Counterfeit shampoos are still better than past alternatives

This is “NK Market Trends,” bringing you news about the North Korean economy
every week, and today, we are accompanied by reporter Kang Mi Jin. But first,
let’s take a look at the market’s performance over the past week.*

A kg of rice cost 5019 KPW in Pyongyang, 5055 KPW in Sinuiju, and 5000 KPW in
Hyesan. A kg of corn kernels cost 1980 KPW in Pyongyang. 2110 in Sinuiju, and
2400 KPW in Hyesan. The exchange rate was 8190 KPW to the dollar in Pyongyang,
8260 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8250 KPW in Hyesan. The exchange rate for the Chinese
Renminbi was 1320 KPW per yuan in Pyongyang, 1330 KPW per yuan in Sinuiju, and
1300 KPW per yuan in Hyesan. A kg of pork cost 10,560 KPW in Pyongyang, 10,650
KPW in Sinuiju and 10,500 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of gasoline cost 7000 KPW in
Pyongyang and Sinuiju, and 7100 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of diesel cost 5150 KPW in
Pyongyang, 5200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 5050 KPW in Hyesan. This has been a rundown
of the Weekly Marketplace Prices.

1. That was a rundown of this week’
s prices. I can’t wait to hear what’s new in the markets presently. Reporter Kang Mi Jin is here to tell us all about it.

Usually the market in North Korea runs very slowly for about a month following
the New Year. This is a recurring event every year. This dip in sales might be
due to the fact that people just celebrated the New Year and are caught up with
“compost battle.” Nonetheless, markets keep running matter what. Today, I like to
talk about how people’
s obsession with South Korean products led to the overflow of
counterfeit versions of these goods.

I’m also going discuss how tropical fruits such as mandarins and pineapples
have made their ways into the markets for consumption. Not so long ago these
varieties of fruits were the preserve of higher ups in the capital, Pyongyang.

2. I’ve heard from time to time that Chinese counterfeits of South Korean
products are sold in the market but I suppose it is still an ongoing issue.
What are some of the counterfeits being sold in the market these days?

Yes, lets start off with shampoo. A main counterfeit goes by the name of  Hanaro. Just hearing the random name makes it hard to know if its quality is up to that of well-known South Korean
products, but people just buy it regardless, assuming it is still a better option than Chinese products. The small container that comes out as
sample costs about 6500 KPW and the big container is about 90,000 KPW.

The problem here is that people don’t know whether these products are original
or counterfeits but the sales are still through the roof. Even a lady I know uses them because she thinks the South Korean shampoo does a better job at
cleansing hair while making it shinier and silkier, hence the reason most women
are clamoring to use them.

understand why people like South Korean goods but feel sad that people sell
fake versions of those products. But since the people in North Korea were
previously washing their hair with detergent or soap before shampoo starting
coming into the markets even counterfeits are better than returning to that. So
if I look at it that way I don’t feel so bad about the whole thing.

3. People in North Korea wash their hair with soap instead of shampoo? That’s
got to be terrible for one’s hair.

That’s right,
people in North Korea didn’
t have shampoo for a long time. I think it was first introduced to the
markets around 2009 or 2010. I used shampoo for the first time even without knowing
what it was when I visited my relatives in China back in the spring of 2007.
Initially, I didn’
t know how to use it properly, so I only used little bit and mixed it with
water before using but it wouldn’t suds up well so I had to do it again. It was
a bit of a trial and error process to figure out.

My friends who visited me at home first asked me if I had washed my hair with
shoe polish. But then they saw how much my hair condition improved from
repeated use and envied me for being able to use a foreign product like that to
wash my hair. When I think about that now I realize how pathetic it was to
think that way. You know, I just wanted to show off to my friends. Now that I
have the chance here I want to take this time to apologize to my friends for
being like that.

I’m happy
to think though that right now  my
friends and neighbors can easily products like shampoo at the markets.

4. People in North Korea must definitely be so happy to not have to use soap to
wash their hair anymore. Okay, so not tell us a bit about the increased
availability of tropical fruits like mandarins in the markets these days. 

Well, I first tasted mandarins in the early 80s. It was so amazing to try something
that only grows in tropical climates that I even kept the peel for quite some
time.  I even showed it off to my
friends. I know in South Korea, people would ask, “What’s the big deal about
eating a mandarin?” But in the northern regions of North Korea where
eating fruit in general is not an easy feat, just the fact that you could eat
mandarins was a sign of wealth in and of itself.  I’m sure listeners in North Korea are nodding
along in agreement to this. Most defectors, including myself, would say that it
was hard to spot mandarins in the markets prior to 2010 but these days they’re
readily available.

5. Obviously they don’t grow in North Korea. So they’re imported then?

Including the markets on the border, there is overflow of Chinese products in
markets throughout the nation.It’s safe to say the mandarins come in from China
as well. 
important thing here is not where they come from but just the fact that people
can now enjoy tropical fruits like mandarins.

I loved
fruit from an early age. Once, while eating apples sent from relatives, I asked
my father if apple trees would grow if I planted the seeds. He replied that the
cold weather in Ryanggang Province prevents even cabbage from growing properly
so an apple tree wouldn’t have a chance.

I used to daydream about it when I was young. It was that difficult for the
people living in Ryanggang Province to enjoy fruits; even when there were some
available the price was way too expensive. As markets cropped up at the turn of
the century  you could buy pretty much
anything as long as you has the money to do so. Still, things like mandarins were not easy to spot. This
was the case even until 2008 before I fled the country.  Trade has a lot to do with this influx of
tropical fruit pouring into North Korea these days.

6. It puts a smile on my face just thinking that the people in North Korea are
now able to try tropical fruits like mandarins, fruits which they couldn’
t even
think about doing in the past.  There are
other fruits as well you say?

Yes, there’s pineapple too.  I heard it
was once  considered the most prestigious
fruit in South Korea. These are now in the market in North Korea. Even though
people are happy to see tropical fruits in the market the heftier price tags make
them hard to buy regularly. Usually they are reserved for special family
occasions such as weddings and birthdays. Pineapples are especially popular for
kids when they go hiking or celebrate birthdays. Of course people have
different tastes in food but the fact that they can now enjoy once extremely
hard-to-get tropical fruits, people feel rich in their hearts. 

A story which you can’t really laugh off
informs this point. So when I first came to South Korea and stayed at the Defector
Protection Center (formerly known as the Joint Interrogation Center) out daily
snack was bananas and Choco Pies.

One day, they gave us bananas and this 21 years old girl took a bite with the
peel still on after staring at it for a long time.  I found out right away that it was her first
time eating a banana and rushed over to help her peel it.

I went up
to her and peeled the banana before others saw it. Her face lit up and just
took the bite she already had with peel on. It
’s one of
those stories you cannot really laugh at (even if you wanted to). How great would
it be for the people in North Korea to have decent lives and enjoy something as
simple as bananas regularly? That’s what I really hope for.

7. I also wish that people in North Korea could enjoy tropical fruits whenever
they want to. I’m curious, what are are the market prices for fruits such as mandarins,
bananas and pineapples?

It would
quite  long time to give a you a rundown
of the prices for these fruits in every market across North Korea, so I’ll give
you the prices for Chongjin Market located in North Hamgyong Province. In this
case, 1kg of mandarins goes for about 13,500 KPW. Ones that are tasty and fresh
can go up to 19,000 KPW. I think the reason for this such high price is because
these are usually for Party cadres or the donju  (new affluent middle class).

Bananas are
about 2500 KPW each and children usually go and buy them. Pineapples are not
sold much in regular basis but when there are special occasions sales tend to
skyrocket. Pineapples cost about 11,000
KPW each.

I thank you
all for listening to our broadcast even though I’m sure you are exhausted from
collecting manure all day long. I wish you good health in the New Year. Until
next week then, take care.

*This segment reflects market conditions for the week of January 11-15.

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