North Korea's nouveau riche spend like there's no tomorrow

Choi Song Min  |  2015-12-09 09:00
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Among North Koreas nouveau riche, theres an expression that goes, Make your money in the suburbs, but spend it in Pyongyang. Accordingly, the donju (or new moneyed class) are flocking to Pyongyang before the years end in order to compete with one another by patronizing elite restaurants and buying extravagant gifts. 

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on December 4th, an inside source from Pyongyang said, In downtown Pyongyang, fancy restaurants, famous hotels, and foreign currency stores, are thronging with donju who have come from the countryside. It seems that theyve all come here after completing their winter preparations and other end-of-year year tasks in order to spend money like there is no tomorrow.  

An additional source in the capital corroborated this news.

Moreover, he noted, The end of November is the time when the State Planning Commission issues import/export licenses, so during this time central state agencies call those heading up local foreign-currency earning units (i.e. donju) up to Pyongyang. Under the pretense of hosting criticism sessions for foreign-currency earning or production, cadres with central state organs gather for a luxurious reception and donju present them with elaborate bribes in order to secure the licenses required to run their operations.  

The donju gather in downtown Pyongyang at first-rate hotels such The Yang-gack Do Hotel, The Chang-gwang Hotel, and The Ansan Hotel. They spend the entire day at fancy restaurants, spending buckets of cash without a care in the world. At some of these restaurants, it is normal to spend approximately US $300- $400 on a single meal. That adds up to thousands of dollars for all the people around the table, he explained.

According to inside sources, US $100 now trades as KPW 860,000, or 172 kg of rice in the North Korean markets. This amount could keep an ordinary person happily fed for a duration of ten months. So that means by spending $400 on a single meal, the donju are essentially spending the equivalent amount that it would take to feed a family of four for ten months.

The indoor swimming pool at the Pyongyang Information Center has become a particularly hot attraction, with men and women gathering together and alcohol behind served at poolside bars. After splashing about in the pool, the cadres and donju head over to the restaurant, where they guzzle down $100/$200 per bottle brandy and whiskey while munching on $50 per plate duck, squid, and bulgogi appetizers.

During their stay in the capital, the donju rent Mercedes Benz vehicles from taxi companies. When they pull up to their destinations - whether its the Koryo Hotel or the Pyongyang Information Center - they are greeted by valets wearing costumes that resemble the British Queens royal guard.  When they arrive in the hotels foreign currency restaurant, theyll sip on top shelf beer and $20 per bowl cold noodle soup called naengmyeon, he said.

The donju will then head over to foreign currency stores such as the Nakwon or Daeseong Department Store in order to buy gifts such as electronic products and other high ticket items for higher-ranking cadres. These hotels and departments stores are engaged in fierce competition with one another to secure the business of the rich out-of-towners. They even offer delivery services as a premium in order to lure the big spenders in.  

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado

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Won Pyongyang Sinuiju Hyesan
Exchange Rate 8,000 8,000 8,025
Rice Price 4,800 4,900 5,200