North Korean women love their high heels

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North Korean women love their high heels

by Tina Cheung

High-heeled ankle boots, stilettos, kitten heels, wedges and platforms cover the streets of Pyongyang.

Nearly every woman in Pyongyang wears high heels.

A young female tour guide said the rumour that heels are required on the main roads that tourist buses travel on is untrue.

“We think wearing heels are beautiful, so we all do,” she said.

High-heeled shoes either made in Korea or imported from China are in supermarkets and malls, the guide said. A pair is around 1,000 won, she said, or around US$ 10 using the official rate, much less on the black market.

Despite the pain wearing heels all day can bring, the guide wears them every day, she says. Even on active workdays that can last 12 hours. She said her brother, who is studying in medical school, massages her sore legs after a long day. She also worries about getting overly big calf muscles.

Over the past two years, an opening up in fashion, including women in earrings and trousers, has been noticed by visitors to Pyongyang. There are also many photos of female soldiers patrolling in high platform heels.

Kim Jong-un, who has been in power for three years, is said to be like his grandfather in relaxing clothing restrictions for women. He also removed the ban on women riding bicycles, which they now do in their high-heels.

Agriculture up but still not enough

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Agriculture up but still not enough

By Siqi Tian

On the 175 kilometer Reunification Highway from Pyongyang to Kaesong, the bus passes empty fields with the occasional scarecrow. There is no modern farm machinery or equipment, no sign of mechanization at all. A few scrawny cows roam near the road and in the distance small herds of goats pass.

Mostly mountainous, only about 18 percent of North Korea’s landmass is arable. And much of that is what the Chinese call cinnamon soil, a beautifully coloured but highly acidic soil that is difficult for cultivation.

Most North Koreans don’t get enough to eat and rates of stunting from malnutrition are still high. But a recent UN report said that food production is slightly up, particularly in rice production.

Because of North Korea’s songun policy, which means military first, national defense is the top priority.

But recent reports see hopeful reforms in North Korea’s Stalinist model of socialist agriculture, which includes state-run cooperative farms that surrender entire harvests and rationing systems.

Leader Kim Jong-un’s 6.28 policy involves radical restructuring and allowing families to keep percentages of their harvest, even selling leftover on the private market. Experts say these reforms are similar to China in the 1970s.

Last year, Kim Jong-un also ordered farmers to move from grain-fed livestock to grass-fed livestock, like rabbits and goats, to ease the strain on limited food supplies. Pig farms across the country quickly converted to goats.

International NGOs such as Oxfam, which has been giving food aid and farming assistance, have been operating in North Korea since the 1990s. Some, such as Doctors without Borders, have left because of tight restrictions by the government.

Entertainment exists in Pyongyang

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Entertainment exists in Pyongyang

By Cheung Man Huen

At two entertainment spots in Pyongyang, locals seemed to be enjoying themselves.

At the Ryugyong Health Complex, including the People’s Open Air Ice Rink and the Pyongyang Skate Park, which opened last year, the ice rink was busy on a Sunday at 6pm. Along the sides, people played table tennis. Men mostly wore hockey skates and women figure skates. Some were clearly advanced and practiced in the corners.


Another night, we went to the Kaeson Youth Park, an amusement park with 10 rides, said to have been imported from Italy. The park, built in 1984, was renovated in 2011 and was clean and well lit.

The rollercoaster was superman-style, with riders facedown like they are flying. There was a tower, in which a platform with seats rose high above the park, dangled for minutes and then dropped as if in free fall.

Watch a video of the Kaeson Youth Park here

North Korea sells different version of history

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North Korea sells different version of history

By Nathaniel Suen Nok-heng

In Pyongyang’s  Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum – North Korea’s name for the Korean War — life-size mannequins of dead American soldiers are shown being pecked by crows.

The depiction of the U.S. military defeat takes up a considerable proportion of the museum exhibition, which teaches that the United States invaded the North in an attempt to take over Asia.

Outside of North Korea, the generally accepted version is that the North first invaded in 1950. But North Koreans do not believe this.

“From monuments to museums; from tour guides to townspeople, everything and everyone in the DPRK portrays history so different from our knowledge,” said Ms Angel Chan Hoi-yi, a student in her second year of Chinese journalism studies.

Outside of the museum, North Korea displays it trophy: the USS Pueblo. The US spy ship and her 82 surviving crew were captured by North Korea in 1968.

The crew was held for 11 months, and released only after the US negotiator apologized for intruding on North Korean territory. The US still maintains the Pueblo was in international waters.

The newly painted ship, considered held hostage by the US Navy, was put on display for tourists last year.

North Koreans visit statues, memorials on wedding day  

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North Koreans visit statues, memorials on wedding day  

By Tingyu Chen Catherine

A man and a woman wearing traditional Korean dress wait, looking nervous, at the shrine of Mangyeongdae, the house where the Great Leader Kim Il-sung was supposedly born.

At the countdown, the couple bow in unison to the small straw house as a camera man films everything.

In Pyongyang, newly married couples visit places like Mangyeongdae, the Korean War museum and Mansudae Hill, with huge bronze statues of the former leaders on their wedding day. If they can afford it, a cameraman follows them to take photos.

Like this couple, the bride wears the vibrantly coloured traditional dress, called the choson-ot in the North and hanbok in the South, while the man typically wears a suit or solider’s uniform.

By bowing, they show admiration of their former leader. “It’s a tradition,”said one North Korean tour guide.  “Every new couple does it.”

North Koreans regard marriage as a passage into adulthood. The majority of women are married by age 29. By age 34, only four percent of women are unmarried, the Population Reference Bureau reports.

Weddings in North Korea host family members, friends and neighbours, usually starting at noon and lasting until evening, the guide said.

“The most common wedding presents in North Korea include cash, rice cookers, mirrors, plates or any other items for the household. But one thing similar between the two Koreas is that the groom is expected to buy the house and the bride to buy things to fill the house,” a North Korean defector reported.


Fashion tied to loyalty

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Fashion tied to loyalty

By Yupina Ng

North Korean women in Pyongyang wear fitted suits and high heels daily, even at the amusement park and ice rink. Jeans and sneakers are rare.

“Who would love a woman dressed like a westerner?” a local tour guide, who is in his 40s, said.

Neatly pressed skirts, shirts and trousers are dark colored. A dress code gives a sense of belonging to the country, one North Korean said.

But when a women wears the often brightly coloured traditional dress called choson-ot in the North and hanbok in the South, she is “evocative of the fairies in the heavens,” says the Korea Friendship Association website.

The woman’s choson-ot is characterised by simple lines, a full skirt without pockets, and short jacket tied with a ribbon in front. North Korean women wear it on special occasions, such as a wedding and national day.

For men, the North Korean fashion is a Chinese-style tunic suit, like Kim Jong-un’s, with leather shoes. They even wear them on the farm as they want to “look alike their dear leader,” a local said. ­­

The accessory they all share is the little red badge, always fastened on their upper left chest.  The badge, some with Kim Il-sung’s portrait, others include Kim Jong-il’s, is distributed by work units and not for sale. Some say that a patrol is set up to check for badges, though this was not verified.

A story about all male students having to get the same haircut as Kim Jong-un went viral recently,and  a 24-year-old North Korean woman said that universities do administer students’ hairstyle. Each university has its own salon and is free for students, she said.

She added that the working-class have the right to decide their own hairstyle.

When ask about his views on fashion, the middle-aged male tour guide said, “Chic is a thing that belongs to other people. It is stupid to look at the others and think that they are fashionable. ”

Child is king of the country

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Child is king of the country

 By Yanis Chan

We arrived at the June 9th Middle School at 2.40pm, just after extra-curricular activities had started.

Students in North Korea have a fixed timetable all year through—classes from 8am to 12pm and afterschool activities from 2pm onwards, our guide said. Students are free to choose the activities that suit their talents, from learning musical instruments to studying math.

This middle school, named after the date on which Kim Il-sung ordered it to be built, is a showcase school in Pyongyang open to tourists.

In the auditorium, 13 girls wearing high heels, white shirts, above-the-knee blue skirts and, of course, red neckerchiefs stood lined on stage ready to perform. When they started to sing, they moved in perfect unison. There were a number of performances, a girl on an electric bass guitar off to one side and another with an accordion.

After the performance, while walking to the tour bus, I saw two boys in uniforms playing volleyball in the yard. I waved to them to ask if I could play, a wild request as most North Koreans are not allowed to talk to us.

Then, they threw me the ball. And I hit it back. I wish we could have stayed there longer.

This small moment was one of the best memories of my trip. The first time I felt even remotely close to North Korean life since I passed through immigration.

That night in the hotel bookstore, I bought a book called “Child is king of the country.”  In the chapter “Placing Happiness of Young Generation in the Topmost Position of Consideration”, it says:

“The great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il is the very one who is bringing true life and boundless happiness to the young generation and giving full scope to their hope and talents like the fatherly leader Comrade Kim Il Sung did.”

No matter where they believe their happiness comes from, to me, the boys are no different than any other young people in the world—energetic and curious.

Watch a video of the “children’s performance” at the June 9 Middle School by Joanna Wong here: 

Foreign currency creates private markets

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Foreign currency creates private markets

By Wei Yiyang Philip

In the lobby of the Tower of the Juche Idea in Pyongyang, tourist Emily Liu buys a ticket to go to top of the 150-meter-high structure. It costs 300 North Korea won, however, since foreign tourists are not allowed to use North Korean currency, she pays the equivalent official value of 20 Chinese yuan.

But Emily’s 20 yuan is actually worth far more than 300 won. Compared with the official rate of 15 won to one Chinese yuan set by the North Korean government, the value of yuan on the North Korean black market averages at around 1,250 won to 1,350 won, That means her 20 yuan is at least 25,000 won, four times more than the average salary of a North Korean civil servant.

Foreign exchange plays an essential role in the North Korean domestic economy. Many people here keep foreign hard currencies, mostly the US dollar, Chinese yuan and the euro. They spend their money on the black market, which so large it is out of control of the North Korean government.

The existence of the black market, to some extent, enables people to eat. Rice in Pyongyang spiked to 3,800 won per kilogram and more in other cities, according to DailyNK, a website that follows North Korean news. The difference between the official 96 won to the dollar versus the black market rate of 8,000 won can be live saving in a country where the majority of people don’t have enough food.

As Pyongyang does not release economic data, no one really knows how much foreign currency is in circulation. But Samsung Economic Research Institute, a private research organization in Seoul estimated that the figure was about $2 billion. The sources of foreign currencies vary from border trading to defectors bringing back more valuable money to their families, as well as tourist money from people like Emily.

The pervasion of foreign money stems from the disastrous revaluation of the North Korean won in 2009. In order to address the worsening economy and to punish the private-market activities, the government announced an immediate currency reform that replaced 1,000 won notes with 10 won notes. There was a strict limit on what how much could be converted. The move wiped out people’s savings.

Now even the government has to allow the underground transactions as it bolsters private business, which is technically considered illegal but accounts for about 75 percent of North Korean household income, according to an Al Jazeera report. The North Korean government allows it because it stabilizes the country.

At the top of the Juche Tower, Emily overlooks Pyongyang, its massive monuments and bright apartment buildings lining the river. The tower she stands in was built to commemorate the ideology of Kim Il-sung, roughly meaning self-reliance. The welcome invasion of foreign currency and the private enterprise it sustains is transforming the communist belief system.


School children prepare for war

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School children prepare for war

By Chow Wing Man Mari

In the school on the model Chongsan-ri Cooperative Farm outside of Pyongyang, colourful paintings cover the walls.  If you look a little closer, you’ll notice that many of them are cartoon children killings soldiers with cartoon guns.


Children in North Korea are by law supposed to receive 12 years of free education in a structure similar to many developed countries. The school on this model farm, where Kim Il-sung supposedly invented the collective farming method, is open to tourists to showcase what North Korea sees as an ideal.

Outside, children, who look to be under 5, dance and sing for their visitors. The performance continues in a classroom upstairs. In another room, children chant lessons from Kim Jong-il.

The war murals depict children killing US and Japanese soldiers.. “A country which forgets history will never succeed,” one of the North Korean guides said.

Children aged as young as 3 learn that the US. started the Korean War and that the Japanese killed millions of Koreans.

The moral of the lessons is to hate and beat the enemies.

Behind the school, children play hide-and-seek on a tank in the school playground. A boy points a tree branch like a gun at another boy.

“We have to learn who are the ones stopping us from improving, and children have to learn the history at an early age to make themselves better,” the guide said.


Pyongyang’s elite

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Pyongyang’s elite

By Karthus Lee

Just being able to live in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang is a privilege and they keep it that way. A North Korean cannot just move, or even visit, Pyongyang without permission. And leaving Pyongyang requires a travel certificate. If someone from Pyongyang marries outside the city, the city resident has to leave, according to a Chinese media report.

As tourists, we were allowed no interaction with locals outside of the tour guides assigned to us.  Which means, in North Korea, being a tour guide is a special job for people with the right family backgrounds.

One guide, good-looking and speaking fluent Mandarin, said her father was a high level government official.

“People have free love, and Pyongyang people usually marry Pyongyang people,” said the guide. “We girls have our own three criteria to pick boys:  army, party, and university.”

Pyongyang’s 3 million residents enjoy a measure of wealth unheard of by the rest of the country. They dress smartly and use smartphones, though there is no access to the Internet. Our guide does not know how much her suit or her phone cost.

“My father bought them for me. The phone is a birthday gift,” she said.

Young women wear makeup and high heels. Another tour guide was seen using Christian Dior cosmetics in the washroom.

In 2009, the North Korean won was revaluated, which led to massive depreciation. Now a massive private market system using Chinese yuan and US dollars has sprung up out of the control of the government. Black market exchange rates are used instead of the official rate.

“Pyongyang people’s monthly salary is around 4,000 won” said a guide.

This is about US$ 42 a month, at the official rate of 96 won to the US dollar. On the black market though, it will fetch about US 50 cents, according to rates reported by Reuters.

When asked to show the North Korean won in her purse, the tour guide hesitated but finally agreed.

Tourists are not allowed to use the local currency. Souvenir shops only accept Chinese yuan and euros.  The fixed rate for RMB is 15 to 1.

Tourists can buy a pack of old currency as s souvenir but it can’t be used.

North Korea’s retro-modern transportation

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North Korea’s retro-modern transportation

By Joyce Wong and Thomas Chan

Transportation in North Korea is both retro and modern.

Most flights into North Korea are on state-owned carrier Air Koryo, with Air China also flying into Pyongyang a few times a week.

Air Koryo scored one star out of five on Skytrax, an airline ranking website that looks at a number of criteria including cabin staff service, cabin seating, and onboard catering.  The planes  are Russian-made Tupolev Tu-204-300.

During the journey from Beijing to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, there was no announcement about take off and landing.  Neatly dressed flight attendants passed out hamburgers with meat the texture of mashed potatoes. Drinks available were North Korean beer, apple juice or water.

In Pyongyang, many locals ride bicycles. Women were banned from riding bikes until 2012, when the current leader Kim Jong-un lifted it. Reports say the ban was reinstated last year, but we saw a few women on bicycles. A bikes costs bout 2,000 won, or about US$ 21 at the official rate, one tour guide said.

Buses and trams in the capital were packed and a mix of styles and years, some double-deckers and others that looks straight out of the 1950s.

There were also a surprising number of cars on the roads. A tour guides said a private car could only be awarded by the government to those who had “made am important contribution” to their mother country. In other words, only the privileged can drive.

DHL, the German express mail service, delivers to North Korea and one of their cars was spotted.

But outside the city, the roads were empty.

Last year 80 Chinese-made taxis, the distinctive Beijing yellow and green, were added to the state fleet.

As tourists, we only were allowed to travel by coach. But a metro ride was included on our itinerary. We got on at Reconstruction Station and rode one stop to Glory Station.

The Pyongyang Metro, which doubles as an air-raid shelter, was built in the 1970s and is the deepest in the world, the tour guide said, though other cities such as St. Petersburg and Kiev also claim the title.

The two metro stations we visited were 100 meters underground and decorated with ornate chandeliers, huge mosaic pictures and copper engravings, reminiscent of the grand Moscow metro. Music plays overhead. Newspapers are displayed for reading on public stands in the station.

Locals pay 5 won for a ride to any of the 16 stations on the two lines. It has been reported that hundreds of thousands ride the subway everyday, though some people believe it is orchestrated for tourists.

Our tour group was   told  to get only on car one. In the car, a number of us were approached by passengers. One told us he was a historian and author and took the metro to work. Then he praised the current leader Kim jong-un.

Watch a video on Pyongyang’s transportation by Joey Hung and Yanis Chan here:

Watch a video of the one station metro ride by Joanna Wong here:

The reason for the dark

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The reason for the dark

By Joey Hung

Sunrise to sunset: Natural light dictates the schedule of life in North Korea.

Astronauts recently took a photo of the area from 200 miles up. North Korea, sandwiched between China and South Korea, looks like a black hole or a dark ocean between the two brightly lit countries

North Korea has an energy shortage.







Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

The average per capita power consumption in North Korea is 739 kilowatt hours, compared to 10,162 in South Korea, according to the World Bank. 

North Korea used to get its energy from the Soviet Union for cheap, but the communist collapse put an end to that.

Then the United States offered to help in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons program, but that deal fell apart.

There has been a sharp decline in assistance from China, also a major supplier of energy to North Korea Recently, China  has started to implement sanctions against the country as a warning against further nuclear tests.

For the first time, China sent no oil to North Korea in the first quarter of this year, reported Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news wire service.

Domestically, North Korea relies on it’s own coal and hydropower as well as wood from its forests.

North Korea rations its energy. At night, the streets of Pyongyang are dark, the lights off. People walk and bike the streets in the dark.

At the brightly-lit Kaeson Youth park, rides only run when full and are turned off when idle.

During a visit to the West Sea Barrage, about 70km northwest of Pyongyang, the lights went out in the middle of the presentation tourists. They stopped and ushered us out of the building as if nothing has happened.

In the tourist hotel, everyone stays on the same floors. Once I got off on the wrong floor and it was so dark I could hardly see.

In tourist spots, you must inform staff you want to use the washroom so they can turn the lights on first.

Barbara Dmyock, in her book “Nothing to Envy,” wrote that the North Koreans have learned to love the dark because it gives illicit young couples a way to meet. No one can see them.

But not everywhere is dark. The limited energy is used to keep the lights on at the massive Grand People’s Study House and the Tower of the Juche Idea nearly all the time.


North Korea’s showcase city

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North Korea’s showcase city

By Joanna Wong

Isolated from the modern world, North Korea has transformed its capital Pyongyang into a spotless and green showcase city.

The road from the airport into Pyongyang is lined with tidy light-coloured apartments, their balconies filled with flowers. The street is wide and clean with trees lined up neatly. There is not a scrap of rubbish in sight.

Flowering trees, such as cherry and magnolia trees, with mostly white, pink or purple blossoms are perfectly groomed. Planted flowers line roads in front of bus stops.

Monuments are surrounded by spacious grounds, like the woodlands around the Mangyongdae Native House, where Kim Il-sung was supposedly born. Lawns are neatly trimmed by women crouched in the grass with scissors.

No one litters, possibly because there is not much consumed in a disposable format. People in uniforms constantly sweep the ground, even when there is nothing to be swept

But the tour guide said the construction sites, places where hundreds of people gather with hand tools to dig, are ugly. “These are not beautiful so don’t take photos,” the guide said.

The guide also asked one person who had taken photos through the bus window to delete the construction site photos.

The city, though spotless, feels like a time capsule. There are no chain or big box stores, no fast food restaurants. The sole advertisements are posters glorifying the nation and its leaders. The faces of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il appear outside and inside buildings, in the trains and schools and on every North Koreans’ chest.

Electricity is scarce in the country and Pyongyang has the most. The nights are dark, except for the exceptions are the brightly lit tourist hotels, tourist spots like the Kaeson Youth park and buildings such as the vast Grand People’s Study House and the Tower of the Juche Idea.

North Korea replicates old China’s propaganda

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North Korea replicates old China’s propaganda

By Elise Choi

Modern North Korean propaganda is reminiscent of China under Mao Zedong, particularly the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

North Korea and China share similarities: both are rooted in traditional Confucianism and more modern Marxist philosophy; both have had cult of personality leaders whose faces adorned buildings and made unsound economic decisions leading to the starvation of millions. Both use a distinctive communist propaganda style – bold red with thick block lettering over idyllic pastoral life.

In modern Pyongyang, though the most obvious is the smiling portraits of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the country uses a wide range of media to define itself, including posters, music, murals and art to promote Juche (the political ideology of Kim II-sung that promotes self-reliance), military rights and devotion to the country.

Slogans on buildings and posters in Pyongyang encourage patriotism and  loyalty, such as “The U.S. is truly an axis of evil” and “Let’s develop Pyongyang, the capital city of revolution, into a world-class city.”

On state-controlled television, people wring their hands and weep for the plight of their country.

One reason North Korea continues with the propaganda is that Kim Jong-un, who has been supreme leader for three years, is worried about his power. He wants to eliminate those who are against the regime, a North Korea defector reported.

But although North Koreans have no legal access to the outside world, do people still believe the propaganda? One North Korean defector says about half of people inside believe it.

Elise Choi photo








The slogan says “Be strong! Let’s build a strong country.” Similar banners stand all over Pyongyang. 


Elise Choi photo2










“Choson-labor party is the best!” Choson is the old name for the dynasty of  Korea that ruled for five centuries. North Koreans still use it.

The Power of Faith

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The Power of Faith

By Lee On Ying Annie

Steering visitors towards the carefully planned path of monuments in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, two female tour guides proudly lecture on the divinity of their former leader, Kim II-sung, and his late son and successor, Kim Jong-il.

In a city of almost 3 million people, the main streets in Pyongyang are disproportionately spacious compared to the light traffic. Trees line the sidewalks next to brightly coloured propaganda posters and red signs with bold slogans.   On a hill hidden away in the city, two huge bronze statues demand enduring love for the fatherly marshals.

“The United States had dropped more than 70 devastating bombs on our motherland.  Our territories were sabotaged as ruins but under the leadership of our great marshals, we recovered quickly,” the more versed guide, with unmistakable awe, said again

Pointing an accusing finger at the United States for the division of Korea, the northern half of the peninsula holds a fresh and intact hostility over the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. The South was supported by the US-led United Nations Command involving 16 countries.

The history presented at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and the Koryo History Museum denounce capitalism and make the United States accountable for the casualties and destruction in North Korea.

State-controlled North Korean media, distributed in English on its planes, souvenir shops, social media accounts and on its official website, sanitize reality.

Taught to deify and never defy, North Koreans live in one of the world’s most oppressive regimes and perceive, or at least pretend to, their leaders as the sun and air of their existence.

At a model school open for tourists, singing and clapping children dance under photos of the leaders. Just outside the classroom door are murals of cartoon children with guns. The playground has a tank.

The tour guide said the North Korean students have to attend a “revolutionary history” class in schools.

Cut off from the outside world, where foreign television can bring the death penalty, North Koreans live in a bubble blow by the elite leaders who control the country.

But the patriotic ambience and collective spirit, sometimes slips. More than 25,000 North Koreans have defected in the last twenty years, the BBC reports. In a country of nearly 30 million, the percentage is small.

“The strength of regime came from its ability to isolate citizens completely,” said Barbara Demick, journalist and the author of the award-winning book “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.”

But beyond the facade conjured by the news reports on nuclear weapons and human rights abuses, tourists to the country get a glimpse of uneventful daily life. But it’s only a surface look. Even we are standing on its soil, we are distant.

A glimpse of reality in dreamland ?

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A glimpse of reality in dreamland ?

By Alpha Chan

Jaded by days of visits to monuments and museums glorifying and worshipping North Korea’s supreme leaders, the excursion to the Kaeson Youth Park seemed a treat.

Tourists are forbidden from interacting with locals and strictly monitored by tour guides. But the amusement park seemed a place to lower defenses.

Local tour guides said North Koreans strictly follow their life routines. They have regular scheduled working hours and everything shuts down early.

But after dinner, in the dark, the amusement park lit up the sky and bustled with people.

The 40 hectare Kaeson Youth Park is one the older of a number of amusement parks in and around Pyongyang.  Many of the rides were imported from Italy when the park was renovated in 2010.

In 2012, Kim Jong-un visited the park and told workers to make sure safety standards were maintained and that their clothes needed to match the scenic beauty of the funfair.

The rides are modern, including a Superman-style upside-down roller coasters where riders lie facedown as if they were flying and a freefall tower which suspends riders high up in the air for almost a minute before dropping.

Soldiers still wandered the grounds, but the noise from the park was the loudest and merriest heard in the somber city. Though most screamed, I saw two girls on one of the scarier rides with completely expressionless faces, echoing my feelings about  North Koreans: a place of repression.

Most people in the park seemed middle-aged. Some flashed victory signs in a photo with tourists.   Women wearing high heels flocked to queue up for a ride and a woman in yellow-shirt drove a bumper cars all alone. There are rumours that the country orders North Koreans to attend the park, feigning joy and excitement for the tourists, but there is no way for us to verify that.

Watch a video of the freefall drop tower at the Kaeson Youth Park by Joanna Wong:

North Koreans badges for the ordinary

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North Koreans badges for the ordinary

By Alice Wan

The smiling faces of the late North Korean Great Leader Kim Il-sung and Dear Leader Kim Jong-il are ubiquitous in propaganda posters and murals throughout the country. And now, their faces are frequently spotted pinned to every good citizen’s chest.

The red pins, or badges as they are called in North Korea, with portraits of Kim Il-Sung  were first produced by the North Korean Propaganda and Agitation Department in 1970.  All members of Korean Workers Party, according to Patricia K. Kummer’s “North Korea: Enchantment of the World,” must wear one at all times.

But now, ordinary North Koreans wear them too.



 Photos by Jeff Chan


Wearing a larger flag-shaped badge with both leaders portraits pinned neatly on the upper left hand side of her black jacket, a North Korea tour guide said that she has more than 20 badges at home: one pinned to every jacket.

Though many wear the double page, some choose to wear the smaller circular red pin with only Kim Il-sung. No one wears only Kim Jong-il. And the face of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, is noticeably absent from all propaganda.

“These badges are not for sale,” said another North Korean tour guide. “The government awarded the badges to us.”

Not everyone wears them, noticeably farmers, street cleaners and small children.

“It’s simply because we don’t carry it when we have the chance of making it dirty,” the second tour guide said. “We usually take it off when we do hard work.”

The design of the badges do not symbolize anything, she said.

When asked the consequences of losing a badge, she makes a bewildered face. “We won’t lose it,” she said. “We have been wearing it since we were little kids.”


Foreign investment in North Korea on the rise

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Foreign investment in North Korea on the rise

By Hui Yue Lam Adelaide

North Korea is attempting to attract foreign direct investment to aid in economic development in the sanction-hit country.

And it seems to be working, a little.

FDI in North Korea reached US$ 79 million in 2012, a 40 percent increase from the year before and more than double 2010, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

The total invested in the country over the past few decades comes to US$ 1.475 billion, reports the BBC.

Though still one of the smallest levels in the world, the increase in FDI is steady, experts say.

To attract investors, Pyongyang announced last year that it would set up 14 new special economic zones.

Most are wary of investing in a country so closed and unpredictable as North Korea, with the majority of foreign money coming from China and Russia. However, last year, Mongolia acquired 20 percent of the state-run oil refinery.

Other recent foreign investments include a Czech-built brewery and a high-tech industrial park that North Korea says is being designed and built by Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.

The only North Korean mobile phone company Koryolink, is 75 percent owned by Egyptian firm Orascom.

Last year, North Korea set up an office to attract overseas Korean money, Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news wire service, reported.

Even Hong Kong has a stake. The popular Emperor Resort & Casino in the remote Rason special economic zone on the northeast border with China and Russia is owned by Hong Kong business magnate Albert Yeung.

The casino, like the zone itself, attracts wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers carrying bags of money who arrive on a Chinese-built road from Jilin province. The Emperor Group paid North Korea US$ 1.6 million to lease the casino site for 50 years, according to the SCMP.

The only other casino in the country is a small, shabby affair in the basement of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang owned by Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho. Like the Emperor, the casino is open only to foreigners

North Korea has loosened, or some say have lost, a little of its tight grip on the economy since the devastating revaluation of its currency in 2009. Since then, the black market rate for won has dropped 99 percent, Reuters reports.

Private markets that trade in Chinese Yuan and US dollars have sprung up as a result and the North Korean government can do little to stop it.

David Wong, President of The Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, visited North Korea in 2008 on a trade mission. But after inspection, he decided the country was a poor investment choice.

“It’s really not a favorable place for investment as the communist monarchy has been facing economic sanctions,” Wong said.

“We would think of business conditions like labor cost, approval application and carriage in trade missions to emerging economies like India, Cambodia, Vietnam. But North Korea is a rare case that we even don’t want to consider since the unstable political environment matters a lot,” Wong added. “I won’t consider investments in North Korea so far.”