Good Neighborhoods, Bad Jangmadang
Kang Jung Min, a Korean-Chinese who runs a gas station in Changbai, Jilin Province, recently visited his relative in North Korea’s North Hamkyung Province. Having visited a few times to see other relatives in North Korea, Kang knew quite well about the country’s current conditions. Below is his account of his travels in North Korea
North Korea’s private markets are similar to those in China. Anything can be bought with money. Yet strict regulation makes it hard to openly sell wares.
Market inspectors usually conduct inspections, but sometimes officers from the People’s Safety Agency (police) conduct these inspections. It is always a harsher situation when Safety Agency officers run the inspections, because they lock the entrances to the market before they begin.
When I visited the jangmadang this time, the original market inspectors were replaced with more hard-line older ones.
If one stays in the jangmadang for a whole day, one can witness many fistfights. While merchants often get involved in quarrels with Safety Agency officers, these fights generally do not escalate to physical violence. But I heard that Safety Agency officers beat prison inmates often.
People’s lifestyles have not improved since my first visit to North Korea. My relatives are better off now, but others are not.
Rations are only available on Lunar New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Rice prices have risen this year. The best varieties cost 1500 NK won per unit (approx. 1 US dollar=3200 North Korean won).
Residents in North Hamkyung and Yangkang Province grow potatoes. 1 kilogram of potatoes costs 120 won. Last year, this price was 80 won.
In winter, right after the harvest, each household is filled with foodstuffs. But during spring, many people are left with less food.