Depressing insights into bizarre North Korea

Wonderful article about a not-so-wonderful country:

  • “last November… the North Korean government… drastically devalue[d] the nation’s currency. The family’s life savings, about $1,560, had been reduced to about $30.”
  • “‘We always wait for the invasion,’ said one former primary school teacher. ‘My son says he wishes the war would come because life is too hard, and we will probably die anyway from starvation.’”
  • “Citing aerial photos of plumeless smokestacks, economists say roughly three of every four North Korean factories are idle.”
  • “When the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945, South Korea was poorer than its neighbor. Now its average worker earns 15 times as much as an average North Korean”
  • “[Illegal] markets are the sole source of income for many North Koreans, but they flout the government’s credo of economic socialism. Theoretically, everyone except minors, the elderly and mothers with young children works for the state. But state enterprises have been withering for 30 years, and North Koreans do all they can to escape work in them. Farmers tend their own gardens as weeds overtake collective farms. Urban workers duck state assignments to peddle everything from metal scavenged from mothballed factories to televisions smuggled from China. “If you don’t trade, you die,” said the former teacher.”
  • “‘It is very hard to teach a starving child,’ she said. ‘Even sitting at a desk is difficult for them.’ Teachers were hungry, too. Her monthly salary scarcely bought two pounds of rice, she said.”
  • “After she and her partners collected 17 sacks of goods from a village, a guard at a checkpoint confiscated them all instead of taking a bribe to let them pass. She was left with $300 in debt.”
  • “Even a major enterprise like the city’s metal refinery has not paid salaries since 2007, she and others said, though workers there collect 10 days worth of food rations each month.”
  • “each family was required to deliver 17 bags of pebbles every month to its local party committee. The construction worker enlisted his elderly parents to scour creek beds and fields for rocks that the family smashed by hand into grape-size stones.”
  • “Thousands of people frantically tried to outbid one another to convert soon-to-be worthless money into something tangible. Some prices rose 10,000 percent, he said, before traders shut down, realizing that their profits soon would be worthless, too.”
  • “a 35-year-old neighbor spent six months in a labor camp last year after he was caught watching “Twin Dragons,” a farcical Hong Kong action film starring Jackie Chan.”

Posted by James on Thursday, June 10, 2010