapore to sample the fare at the Balmoral Plaza outlet in Bukit Timah.

‘They tried the food and especially liked the waffle, burgers and fried chicken,’ said Mr Soh, 56, beaming.

Mr Quek said the restaurant’s site was picked by his North Korean business partners. Located in the heart of Pyongyang, it is next to a subway station and within walking distance of various universities and foreign embassies.

In November last year, the Singaporean partners began making trips to North Korea to set up the 246 sq m restaurant. It occupies one floor in a twostorey building and can seat about 80 people.

Furniture, styled after fast-food joints in Singapore, was shipped in from China.

Kitchen equipment and ingredients, such as the seasoning for the fried chicken and the waffle mix, were flown in from Singapore.

The beef and the chicken are sourced in North Korea, while a local factory supplies the burger buns and patties according to Mr Soh’s recipe.

In all, Mr Quek and Mr Tan spent about US$200,000 (S$276,500) to set up the shop.

Mr Soh let on that the menu was modified to appeal to North Korean tastebuds. For instance, the side dish coleslaw was substituted with kimchi, the

spicy pickled cabbage popular among Koreans. The burgers also come with more vegetables.

‘They don’t like the idea of junk food, so we made the menu more healthy,’ Mr Soh said.

Local draught beer is also served along with soft drinks like Coke.

The restaurant has 14 staff members, mostly young women, who don colourful aprons while flipping burgers and cooking french fries.will promote tourism in northeast Asia.

Download a PDF of the Straits Times article here.

Read previous posts about this restaurant below:



No more beer commercials!

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Apparently Kim Jong il is growing intolerant of North Korean television advertising anything other than how great he and his father are.  According to Yonhap:

“Recently, Kim saw the commercials while watching TV. He was enraged, asking where the commercials came from and describing them as the prototype of China’s early reforms,” one source said.

Starting July 2, North Korea’s television played commercials that showed young women in traditional clothes serving frothy mugs of Taedonggang beer billed as “Pride of Pyongyang.”

Other products, including ginseng and quail, soon followed in television advertisements, which had rarely been seen in the country, generating outside speculation that North Korea may be starting to embrace the capitalist mode of life.

But according to Yonhap News Agency’s own analysis, the commercials disappeared as of the end of August. The sources said Cha Sung-su, the North’s top broadcaster, has also been discharged.

One source said Cha may have been unduly victimized in the case because the commercials were a product of Kim’s earlier instruction to create “more interesting and diverse” television programs.

Cha, 69, is one of Kim’s closest aides, having accompanied him on public inspections at least six times since the leader reportedly had a stroke last year and then recovered.

He is the North’s top television man, having served on the communist country’s broadcasting committee for about four decades. He is also known in North Korea for his numerous poems.

I previously blogged about the beer commercials (as did most other K-bloggers) and included a link to a longer 10-minute “infomercial”.

Here is the actual commercial courtesy of the BBC. Here is the commercial on YouTube (without commercial interruption).

Here is the ginseng commercial (Koryo Insam).

Here is the quail restaurant commercial.


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

Monday, October 12th, 2009

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


Chinese tourists stay away from North Korea after nuclear test

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

By Michael Rank

Far fewer Chinese tourists are visiting North Korea from the border towns of Yanbian and Yanji due to nerves over the country’s recent nuclear and missile tests, a Chinese website reports.

This is normally the height of the tourist season, the report notes, but this year hardly any tourists taking tours to visit the nearby North Korean port city of Rajin (Najin) 라진/나진. “In previous years there have been about 300 or 400 tourists a day [crossing into North Korea] at this time, but recently there have been only about 20,” it quotes a Yanbian travel agent as saying.

Two-day trips from Yanji cost only 800 yuan ($117) per person but because the nuclear testing and rocket launch sites are nearby most tourists are keeping away, the report adds.  Rajin is in fact about 250 km north of the nuclear testing site near Gilju (Kilchu) 길주 but who know what is safe…?

The report claims that things are different in the biggest border city Dandong and that tourists are crossing the frontier at normal levels there.

But this was contradicted by a surprisingly frank report in the China Daily earlier this month which quoted Li Peng, general manager of the Dandong branch of the State-owned China International Travel Service (CITS), as saying: “The revenues from four-day tours and business trips to the DPRK have plunged at least 50 percent compared to last year.”

He said about 30,000 tourists have traveled with his company to the DPRK from Dandong in the past two years, with a four-day visit costing around 2,400 yuan ($350) per person.

“But during the first seven months of this year, we have seen 2,000 make the trip. Many canceled because of safety concerns,” he said, adding that the recent capture and imprisonment of two journalists from the United States had done nothing to ease those concerns.

The journalists have since been released, but it’s unlikely this will result in a massive rebound in China-North Korea tourism.

Another China Daily report was remarkably frank about smuggling which has also been badly hit by the nuclear furore. It also quoted Dandong Federal Business Corp Chairman Shan Jie, who said: “Most of the nearly 1,000 legal enterprises involved in border trade here have stopped operations.”

Meanwhile, the latest report focuses on a North Korean waitress in Dandong who “sports a luxury Gucci watch on her left wrist – and a Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) flag pin on her chest.”

“Her restaurant is one of Dandong’s most luxurious and one of the few establishments in the Chinese city bordering the DPRK that is still seeing brisk business in the wake of Pyongyang’s nuclear test in May and subsequent missile launches.”


DPRK restaurant in Dandong

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

China Daily reports on a North Korean restaurant in the Chinese border city of Dandong (hat tip to O.P.). According to the article:

Choe says she came to Dandong four months ago. Her restaurant is one of Dandong’s most luxurious and one of the few establishments in the Chinese city bordering the DPRK that is still seeing brisk business in the wake of Pyongyang’s nuclear test in May and subsequent missile launches.

The Korea Restaurant, is located near the only bridge linking Dandong and the DPRK, through which the Chinese army reached the DPRK and joined the Korean War in 1950. All of about 20 tables were full on the Saturday afternoon we visited recently, despite prices that are double that of common restaurants in Dandong serving the same food.

Some men from the DPRK in dark yellow or blue suits, with pins of DPRK leader on their chests, also dined there.

Choe’s colleagues, equally young and attractive, wait at tables in blue skirt suits and light makeup. They wear stylish, high-heeled shoes and watches, serving guests with smiles.

“The main reason for the restaurant’s good business is the DPRK waitresses. It’s the easiest way to meet people from that country,” said a taxi driver, surnamed Li.

“Though border trade has been slashed, more and more people are interested in the DPRK after the recent events. You can even see more Westerners here,” Li said.

Shan Jie, board chairman of the Dandong Federal Business Corp which runs cross-border trade, said the waitresses “are by no means common DPRK citizens”.

“They’re all children of DPRK cadres and graduates of Kim Il-sung University. They can speak Chinese, and are very talented in singing and dancing,” said Shan, who has conducted businesses with the DPRK for 16 years. Most of the DPRK cadres attend that university, he said.

The girls were sent to Dandong for training and will have “a promising future as civil servants” when going back home, Shan said.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to practice Chinese and meet Chinese people of all levels. Besides, they earn money for their country,” he said.

Pyongyang has many restaurants in Dandong, and many DPRK ministries such as the ministries of trade and security have their own restaurants there, Shan said.

Choe said the Korea Restaurant is of the same restaurant chain as Beijing Pyongyang Begonia Flower Restaurant, a famous luxury Korean restaurant said to be run by a DPRK merchant with a military background.

When asked whether she is the daughter of DPRK officials, Choe switched to speaking in Korean with a colleague before ending the conversation.

“The girls here mostly work for one and half years I’ll stay for about three years,” Choe said.

“Dandong is pretty and people here are quite nice. But I will go back to my country, Pyongyang is the most beautiful place in the world.”

If any readers in Dandong could help identify where these restaurants are, I would appreciate it.  I would like to mark them on Google Earth and Wikimapia.

Read the full article here:
DPRK waitress in China shares a day in her life
China Daily
Li Xiaokun and Wang Huazhong


DPRK official attitudes towards sexual relations

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Although the Korea Times titles the article, “Privileged North Koreans Enjoy S. Korean Movies,” the article is about neither privileged North Koreans nor South Korean films.  Rather, this interesting article by Andrei Lankov is about official attitudes towards sexual relations in the DPRK. 

Quoting from the article:

When communism was a radical revolutionary movement, it was decisively in favor of sexual liberation. When communists took power in Russia in 1917, they immediately introduced one of the world’s most liberal family and marriage laws, de-criminalized adultery and abortion, and greatly simplified divorce while putting in place some safeguards for women with children.

However, in Russia this attitude began to change from the early 1930s. The worldview promulgated as Stalin’s era continued, came to view sex as largely reproductive, something that should be confined to the bedroom of a properly married couple, and not discussed in public.

So the dominant attitudes to sex in the Soviet society of the 1940s were not that much different from the America of those years. And this was the attitude that was exported to the nascent North Korean society.

In the North, this approach was soon taken to the extreme. From the late 1950s even the slightest references to sexual activity were purged from North Korean art. Only villains could be depicted as thinking about sex, while the positive heroes were always asexual. Divorce was made difficult, almost impossible.

It seems that the government control, along with the activities of the neighborhood watch groups, the infamous “inminban,” helped to maintain the officially endorsed standards of sexual behavior. The powerful few sometimes could have extra-marital affairs, but they were an exception.

I also know of some cases when women got pregnant from premarital sex ― like a female soldier who once “did it” with her boyfriend in the late 1970s.

But once she found out that she was pregnant, she knew she was in serious trouble: if discovered, a pregnancy would lead to a dishonorable discharge from the army, after which nobody would allow her to return to her family in privileged Pyongyang.

Fortunately, her boyfriend and his well-connected family stood by her, pushed all the right buttons and arranged for an immediate discharge from the army, followed by marriage (they have two children now, and live happily in Seoul).

And regarding prostitution…

Prostitution, common in North Korean cities in colonial times, was eradicated in the early 1950s, and former prostitutes and gisaeng (high-class courtesans) were either exiled from the major cities or “re-educated through labor.”

However, the situation began to change in the early 1990s when the old system collapsed under the weight of economic difficulties. This influenced everything in North Korea, including the sexual behavior of its inhabitants.

After all, Koreans can now engage in premarital or extramarital sex without taking too many risks: the state does not care about such matters as much as it used to, and finding a suitable place and time is also much easier.

The emerging “black market capitalism” was (and still is) dominated by women who have acquired a great measure of economic freedom and independence, meaning that they are less inhibited about having affairs with men they like.

The female merchants travel a lot, they are essentially beyond the reach of the state, and they feel themselves far more confident than ever before.

In a sense, the sexual adventures of these women can be seen as a sign of their liberation. However, these lucky women are a minority. Others have fared much worse. The social disruption and famine of the late 1990s pushed many women into prostitution.

Some of them can be found in Chinese brothels, but it seems that the majority have to ply their trade within North Korea, where their situation is even worse (but never reported by the media).

Nowadays, North Korea has a number of private karaoke rooms ― a development which would have been positively unthinkable some 10 years ago. Some of those rooms serve as a cover for prostitution.

They have even devised ways to advertise this to a passerby, so a patron can know if sexual services are available in the particular outlet. The code words are “selling beds” or, more poetically, “selling flowers.”

Another cover for prostitution is provided by the private inns which proliferated some 10 years ago and operate with a disregard of the strict laws governing internal movement in North Korea.

It seems that sometimes the same inns can provide a space for lovers as well ― as long as they can pay the rather high fees.

Additional thoughts:
1. I have posted a number of stories dealing with divorce in the DPRK.  You can read them here.  Apparently it is common now.  According to this article, divorce settlements compose the most cases in the DPRK court system.

2. Prostitution is visible in the DPRK as every guest to the Yangakdo Hotel can attest.  However these workers are all foreigners (Chinese) on contract.  Some tourists do claim to have successfully liaised with a local Korean, but these stories are rare. 

Read the full article here:
Privileged North Koreans Enjoy S. Korean Movies
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


North Korea on Google Earth v.18

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered version 18 is available.  This Google Earth overlay maps North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks.

This project has now been downloaded over 140,000 times since launching in April 2007 and received much media attention last month following a Wall Street Journal article highlighting the work.

Note: Kimchaek City is now in high resolution for the first time.  Information on this city is pretty scarce.  Contributions welcome.

Additions to this version include: New image overlays in Nampo (infrastructure update), Haeju (infrastructure update, apricot trees), Kanggye (infrastructure update, wood processing factory), Kimchaek (infrastructure update). Also, river dredges (h/t Christopher Del Riesgo), the Handure Plain, Musudan update, Nuclear Test Site revamp (h/t Ogle Earth), The International School of Berne (Kim Jong un school), Ongjin Shallow Sea Farms, Monument to  “Horizon of the Handure Plain”, Unhung Youth Power Station, Hwangnyong Fortress Wall, Kim Ung so House, Tomb of Kim Ung so, Chungnyol Shrine, Onchon Public Library, Onchon Public bathhouse, Anbyon Youth Power Stations.


Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part II

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Yale Global
Bertil Linter

BANGKOK: The global economic meltdown has claimed an unexpected victim: North Korea’s chain of restaurants in Southeast Asia. Over the past few months, most of them have been closed down “due to the current economic situation,” as an Asian diplomat in the Thai capital Bangkok put it. This could mean that Bureau 39, the international money-making arm of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party – which runs the restaurants and a host of other, more clandestine front companies in the region – is acutely short of funds. Even if those enterprises were set up to launder money, operational costs and a healthy cash-flow are still vital for their survival. And, as for the restaurants, their main customers were South Korean tourists looking for a somewhat rare, comfort food from the isolated North of the country. The waitresses, all of them carefully selected young, North Korean women dressed in traditional Korean clothing, also entertained the guests with music and dance.

But thanks to the global economic crisis, not only has the tourist traffic from South Korea slowed, the fall in the value of won has also reduced their buying power. The South Korean won plummeted to 1,506 to the US dollar in February, down from 942 in January 2008. No detailed statistics are available, but South Korean arrivals in Thailand – which is also the gateway to neighboring Cambodia and Laos – are down by at least 25 percent.

Though staunchly socialist at home, the North Korean government has been quite successful in running capitalist enterprises abroad, ensuring a steady flow of foreign currency to the coffers in Pyongyang. North Korea runs trading companies in Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and Cambodia, which export North Korean goods – mostly clothing, plastics and minerals such as copper – to the region. At the same time, they import various kinds of foodstuffs, light machinery, electronic goods, and, in the past, dual-purpose chemicals, which have civilian as well as military applications. Those companies were – and still are – run by the powerful Daesong group of companies, the overt arm of the more secretive Bureau 39.

North Korea embarked on its capitalist ventures when, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country was hit by a severe crisis caused by the disruption in trading ties with former communist allies. More devastatingly, both the former Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1993 began to demand that North Korea pay standard international prices for goods, and that too in hard currency rather than with barter goods. According to a Bangkok-based Western diplomat who follows development in North Korea, the country’s embassies abroad were mobilized to raise badly needed foreign exchange. “How they raised money is immaterial,” the diplomat says. “It can be done by legal or illegal means. And it’s often done by abusing diplomatic privilege.”

North Korea’s two main front companies in Thailand, Star Bravo and Kosun Import-Export, are still in operation. In the early 2000s, Thailand actually emerged as North Korea’s third largest foreign trading partner after China and South Korea.

Bangkok developed as a center for such commercial activities and Western intelligence officers based there became aware of the import and sale of luxury cars, liquor and cigarettes, which were brought into the country duty-free by North Korean diplomats. In a more novel enterprise, the North Koreans in Bangkok were reported to be buying second-hand mobile phones – and sending them in diplomatic pouches to Bangladesh, where they were resold to customers who could not afford new ones. In early 2001, high-quality fake US$100 notes also turned up in Bangkok and the police said at the time that the North Korean embassy was responsible as some of its diplomats were caught trying to deposit the forgeries in local banks. The North Korean diplomats were warned not to try it again.

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

For years, there have been various North Korean-themed restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities. But the first in Southeast Asia opened only in 2002 in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap. It became an instant success – especially with the thousands of South Korean tourists who flocked to see the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. It was so successful that Pyongyang decided to open a second venue in the capital Phnom Penh in December 2003. A fairly large restaurant in the capital’s Boulevard Monivong, which offered indifferent Korean staple kimchi and other dishes and live entertainment by North Korean waitresses, closed earlier this year for lack of business.

In 2006, yet another Pyongyang Restaurant – as the eateries were called – opened for business in Bangkok. It was housed in an impressive, purpose-built structure down a side alley in the city’s gritty Pattanakarn suburb, far away from areas usually frequented by Western visitors but close to the North Korean embassy and the offices of its front companies in the Thai capital. This was followed by an even grander restaurant in Thailand’s most popular beach resort, Pattaya, which was also housed in a separate building with a big parking lot outside for tour buses. A much smaller Pyongyang restaurant opened in Laos’s sleepy capital Vientiane, but that one became popular not with South Korean tourists, but with Chinese guest workers and technicians. The Vientiane restaurant may be the only North Korean eatery that is still in operation.

After years of watching North Korea’s counterfeiting and smuggling operations, the United States began tightening the screws on Pyongyang’s finances in September 2005. This occurred after Banco Delta Asia, a local bank in Macau, was designated as a “financial institution of primary money-laundering concern.” The bank almost collapsed, and North Korea’s assets were frozen. The money was eventually released as part of an incentive for North Korea’s concession in the Six-Party talks and returned to North Korea via a bank in the Russian Far East. But, coupled with UN sanctions, the damage to North Korea’s overseas financial network was done – including the ability of Pyongyang’s many overseas front companies to operate freely. For example, the two-way trade between Thailand and North Korea peaked at US$343 million in 2006 – but then began to decline. It was down to US$100 million in 2007, and US$70.8 million in 2008.

Now with North Korea conducting a second nuclear test and firing off missiles, Washington has raised the possibility of the re-listing of North Korea as a state that supports terrorism. If that were to happen, many private companies would become hesitant to deal with Pyongyang and its enterprises for fear of being blacklisted by the US Treasury.

With its various money-making enterprises coming unstuck, Pyongyang is increasingly under pressure. The worldwide financial crisis has already put North Korea in a tight corner. There was never anything to suggest that the money earned by North Korea’s economic ventures abroad were to be used for social development at home, or to be spent on basic necessities such as putting food on the tables of the country’s undernourished people. Now, there won’t even be food for sale to South Korean tourists in the region.


Satellites and salads as the DPRK moves toward construction of a strong and powerful nation

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No 09-3-26-1

North Korea has given notice that it will launch a rocket to place its ‘Kwangmyongsong 2’ satellite into orbit some time between the 4th and 8th of next month. The Choson Sinbo, the newspaper run by the pro-Pyongyang ‘General Association of Korean Residents in Japan’, carried an article emphasizing that the launch of the satellite will be an important step in the construction of a ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’ by the year 2012.

The article, carrying the title, “Dream,” stated that “those who are clamoring that a missile and a satellite are the same” were trying to “steal away even the right to space development.” The paper went on to state that the children of North Korea would not have their dream of freely traveling to space “snatched away,” that the young would take delight in picking out the Kwangmyongsong 2 amongst the stars in the night sky, and that the next generation would further advance the North’s space exploration, “not as a dream, but as a reality,” insisting that Pyongyang is planning the launch of a satellite, not a missile.

On a less controversial note, North Korea’s online magazine “Uriminjokkiri (Our Nation by Itself)” announced on March 21 that renovations have been completed on eighteen restaurants in Pyongyang’s most famous dining district. Many areas of Pyongyang have been getting facelifts as the country prepares for 2012 celebrations of the creation of a Strong and Prosperous Nation in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The website stated, “The interiors and exteriors of eighteen restaurants have been renovated and vanguard operating equipment has been installed.” It reported that the work was expected to take 2-3 years, but all renovations and upgrades have been made in the dining areas, kitchens, and storefronts in only 12 months. The restaurant district, near the Koryo Hotel and the (North) Korean Workers’ Party offices, is home to Pyongyang’s most exclusive restaurants, and offers a wide variety of dining experiences.