Crazy Prices in North Korea “Something Might Have Happened”

[imText1]Dramatic price increase still takes place in North Korea. Yun Il Sun (psuedo name, from Chongjin, North Korea) whom The DailyNK met in Tumen, China, said that 1 kg of North Korean rice costs between 850 won-900 won and Chinese rice costs about 600-650 won in Hamkyong Province. Chinese bean oil costs about 950 won-1,100 won and a Chinese adult jacket is 8,000 won at minimum price.

This is such a dramatic price change comparing to the average worker’s monthly salary, which is about 3,500-4,000 won. The workers are unlikely to get paid their salary because not many things are produced in factories. Most of people make a living by a business. Actual exchange rate in a North Korean market is more than 2,400 won for a dollar.

1 Kg of Pork is Up to 1,200 Won

Yun Il Sun runs a restaurant near Chongjin ○○○market. She said that she visits China 3 to 4 times a year.

Yun Il Sun could get a pass to travel on ground for ‘family visit’. She said that the real reason she came to China was to meet a Chinese dog wholesaler. Her husband sells dogs to China. Of course, her husband exports dogs illegally. I could hear about recent prices in a market from Yun Il Sun.

“Price increases every single day. Even Chinese rice is over 600 won per one kilo. The price is doubled in a year. We can’t even put the price on beef and 1 kg of pork costs up to 1,200 won. A cabbage with a good head is 400 won. A bowl of noodles was about 25-30 won until last year, but it costs 50 won these days.”

When I asked her “how much is a dog in North Korea?” she refused to say anything but laughed. She did not answer related to her husband’s “dog smuggling.” We changed the subject to “North Korean markets.”

Retailers in Chongjin Market Deliver Goods to Customers

“There are many big size markets in Chongjin. Wholesale and retail are divided because business is going well in the markets. Competition among retailers is intense. The competition is so high because a lot of people start business. In case of vegetable sellers in *** market, Chongjin, they deliver vegetables to the restaurants if the owner of restaurant buy a lot of vegetables at a time. If a person has a street stall, all family members work together in the stall and young family members deliver items to the restaurants by a cart.”

Those who are making money in North Korea at this moment are wholesalers and retailers who have a street stall in a market. In case of peddlers, they cannot make much money. She also told that competition is intense among the retailers, therefore some of them were bankrupted and ended up with huge debt. That is why a lot of people escape to China.

She noted that the “rising item” in markets these days is ‘household appliances’.

Price for a Chinese Car Battery, 50,000 Won

“A used color television is 100,000 won. A new one costs up to 300,000 won. A Japanese one is so expensive, so not many people buy or sell it. Price of a small-size recorder with radio starts from 4,000 won and goes up to 8,000 won. A middle-size recorder with radio costs up to 30,000 won. The quality of Chinese products has improved nowadays, so even the rich people like to buy Chinese products. Business for household appliance can make a good profit.”

I asked her about the electric power condition in North Korea while watching television.

“The power condition is same as before. It is on and off. Rich people install small electric generator in their homes. Some of them buy rechargeable batteries. What they do is they convert Chinese car battery to a 6 bolt one. The price has also increased a lot. We could buy it at 15,000 won last year, but it is up to 50,000 these days.”

Those Who Make 100,000 Won a Month Are the Middle Class

I asked her “what is your dream?” She answered me “living well is my dream.” I asked her “what does “living well” mean in North Korea?”

“If a person makes 100,000 won a month, his family can make a living. In that case, it is possible to have three meals a day, have a heating system in winter and send children to school.”

What she wants at this moment is only one thing. She wants the government to secure people’s free business activities. It seems to me that she is worried about what her husband does.

“We sell something to China and spend that money in North Korea. I cannot understand why the government blocks it. If we make money in China, that is also earning foreign currency in a way.”

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at