|▲ A truck going to Namyang Custom House in North Hamkyung ⓒ DailyNK|
Changbai, China -- I plan to make my most recent visit to North Korea the last. I don’t plan to set my eyes on that country again, unless there is a significant change.
I first went to North Korea four years ago, during the winter of 2003. Before then, my family was poor, so I could not do anything to help my starving relatives in North Korea. My parents could only give a couple of bags of rice to the relatives who crossed the border to visit us.
I went to Hong Kong as soon as I got married. For fourteen years, I lived frugally and amassed enough money to build my own gas station in Changbai, my hometown. Since more Chinese people are buying cars, the gas station business is booming.
After getting out of poverty, I began to feel sorry for my North Korean relatives, whom I could not help a decade ago. So I decided to visit North Korea.
In the winter of 2003, my wife and I went to a city in North Hamkyung Province. My relative there lived in destitution. My wife even told me that she hoped not to visit again.
Afterwards, I visited that relative twice a year, and provided him with seed money to begin a business. He is now well off enough to feed his family.
At first, I brought necessities like clothes, small TVs, and furniture to my relatives.
Sometime over the last year, I brought them some clothing to sell, hoping my uncle and nephews would begin their own businesses with those commodities.
Suddenly, however, I encountered an obstacle: the North Korean customs office.
The officials did not let me bring more than two articles of clothing from China. Despite the fact that other travelers were transporting goods with trucks. I begged them, but to no avail.
Then, another Chinese visitor informed of something: “Just ‘introduce yourself’ to the inspector,” he told me. “Introducing yourself” is universal slang in North Korea that means “bribery.” After “introducing myself” to the customs officials, everything went smoothly and well.
The next time I got there, the customs inspectors even told me what items I should bring to use as bribes.
The time after that, I brought 600 pairs of socks and five coats, a good portion of which went to the officials.
I have never understood why North Korean bureaucrats and public servants are so powerful. The North Korean people cannot express their opinion to them and must pay them regularly in the form of bribery.
My relatives did not criticize their government in front of me. But I could feel their discontent. Especially when the government demanded of them basic commodities like gasoline, gloves, clothes, soap, food, etc, in the form of “donations.” I was curious as to why North Korean authorities were asking the people for these things. A relative answered, “They (government) say these are for the armed forces.”
North Korea’s Sundays are days off. Nonetheless, North Korean people still go to work; not in their offices, but outside. They participate in road cleaning, railroad repairs, and other public works, and participation is mandatory.
North Korea boasts of itself as a “country without taxation.” But what about those commodities being extorted from the people? (continued)