Bungled high-rise reveals reality

Kim Jong Un made an onsite visit in October 2014 to the completed residential apartments for
faculty of Kim Chaek University of Technology. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Despite seeing completion last October,
following orders from leader Kim Jong Un, only half of the units of a major
apartment complex built near Pyongyang’s Taedong River are currently occupied.
The buildings were specifically built for faculty of Kim Chaek University of
Technology, but the 46-story apartments have elevators that cannot fully
function due to power shortages, giving people more reason to shy away from the
compound, a local Daily NK source reported. 

“There are two 46-floor buildings that
serve as apartments for employees from Kim Chaek University of Technology. But
both only have people in at the 20th floor and below,” a source from South Pyongan
Province told Daily NK on May 29th. “Even though the authorities are telling
them to move in, they are not doing so because life would be inconvenient.”

She explained that faculty members usually
prefer the seventh and eighth floors; floors above the 20th level are “not even
up for consideration.” All are fully cognizant of the reality looming behind
the shiny facade of the facilities–elevators that exist but fail to function properly. Despite the free residence, “nobody wants to move in,” she asserted. 

“The Marshal (Kim Jong Un) may
be able to use high-story apartments like this for propaganda about his love
for citizens, but he cannot do so through less visually attractive issues such
as resolving the power shortage. That’s why authorities simply focus on
building ostentatious structures like this,” she went on to explain.

Construction for the apartments began in
August of 2013 under orders from Kim Jong Un, according to the source. Kim
displayed much interest in the buildings, inspecting the construction site
several times and chose it as his second destination to visit after reemerging
from a 40-day period of seclusion last year.

North Korean media reported on Kim Jong
Un’s attendance of the completion ceremony, claiming the complex embodies the
fruit of love for his people. However, as the poor living conditions have led
to a low rate of residency, the project is a much-criticized topic among
residents chewing the fat. “It should have been built to suit reality,” and,
“It was too great a stretch from the beginning,” many have said, according to
the source.

“The elevator runs only during breakfast,
lunch, and dinner hours, so for long spans of time it will be impossible to get
to the 40th floor,” the source said. “There isn’t even a place for people to
put their bicycles, which are the most fundamental tools for people’s

In broader terms, ownership of a bicycle in
North Korea is still seen in much the same way today as ownership of a private
car in the developed world; this is to say that in the absence of legal
obstacles it is within the reach for most families. They are considered an
invaluable property asset and having to cart them up and down countless floors
of stairs with nowhere to store them safely drives residents away from the facilities. 

“How does a high-story building make sense
in this situation?” the source justifiably pointed out.

Compounding already poor conditions is the lack of available tap water. Tenants frequently turn on the faucet with not so much as a drop trickling out.
Pumping water is the only solution–a terribly inconvenient one, according to
the source, who added that everyone from ordinary residents to Party cadres
have shirked any expectations at this point for lofty-level residential units.

The source suggested myopic, expedient
plans as root for these–and most–problems besetting the nation. “Factories produce cement all day and the
Chosun People’s Army is mobilized for all construction efforts, but the state
fails to consider electricity, water, and other essential components, so many
feel that the Marshal seems unable to devise and implement long-term plans,” she concluded.

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