Motorcycles and Notebook Computers

In today’s North Korea, where wealth inequality is growing more and more extreme, what is a symbol of upper class income status? Just a few years ago, the answer was a branded South Korean rice cooker, the ‘Cuckoo’. So much so, indeed, that the brand name has totally usurped the dictionary description, ‘pressurized electric rice cooker’, altogether.

However, according to a new interview with a cadre from an enterprise in Chongjin published in the new, June edition of NK Vision, the most potent recent symbols of a wealthy family are motorcycles, notebook computers and military dogs!

“Nowadays in Chongjin, transport agents are being stationed here and there because of motorcycle accidents. There are usually around three motorcycle accidents per day, and people are losing their lives,” the cadre explained.

The majority of the motorcycles ridden in North Korea are Chinese brands such as Jangbaeksan costing around 2,000-3,000 Yuan (with 1 Yuan worth 400 North Korean won). Meanwhile, even second-hand versions of Japanese brands including Yamaha and Honda cost considerably more than 5,000 Yuan.

The cadre continued, “The bicycle is still the basic means of transport, as it has been until now. But the bicycle is now just a really ordinary means of transport; it is no longer a symbol of wealth.”

A notebook computer is another symbol of economic good health. Among other reasons, this is because in random inspections by the North Korean authorities they check computers, and since notebook computers can be hidden easily, they are enjoying great popularity.

The source explained, “On average, computer checks crop up once every two or three months, and since this happens without warning, we cannot get rid of things like foreign movies or Korean songs. Seeing these checks getting more serious, nowadays notebook computers are the most popular thing.”

Big dogs are, similarly, growing in popularity, even though one dog can cost as much as 100,000 North Korean won, or more than 50kg of rice. According to the cadre, there is sound logic to this, too.

“Affluent households need dogs to deter thieves, and a military dog can be raised for around seven years then it leaves meat to the house,” he explained.