Lines of coal briquettes in North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

The way North Koreans are preparing for winter is changing as they increasingly use electric appliances and shift away from kimchi making and firewood gathering, Daily NK sources reported on Monday. 

With the widespread use of solar panels to produce electricity for individual households, the number of North Koreans looking to use electric heating appliances throughout the winter has increased, with the corresponding costs rising formidably in turn. 

“Winter preparations originally were about making kimchi and preparing firewood, as well as acquiring winter clothes, but increasingly people are making less kimchi, and prioritizing electric heaters over trying to get firewood,” a source based in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.

MORE ELECTRIC APPLIANCES, HIGHER COSTS

In the country’s northern regions, where the winters are long, locals ensure their winter preparations are thorough. In the markets, there are a variety of electric-powered heating items to tempt buyers, including electric pads and blankets, space heaters and fan heaters.

The purchase of electric appliances has also made preparing for the winter more costly for individual households. If a household of four spent about one million to 1.5 million KPW on kimchi making, firewood, winter clothes and house repairs just a few years ago, today the amount spent is closer to three to 3.5 million KPW, according to sources. With purchases of electric appliances increasing, spending on winter preparations has more than doubled, sources said. 

“It used to be that when it got cold you would buy thermal underwear or winter clothes at the market, but nowadays with a lot of people purchasing electric appliances, the amount spent on winter preparations has increased,” one source told Daily NK.

FALLING FIREWOOD CONSUMPTION

With packaged kimchi and packaged side dishes available in the markets 365 days in a year, even kimchi making, which was once about preparing food for the next half-year, is receding in significance. While most households continue to acquire firewood, perhaps because of greater expectations for electric appliances, purchases of firewood have also reportedly decreased.

North Korean households generally spend KPW 500,000 for five cubic meters of firewood to last throughout the winter. Households that make briquettes with coal usually purchase about 1.8 tons of coal, for which the going market price is currently about KPW 500,000 (about KRW 80,000).

“Ryanggang Province has a lot of forests, but because of restrictions in place to protect them, the price of firewood remains high,” one of the sources said. “People are increasingly opting to fight the cold with fan heaters powered by solar panels.” Electric blankets and fan heaters are also popular because once purchased, they can be used for many years.

“There are many instances where people will try to purchase electric appliances with the money they saved from kimchi making or the purchasing of firewood,” the source continued. “Some people have such high expectations for electric heating appliances that they’ll even say, ‘let’s wait until next year, when there will be even better products.’”

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.