Archive for the ‘Clothing’ Category

Summit Reveals Fashionable Pyongyang

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Korea Times
Kim Tong-hyung

It will be quite a long time before Pyongyang earns its stripes as a hip and happening city if it ever does. But, judging by the glimpses revealed during the three-day summit, it seems that not all is gray and grim in the North Korean capital.

First lady Kwon Yang-suk and other South Korean officials ran into a room full of headsets Wednesday at Pyongyang’s Grand People’s Study Hall as students managed to keep a straight face scribbling down English conversations played on tape.

“Repeating is the best,” said a North Korean student when asked what is the secret to learning English, providing no relief to his peers in the South who hear the same thing until their eardrums wear out.

Perhaps improving cooperation between the two Koreas will do little to better the foreign language skills of students from either side of the border who grab English books with the same enthusiasm as a kid force-fed vegetables.

However, it seems clear that Pyongyang’s youngsters of today are more concerned about internationalization than they appeared in the first inter-Korean summit seven years ago.

South Korean delegates went on to tour the Kim Chaek University of Technology where they found students, mostly studying English, searching for video files and text stored in computers.

The university’s library has 420 desktop computers, 2 million books and more than 10 million electronics books that can be accessed via a local area network (LAN) connection or from telephone modems at home.

North Korean officials were eager to show their elite students studying English to South Korean authorities, quiet a surprise from a country dominated by the “Juche,” or self-reliance, ideology.

And at least on the educational front, it seems that computers are becoming a part of everyday life for Pyongyang’s younger generation, although they are far behind their tech-savvy southern neighbors who have television on their cell phones.

Not every picture of change in Pyongyang was staged. South Korean correspondents have sent photos of young North Korean women gliding through the streets in clothes that seemed to be ripped from Vogue magazine. Some even had heavy mascara that would qualify them for a Johnny Depp pirate movie.

Bright colors of yellow and pink were easily seen among the women waving their hands to the limousine convoy of South Korean delegates upon their Pyongyang arrival.

Surely, North Korean fusionists have come a long way since their universally pale makeup and grayish attire seen by South Korean reporters during the 2000 summit.

Even North Korean government officials involved in the formal talks looked a little more contemporary than last remembered, with many of them suited up in tailor-cut, three-button suits.

The security officials looked better too. Gone were the bodyguards with big hats, khaki uniforms and oversized gun holsters who flocked around former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung back in the first talks.

Instead, North Korean bodyguards today were dressed in black suits and moved with a hand on their earpieces, making them hardly distinguishable them from their South Korean counterparts.


South Korean Products Popular

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Distribution with “Korea” Trademark…”Rice Cookers Popular”

In the North Korean jangmadang (market), South Korean products are drawing huge popularity among citizens and are publicly being sold, relayed an internal source on the 30th.

The source said, “In the Pyongyang, Shinuiju, Hamheung, Chungjin, and other large-scale jangmadangs, South Korean products with the “Made in Korea” label is fairly popular among wealthy people.”

In the past, South Korean products were secretly sold in the North Korean market. When selling South Korean products, we sold them after removing the product label, “Made in Korea.” However, recently, only products with the label are recognized as South Korean products of good quality and sold at a high price.

The source added, “‘Made in Korea’ lends credibility to the people. Without this, people do not believe that the product is a Korean-made good. The label has to be there because Chinese products are disguised as South Korean goods.”

The South Korean product which is most sold in North Korea is the electric rice-cooker (Cuckoo), instantaneous water heaters, cosmetics, aromatics, computers, toothpaste, medical goods and a variety of sweets. Also, North Korean citizens have a lot of confidence in South Korean medicine. South Korean-made medicine or sweets are not discarded even after the expiration date.

He said, “Because Chinese-made products are no good, people who have money usually used Japanese products. In the place where Japanese products became rare, Korean-made products are now occupying that place.”

In Dandong, China, Kim Chi Duk (pseudonym), who is engaging in North Korea-Chinese trade met with the reporter and retorted, “Currently in Chosun (North Korea), Japanese-made products are still counted as number 1. Then there are South Korean-made products, then Chinese-made products. Poor people, even when the quality is lower, use Chinese-made products and those with money use South Korean products or Japanese-made products. What is the issue if one is buying with his or her money?”

He said, “Those with some amount of money use at least one or two South Korean products.”

The source relayed, “Currently in the Shinuiju market, South Korean toothpaste is 5,000 won (USD1.85), 1 set of aromatics (machinery and 2 bottles of gas) is 30,000 won (USD11.1), and one pack of Time cigarettes (tax-exempt) 3,000 won.” However, “Time,” a kind of South Korean cigarettes are counterfeit goods made in China, so is offered at a cheaper price than their domestic price.

Mr. Kim said, “Those who trade in North Korea request for South Korean-made goods, but I do not know whether they plan to export them or to use them. The authorities do not allow American-made goods, but is there anyone who doesn’t like the dollar? If it is not a big issue, they use everything.”


Food Crisis Tough But Better Than Before

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

Escalating Rice Costs 1,900!!

As the month of August began, North Korea saw a sudden jump in its rice costs. While 1kg of rice reached a peak of 1,960won (around US$6.03) in Shinuiju, entering the second week of August, prices seemed to have stabilized around the 1,500won marker.

Due to the damages incurred from the recent flooding in North Korea, the cost of rice was something expected. In the second week of August, the DailyNK reported on the flood situation and the consequent price fluctuations. The following report will indicate the damages from the flood and food situation as well as the course of rice costs.

We discovered from a telephone conversation with Ahn Geum Soon (pseudyonm, 37) on the 10th, a trader who sells clothes in Shinuiju, North Pyongan that the cost of rice had suddenly escalated to 1,900won per kilo dropping back to 1,500won within a 10 day period.

Ahn said, “Even people who trade secretly in private or at Jangmadang (markets) are finding it hard to obtain rice as there simply isn’t enough going around” and informed, “There are some people who are already stocking up on rice as rumors suggest that the costs will go up a little more. These people are the ones to raise the prices.”

Regarding the cause in escalating rice costs, Ahn said, “I’m not sure. According to rumors, people with money are the ones hoarding the rice, but no one is really sure of the reason.”

“Some people are going through tough times with the sudden rise in rice costs but no one is dying of starvation. People who can’t afford rice eat corn. Even if the cost of corn rises, its only 500won” said Ahn and added, “Nonetheless, there are the occasional beggars living in the country and the city who die of hunger, but this is no different to the past.”

Kim Il Yong (pseudonym, 36) who lives in Taecheon, North Pyongan informed a reporter on the 11th, “Currently, the cost of rice is about 1,500won per kilo. There was a great difference in prices within a period of 10 days.”

Kim responded, “Some say that the costs are rising as South Korea and other foreign countries are not supporting us with rice, while others say that that prices are rising as there is not enough rice going around. I’m not sure what is going on.”

He continued, “There are rumors that rice prices will reach 2,000won. Nevertheless, there won’t be any cases where people die of hunger. Like we will reach that stage when potatoes have been picked and are being sold at Jangmadang and the corn harvest has begun.”

Kim who has relatives living in the Hamheung said in response to the claim by a South Korean support organization that 300 people have died of starvation, “Hamheung is comparatively a large city. Rumors would quickly spread if people were dying of starvation. 300 people can’t be dying of starvation.” He said, “My sister in-laws younger brother went to Hamheung 3 days ago. He said he hadn’t heard of any rumors of people dying of hunger.”

Another source in North Korea said in a conversation with a reporter on the 11th, “Up to a month ago, rice cost 850won per kilo” and commented, “There are a lot of coal mines at Dukcheon. It is known as a region where you can make money. Rations are distributed by the employer to the people who work at the mines and so it’s not so hard for them.”

Then he added, “It was a little tough in June as the employers stopped distributing rations for a while.”


More DPRK market (jangmadang) footage

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

shoes.JPGAgain, while trapsing through the jungle of YouTube videos on North Korea, I stumbled on this clip shown on Japanese television which was secretly recorded in a North Korean market.  Since my Japanese ranges from rusty to nonexistent, I do not know where it is.

What does this clip teach us?  That some North Koreans are becomming more sophisticated shoppers/ consumers–looking to the outside world to get a sense of what’s fashionable.  Chinese entrepreneurs are hard at work building brand loyalty for western companies that are not yet aiming for the DPRK market.  Chinese knockoffs of Nike, the North Face (mislabeled “the Nice Face”), and fake designer apparel are all on display.  I imagine no North Korean citizen expects to ever see these goods in the local Public Distribution Office. 

Japanese narration highlights (thanks, Tony):

  • Are the North Koreans familiar with these western brands? Some are familiar and others are not so sophisticated.
  • These items sell really fast.  You can buy a Rolex Watch (knock off) for 800 Yen (appx. $8 or appx 2,400 North Korean Won).
  • The narrator contrasts lifestyles.  He compares shoppers that can afford these market goods with others in the same village who cannot.

The Keyword for the Best Husbands Is “Foreign”

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Daily NK
Park Choel Yong

In Chosun (North Korea), free dating between male and female students is prevented during middle school years and even in college. If an unmarried man and woman are walking down the street arm in arm, then they have to worry about the glare of passersby. However, marriage from dating is a gradually increasing trend, but most of the time, people marry through arranged marriages.

Before the period of the food shortage before 1990, the best husband material was males who “had joined a party, performed military service, and graduated from college.” However, since 2000, a huge shift has taken place in the mentality of people.

Lately, three levels of husbands have been common. The first level is males who are included in the following three categories: those who frequently go abroad, those attend foreign-currency earning companies, and those who have high possibility of going abroad.

The second level is those who have parents who are high-ranked leaders or come from a wealthy background. The third level is those whose parents do not have power, but as individuals, are smart enough to finish military service, join the party, are able to support themselves through college.

Males, who are not classified in these categories, select as spouses females who belong to similar categories. However, even if the classes are divided as such, males who earn a lot of money are inevitably the most popular.

The candidates for No.5 Department of the Party are special-grade women

If one looks at the basis for which brides are chosen in Pyongyang, the first level are those whose parents have power and come from an affluent family. Nowadays, there are provincial men who, thanks to the spouses’ family, who succeed by achieving the status of a Pyongyang citizen.

The second level is female college graduates, whose parents may not have authority, but the individual is smart and can make a living by herself. Of course, a woman cannot do better than graduate from Kim Il Sung University, Pyongyang Foreign Language University, or Pyongyang Medical College. Historically and now, women who graduate from the College of Education can work as a teacher is still an admirable bride material.

The third level is those whose parents do not have power, the household is not too affluent, and the woman did not graduate from college, but she has a strong will of survival so can conduct business well. In Chosun nowadays, women who cannot do business are not popular among the men.

However, above power, education level, and money, is a class which is counted as a special level of women among all the men. They are those whose appearances are superior that they are selected into the No.5 Department of the Party, or are actors, dancers, or singers. The No.5 Department’s females work as phone operators or as Gippeumjo (pleasure-givers, special entertainers just for high-ranking officials) of high-level leaders and should quit once they reach 25. Afterwards, they are acceded to the party, are married to military commanders of the Escort Bureau or party leaders, and enter married life and a house which have been prepared for them.

The No.5 Department of the Party is a division, which is charge of Kim Il Sung’s food, clothing, and shelter and every aspect of his private life.

A refined marriage of mutual exchange of vows and pouring drinks at home

Once the marriage partner is selected, the parents select the date of the engagement ceremony. There are differences by province, but as a whole, the groom’s side of the family prepare deok (rice cakes) and food on the day of the ceremony and go to the bride’s home. On engagement day, the parents choose the wedding date.

The wedding clothes do not require a large sum of money. The men wear suits and women can prepare traditional Chosun dresses.

Japanese-Koreans who have returned to Pyongyang wear Western-style wedding clothes, which are rarely seen, and marry. In the past, Chosun period receptions and wedding attires, invoking the national tradition, were popular, but recently, they have completely disappeared.

The wedding is first conducted at the bride’s house. The wedding itself is the exchange of Korean drink glasses at the feast table and after the exchange of bows, the ceremony ends by pouring the drinks to both sides of parents and giving bows. Then, on the next day, the party leaves for the groom’s house. There, the same ceremony is conducted. Three days later, food is prepared and the bribe’s house visits take place.

In big cities such as Pyongyang, large-scale weddings can take place. First of all, cars that are brought to the wedding vary. In Chosun, it is not easy to acquire cars, but people choose high-scale cars anyways. In the house of upper-level leaders, several cars are mobilized.

For wedding photos, the Mansudae Arts Theater is the Best

Post the wedding ceremony, people ride rented cars and offer flowers and take ceremonial photos at the Kim Il Sung statue. They ride the car once more and take photos at various places and of statues in Pyongyang City.

The Party Foundation Commemorative Tower, the 5.1 Stadium, the Juche Ideology Tower, etc. are the major photo sites. There are political reasons for seeking out these sites, but they are also the most-decorated facilities in Pyongyang, so the pictures come out beautifully.

When one has a wedding, they have to report the marriage, carrying citizen registration cards, within a set time at the police station of jurisdiction. The bride and the groom, at this time, have to simultaneously read aloud the wedding oath.

The wedding oath pledges devotion to Kim Jong Il and as a cell of society, diligent leadership of the family, trust and reliance on each other, and walking the single path of revolution together.

In agricultural districts, the farmers do not even properly receive crops, so since they do not have anything to eat, they do not like going to the farm to work. However, the unmarried women, once they are engaged, are freed from going to the farm to work. Once there is an engagement ceremony, the woman is classified as a housewife who can receive 300 grams of provisions per day, so they are no longer required to go out to the farms and can wholly go into selling.

Thus, the young women in rural villages do not pay too much attention to the appearance or background of the grooms and in many cases, they become engaged as soon as they meet a man. Consequently, in the rural region, 19 or 20-year old married females are common. To them, marriage, which should be built on mutual love and faith, are considered as asylums for being freed from difficult labor.


Expelled for Watching Videos at Chongjin High School

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Daily NK
Park Young Nam

Even in North Korea, there are special schools for the gifted and talented. In particular, talented students are selected for high schools and special education. The writer also attended a special high school while in North Korea.

I enrolled at an elementary school in `92. Since 3rd I was taught separately and received special education. Under the care of my class teacher, I studied math and nature subjects in detail until 6 o’clock at night.

After completing 4 years of elementary school, I was selected as a representative for Musan and entered Chongjin No.1 High School in April `96. No. 1 high schools are special schools for the talented and are located in Pyongyang and each province.

I arrived at Chongjin No. 1 High School to find many other students as bright as me. On top of that, these students all came from good backgrounds.

Undoubtedly, I was no different. My father worked for the People’s Committee and my mother was a doctor. At the time, my family lived an abundant life and had all the necessary electrical goods such as a TV and refrigerator.

High school days, shirking going to school

Unlike average high schools, we often missed classes and went on day trips. Again, punishment is severe at average high schools but we were not treated to harsh punishment because of our respectable backgrounds. Even if you were caught drinking alcohol on the streets and taken to the police, you were let go once you informed them that you attended “Chongjin No. 1 High School.”

Despite playing like this, I studied very hard at the end of each month in order to sit for the exams. I studied 10 days prior to each exam. During the summer, I could study a lot as the days are long, however in the winter, I couldn’t study because the sun set early and there was no electricity.

The winter was the worst as there was no central heating in the dormitories. Even if you wanted to cook rice, you couldn’t. The moment you placed a heater, which was made with twisted nicrome wire, in the socket and, the dismal light only became dimmer and if you put three of these wires into the wall socket the fuse went out. In the end, I became so frustrated that I shoved a spoon into the fuse socket only to find that it didn’t black out but operated fine.

Expelled for watching a video

That’s how I spent my days at school. Then things began to go wrong from about 4th grade.

In February `99, after I had begun 4th grade and sat for an entry exam for Pyongyang No. 1 High School. I sat for the test with the desire to go to a slightly better school but it ended in failure. At the time, I fell into misery and for a while I went around playing and my grades continued to drop.

In August `99, I went to visit a friend’s home who had come from Hoiryeong with 4 other mates. He had a TV and video player in his home. To be honest, the house had been under inspection by the National Security Agency because of this, but at the time, I didn’t even consider this. We watched three videos at that friend’s home.

I watched the old South Korean drama “Men from 8 Provinces,” and other American movies, “Titantic” and “Six Days, Seven Nights.”

I was alarmed after watching “Titantic” and “Six Days, Seven Nights.” The foreign movies were really enjoyable but what clearly remains in my memory is the thrill I had from simply watching the films. We watched the complete and unabridged version of Titanic, even the scene where the two main characters have an affair in the car. As part of the audience, I found this shocking.

While watching these characters traveling freely in the movie, I thought, why can’t we travel on boats like that and why can’t we play freely like that. It was inevitable that I felt culture shock.

However we were caught and were sent to the detention centre in early October. All 4 of my friends who watched the videos were also caught and we sat in the centre for about 10 days.

I wasn’t even sure what the crime was, but I had a feeling it was because we had watched foreign movies. Whether or not it was because we were young, we were let go after a few beatings with something like a broomstick.

After returning to school, there was no reason for us to be the centre of attention. We didn’t tell anyone where we had been but I think everyone generally knew. At the same time, my grades were really low and in the end I was expelled from school.

From expulsion until arriving in South Korea

Following that incident, I went to live with relatives in Pyongyang for 1 year.

I had a business in Pyongyang. When my mother brought clothes from China, I sold them in Pyongyang. With this money, I bought rice and then made profits by acting as an intermediary and selling the rice to Musan. Compared to Pyongyang, rice was expensive in Musan and as a result, I was able to reap in a lot of profits.

However, I couldn’t continue to do this. I felt bad living with my relatives. In the end, I returned to my home in Musan.

Having returned to Musan, I began to associate with children from the wealthy class and one day heard that they traveled in and out of China and in 2001, I crossed over to China in search of a better life.

I crossed the borders, not because I was hungry or because I was in danger. I was merely worried about my uncertain future and found living in North Korea suffocating. I yearned for a more abundant life.

Currently, I am preparing to enroll at POSTECH. However, for the 5 years since my expulsion, I have not had any opportunity to study while traveling from Pyongyang to China, then Korea. Re-starting my studies is not easy. The time I lost while defecting is such a shame.

Studying is something I had forgotten for a long time. I must acclimatize myself to an education system very different to that of North Korea. Nonetheless, I believe I will be able to do well if I try very hard.


For the eyes of the Dear Leader: Fashion and body politics in North Korean visual arts

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Library of Congress John W. Cluge Center

Suk-Young Kim
June 27, 2007
12:00 noon
LJ-119, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress,
10 1st Street S.E.
Washington, D.C.

This event is free and open to the public; no reservations are required.

Communist regimes are often described as “drab,” but North Korea is highly fashion conscious – a place where style and politics go hand in hand. For decades, North Korea’s political leaders have been preoccupied with designing uniforms for almost every sector of society. Fashion, especially women’s fashion, is seen as a national project, meant to promote group identity and ideology. Like many authoritarian regimes, North Korean designers have been drawn to masculine, military styles that seem to embody revolutionary spirit. But women’s fashion in North Korea also openly allows for a contradictory sense of traditional femininity. This talk explores the representation of ideal body in North Korean visual media, such as theater, film, magazine illustrations, paintings and posters.


North Korean women, A Colourful Look in Fashion

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

It has been reported, colourful clothes and accessories such as gold rings are current hot trend among North Korean women, unlike their conservative dressing ritual in the past.

This transformation has been clearly revealed by Daily NK’s recent encounter with North Korea-China traders and their main importing goods for North Korea.

On the 18th, Choi Myong Hee (pseudonym), who has been trading the indispensable from Dandong, China, to North Korea, talked about this new trend in North Korea as meeting one of our reporters at some place in downtown Dandong.

Choi said “Recently white-based yellow and red floral prints have been going very well” “And also animal prints with puppies or ducks have been good,too. On the other hand, human-figured prints have not been doing well”

According to Choi, colourful looks have been the latest mode among North Korean women in big cities like Pyongyang. In particular, accessories have been a big trend.

Currently, Choi has been selling light industry goods such as clothing. However, it is accessory trading she has made a sizable profit nowadays. The accessories she has bought in Shenyang or Dalian, China at 5~8 Yuan (US$ 0.6~1) have been sold at 10~15 Yuan (US$ 1.3~2 ) in department stores and markets in Pyongyang.

Choi admitted “Accessory trading requires less cost and makes greater profit. Especially, I have never had a problem transporting them because of their efficient size.” we were told, she normally imports 10,000 various kinds of accessories to North Korea, mainly necklace and hair clips, and her major clienteles are women in Pyongyang.

Choi declared that necklaces, rings and hair clips have become common accessories for most of North Korean women. In fact, she has been trading accessories quite a few times on the sly.

“Still, necklaces and bracelets with religious symbols such as a cross or charms are prohibited” she remarked. In addition “Too much dazzling or abnormal looking necklaces are also forbidden.. So, it is crucial to import most favored design and colour.”

It is considered this radical change of North Korean women has resulted from increasing flexibility of the population because of the stimulated market as trading has been the only way to provide maintenance due to the fall of rationing system.

Besides, the influence from Chinese accessory fashion is observed to be one of the major factors as growing numbers of North Koreans have been visiting China.

Moreover, this changing trend of North Korean women, who have begun to dress up with colourful clothes and accessories, is perceived as a reflection on women’s natural desire, admiration on beauty.


Pyongyang Makes an Appearance

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Keeping up appearances: this is how the official North Korean policy in regard to the city of Pyongyang, the cradle of revolution, can be best summed up. Being a Pyongyang dweller is a great privilege in itself. Until things began to fall apart in the mid-1990s, this meant that your food rations would consist largely of rice (not barley and corn, as in the countryside) and that your children would be entitled to a small glass of milk in school. But you also had to follow the rules, and participate in the grandiose symbolic performance that Pyongyang actually was _ and to an extent still is.

Many laws which dealt with the daily life of Pyongyang’s residents essentially served the purposes of presentation. Take, for example, the case of Pyongyang bikes. East Asia has a well-deserved reputation as a cyclists’ paradise. Nonetheless, North Korea used to be different. Until the early 1990s bicycles were outlawed in Pyongyang. Obviously, the North Korean authorities saw bicycles as decisively low-tech _ and hence inappropriate for the “capital of revolution.’’

Foreigners were not exempt from this charade. When in the mid-1970s a visiting Norwegian diplomat brought his bike to Pyongyang, he stirred up a diplomatic controversy. After painful negotiations he was granted permission to ride his bike… on weekends only.

Another example is a strict dress code imposed on the female dwellers of Pyongyang and some other cities. Women are not supposed to wear trousers outside their work. Actually, police turn a blind eye to such inappropriately dressed women in winter. Older halmoni also can walk in trousers with impunity _ at least if they do not stray outside their neighborhood. But for other women in summer time, skirts are obligatory, and until the late 1990s an attempt to walk the street in trousers would result in a fine and a probable report to police.

There are other restrictions as well: a certain tradition or institution may not be outlawed but should not be mentioned in the press. A phenomenon could exist in the real world, but it is not permitted to enter the world carefully constructed by Pyongyang propaganda.

My favorite example is the pram. North Korean women carry their children like women in East Asia have done for centuries: on their backs. This is probably a very good way: at least, Russian Koreans, arguably the most de-Koreanized of all overseas Korean communities, still sometimes follow this custom after some 150 years of their life in Russia. Perhaps, it makes sense: a baby feels so comfortable on a mother’s back!

But the North Korean authorities decided that this age-old habit of carrying children on the back should not be too widely advertised. Hence, you cannot find pictures of women carrying kids on their back. Instead, on the glossy pages of the North Korean propaganda monthlies, readers frequently encounter pictures of impossibly happy mothers who are moving their children about in prams. In real life one has to spend several weeks in Pyongyang before chancing on a pram-pushing lady. The politically incorrect tradition of carrying children on the back should not be mentioned in official publications or depicted in visual arts (unless they employed as a reference to the bad old days before the coming of the Kim dynasty).

Nowadays, the rules have been somewhat relaxed, but back in the 1970s or 1980s a foreigner took some risk by taking a picture of a mother with a baby on her back. There were chances that, if spotted, the film would be removed from the camera and exposed to the light.

The same fate could easily befall somebody who dared take pictures of Korean women moving heavy loads on their heads. Such scenes are increasingly rare in Seoul these days, but in Pyongyang this is still a commonplace sight. Nonetheless, in the ideal world of the official propaganda, Korean women do not carry large weight in such an archaic way, and no media is allowed to break the censorship of such subversive information.

Actually, I think that there are good reasons why the North Korean officials are afraid of such scenes. They likely know little about Edward Said’s writings on “Orientalism’’: after all, Leninist regimes were always very suspicious about non-Leninist brands of leftist ideology, so people like Gramsci, Althusser, or Said were never much loved in Moscow, Beijing, or Pyongyang. But they obviously grasped some of Said’s “Orientalist’’ ideas instinctively. For most Western readers, pictures of women with children on their backs or of old ladies moving heavy loads on the top of their heads do hint at “exoticism’’ and also, by implication, “underdevelopment’’. And the North Korean state does not want to present itself as underdeveloped.

But all these efforts to impress the world appear quite strange when we remember how small the target audience actually was. North Koreans knew the truth anyway, and foreigners in Pyongyang were very few in number. In most cases their positions and experiences made them very skeptical of all these propaganda exercises. But the North Korean officials tried hard nonetheless.


Plastic Surgery Popular, Breast Augmentations a Trend

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

Recently, it has been reported that businesses in charge of facial plastic surgery and skin maintenance are becoming more popular among the wealthy class.

Through a survey DailyNK conducted on actual living conditions in the Northeast region of North Korea, it was discovered that massage rooms, steam baths, beauty-related enterprises (plastic surgery and skincare maintenance) are the main thriving businesses.

Beauty-related businesses such as these prevail in relatively large-sized cities, such as Chongjin in North Hamkyung, Hamheung in South Hamkyung, and Wonsan in Kangwon. This trend seems to follow the up and coming wealthy class who have risen through doing business in North Korea.

Skin maintenance and plastic surgery which has caused a stir among the women in Shinuiju and Pyongyang have spread to inland countrysides within the last several years.

Double eye-lid surgery, eyebrow tattoos, and others can be simply performed by a plastic surgeon doctor or beauty operation specialists, so it has been widely popular among young women.

The cost of plastic surgery, in the case of double eye-lid surgery, was 500 North Korean won per one-eye in 2004, but the asking price has been 1,500 won since 2006. The North Korean exchange rate was recently 2,980 won per dollar.

In addition to double eye-lid surgery, breast augmentation has been spreading to a portion of upper-class women. The popularity of the breast enlargement surgeries demonstrates an encouragement of beauty among North Korean upper-class women.

◆ “Massages” a rage, centered on large-scale cities = Chinese-style health massages cost around 10,000 (US$3.4) North Korean won per hour and for an additional 2~30,000 won, on-the-spot sex with a female masseuse is possible.

This survey, based on the latter half of May, took place by focusing on the price of commodities in five cities, such as Kim Chaek and Chongjin City in North Hamkyung, Danchun and Hamheung in South Hamkyung, and Wonsan Kangwon.

The results of the survey showed that the region with the highest standard of living in the Northeast region is Wonsan City of Kangwon. The reason why Wonsan has a relatively high standard of living is that it has been a central place of trade with Japan.

If North Korea and China’s trade can be represented by Shinuiju, then Wonsan has played that role with trade with Japan. However, it has recently been severely targeted by the suspension in North Korea and Japan’s trade.

Wonsan’s upper-class restaurants are known to show aggressive service by shouting “Welcome” when guests come in, by decorating the interior of restaurants, and by adopting a Chinese-style waiter and waitress system.

In addition, Japanese secondhand goods have been highly traded in Wonsan. Electronic rice cookers, sewing machine, fans, TVs and other Japanese thrift goods are commonly traded and have more reasonable prices than the other regions.

Newly released 2-3 person electronic rice cookers are around 13~150,000 won, fans around 7~80,000 won, used gas stoves around 15~200,000 (approx. US$50.34~67.10), used TVs around 20~250,000 won, and flat-screen TVs over 350,000 (approx. US$117.50) won.

The supply of electricity is not an issue, so it is provided 24 hours long and electricity is better-supplied than in Hamheung.

Further, the “105 factory (furniture production factory)” in Wonsan produces furniture which is delivered to the Central Party and the quality, compared with the cost, is supposed to be the best in North Korea.

Industrial goods in Chungjin are relatively economical, but Chinese-made color TVs and flat-screen newly-released TVs are sold for 20~250,000 and 350,000 won, respectively. Used bicycles imported from Japan is sold for 10~150,000 won.

In Chongjin, the number of taxis have risen lately, but because of the expensive cost, not too many people take advantage of it. Going 4km costs around 5,000 won. Taxis that are operating are either Chinese used taxis or imported cars which are past the expiration date.

◆ The price of rice narrowly rises = In Hamheung, the cost of taxis is supposed to be slightly higher than Chongjin. There are not too many people who ride taxis, so the rate is doubled beyond the center of cities and in remote places.

The cost of penicillin has risen significantly in Chongjin, with the spread of the measles, the scarlet fever, and other infectious diseases since last winter. Chinese penicillin is hard to acquire due to its reputation for having poor quality and North Korean penicillin is sold at Jangmadang (market) for 500 won per one.

The cities considered to have low standards of living are Kim Chaek of North Hamkyung and Danchun in South Hamkyung. The size of the jangmadang (market) is smaller than in other regions and there is a limit in the variety of goods. Steam baths or massage places do not even exist. The price of medical goods are also supposed to be exorbitant.

The specialty of Kim Chaek City is its low cost of nails. The Sungjin Steel Works Complex in Kim Chaek produces nail by melting steel and sells them, which is sold for 2,200 won~2,500 won per kg in Hoiryeong, at 1,200 won in Kim Chaek. However, not only is the weight heavy and is difficult to package, but the usage by civilians is not very high, so the incidence of sale to other provinces is low.

In Danchun, the price of fruit is very expensive, so it is not sold by the kilogram unit, but is sold individually. One medium-size apple is sold for up to 800 won.

On one hand, the price of rice in North Korea’s northeast region showed a narrow upward tendency in the latter half of May at the end of the spring shortage season. Corn, the staple of low-income civilians, did not show a huge change.