Demand up for fancy home appliances among North Korea’s rich

Residents in North Korea are widely using solar panels to alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages. In tandem, this is causing a rise in demand for home appliances. In particular, wall-mounted televisions are becoming popular purchases for residents in the emerging wealthier class, referred to as the donju, or “money masters.” 
Mrs. Kim, a 40-year old market trader who lives in Ryanggang Province, Yonbong-dong, is one such example. She has accumulated savings from her business activities and recently bought a new electric rice cooker. Although there is no reliable power provided by the state for Mrs. Kim’s home, thanks to three solar panels that she also bought at the market, she has access to a more regular energy supply.    
“These days, more people are watching movies and listening to music on notebook computers than on notetels [small multimedia viewing devices],” said a Ryanggang Province source in a telephone call with Daily NK on August 4. “Rather than rising demand for home appliances as a whole, [the current trend is that] the products in demand are becoming more high-end.”  
“In some of the better households these days, people are even using blenders to crush grains and juice fruits. And there are plenty of people who have not just one, but two or three different cell phones,” she added.
This rising demand for appliances is yet another indicator of the country’s gradual but increasing marketization. At the same time, solar panels have increased the available electricity supply and market activities have boosted the residents’ purchasing power. This surging demand is having an effect on prices. For example, due to the summer heat, more and more residents are buying electric fans in the markets, even though the climbing demand has pushed up prices.
“Just last month, fans were selling for about 200 yuan (US$30), but now they are going for about 300 yuan (US$45). This has not affected their popularity,” the source continued.
Residents are also interested in refurbishing their homes, with intercom systems from China becoming popular items amongst donju to show off to their visitors.
Hallyu, or the Korean wave, is also having an effect. A North Korean source in China with knowledge on the issue noted, “Some donju are asking Chinese merchants to procure wall-mounted televisions. These customers see the televisions for the first time when watching South Korean drama series. Watching these dramas has raised their standards and influenced their preferences.”
At the same time, he said, the trends are highlighting the worsening gap between the haves and the have-nots in North Korea.
“Those who reach the level of, say, Director of the Provincial Ministry of People’s Security will have enough money to buy an air conditioner. But poor residents can’t even dream about a purchase like that. These days, access to electricity is becoming a class issue, with an unequal distribution between the rich and poor. This also means that there is massive inequality when it comes to the ownership and usage of home appliances,” he concluded.