Defector Choi Young Lim [pseudonym] who entered South Korea this past January was a “broker” in North Korea who would receive money from defectors and deliver it to family members in North Korea. He was exposed while mediating money and arrested but was released after giving bribes.
Choi said, “Previously, even with just evidence that there was a connection to a South Korean, you were dragged to a political prison camp and your family members were exiled. However nowadays, even if it is exposed that a defector who entered South Korea sent money, the family members aren’t severely punished”.
“These days, even if there is evidence that you received wired money, unless there is hard evidence of ties to the National Intelligence Service in South Korea the national security agents just impose a fine and release you,” he said.
According to Choi the fine is around the range of USD $2000.
Most of the foreign currency that enters North Korea these days is done through wired transfers from defectors in South Korea to family members. The money that Korean defectors send to family in the North undergoes a 20-30% processing fee and is finally delivered to the individual. The process is from the defector in South Korea through Chinese exchange broker to North Korean broker.
If USD $100 is sent from South Korea, the brokers share $30 and the remaining $70 is delivered to the family.
Until the mid-1990s, regardless of reason, North Korean authorities would take any monetary matter related to South Korea and punish them as “spies”. However, as the number of defectors concentrated in the North and South of Hamkyung increased after the food crisis, a uniform punishment became difficult to impose.
Choi said, “Even the National Security Agency doesn’t consider receiving money from family in South Korea as a spy activity. If they punish everyone, there is a side effect that even their own personal connections will be made adversaries. Thus, they can’t touch this issue.”
The emergence of taxis targeting large city wealthy classes
Trader Hwang Sang Do [pseudonym] who had traveled Chongjin, Hamheung and Shinuiju to collect trade items to export to China entered the South Korea this March.
Hwang introduced a variety of daily activity that he experienced in North Korea. “Even in Hamheung and Chongjin, taxis are operated. The base fare is around 3,000 won. Some cars have the mark that says, ‘taxi’ but some operate as passenger cars without such marks,” he said.
In the North Korean black market 1kg of gasoline (North Korea ordinarily uses kg) costs around 2,000 won. Hwang says, “There are drivers who solicit customers in front of the Chongjin Station or Hamheung Square Station. There aren’t many customers so when veering outside of central city, they receive the round trip fare.” The customers are mainly trade workers, overseas Chinese emigrants or the wealthy class.
It is known that taxi drivers refurbish used taxis or passengers cars that come in from China, then register it as an institution or business entity and start business activity. As there was an order earlier this year to remove all Japanese cars within 3 years, most of the cars that are on the street are manufactured in China.
Massage Parlors, Skincare Salons – Prostitution Secretly Going On
In large cities of North Korea, motels, massage parlors and skincare salons have been established and prostitution has been going on secretly.
Trade worker Hwang says, “There has been an increase of places in Hamheung motels that also function as saunas or skincare salons. A Chinese style massage at a massage parlor is 10,000 won (around US$3.4) per 60 minutes and there is instantaneous prostitution with female masseuse.” It is told that prostitution goes on for about 20,000 – 30,000 won.
With North Korean bathhouses, a service culture to put women at the forefront has taken place. The owners here use jargons such as “selling a bed” or “selling flowers” to feel out a customer’s intention for prostitution. There are cases where women find private homes to prostitute themselves. Hwang says that because it is easy to make money through prostitution, there has been an increase of female prostitutes.
Previously, if prostitution was exposed, you would be sentenced to forced labor. Even now, the authorities ban prostitution. However, the reality is that related entities have secretly been increasing.
On the other hand, there have been several luxury restaurants that opened in Wonsan and Hamheung. These places have implemented the Chinese service system, so the interior facilities are luxurious and female employees greet customers with a “Welcome” at the door.
Previously, only overseas Chinese emigrants or Chinese businessmen invested in such restaurants but recently, there are many cases where North Korean residents open large restaurants as well. Hwang says that as the Chinese restaurant culture that competes with taste and service infiltrated North Korea, North Korea has been undergoing a huge transformation to gain customers through service.
A service concept to “treat the customer as a king” has been emerging different from 1990s.