Among North Korea’s nouveau riche, there’s an expression
that goes, “Make your money in the suburbs, but spend it in Pyongyang.”
Accordingly, the donju (or new moneyed class) are flocking to Pyongyang before
the year’s end in order to compete with one another by patronizing elite
restaurants and buying extravagant gifts.
In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on December
4th, an inside source from Pyongyang said, “In downtown Pyongyang, fancy
restaurants, famous hotels, and foreign currency stores, are thronging with
donju who have come from the countryside. It seems that they’ve all come here
after completing their winter preparations and other end-of-year year tasks in
order to spend money like there is no tomorrow.”
An additional source in the capital corroborated this news.
Moreover, he noted, “The end of November is the time when
the State Planning Commission issues import/export licenses, so during this time
central state agencies call those heading up local foreign-currency earning
units (i.e. donju) up to Pyongyang. Under the pretense of hosting criticism
sessions for foreign-currency earning or production, cadres with central state
organs gather for a luxurious reception and donju present them with elaborate
bribes in order to secure the licenses required to run their operations.”
“The donju gather in downtown Pyongyang at first-rate hotels
such The Yang-gack Do Hotel, The Chang-gwang Hotel, and The Ansan Hotel. They
spend the entire day at fancy restaurants, spending buckets of cash without a
care in the world. At some of these restaurants, it is normal to spend
approximately US $300- $400 on a single meal. That adds up to thousands of
dollars for all the people around the table,” he explained.
According to inside sources, US $100 now trades as KPW
860,000, or 172 kg of rice in the North Korean markets. This amount could keep
an ordinary person happily fed for a duration of ten months. So that means by
spending $400 on a single meal, the donju are essentially spending the
equivalent amount that it would take to feed a family of four for ten months.
The indoor swimming pool at the Pyongyang Information Center
has become a particularly hot attraction, with men and women gathering together
and alcohol behind served at poolside bars. After splashing about in the pool,
the cadres and donju head over to the restaurant, where they guzzle down
$100/$200 per bottle brandy and whiskey while munching on $50 per plate
duck, squid, and bulgogi appetizers.”
“During their stay in the capital, the donju rent Mercedes
Benz vehicles from taxi companies. When they pull up to their destinations –
whether it’s the Koryo Hotel or the Pyongyang Information Center – they are
greeted by valets wearing costumes that resemble the British Queen’s royal
guard. When they arrive in the hotel’s foreign currency restaurant,
they’ll sip on top shelf beer and $20 per bowl cold noodle soup called
naengmyeon,” he said.
“The donju will then head over to foreign currency stores
such as the Nakwon or Daeseong Department Store in order to buy gifts such as
electronic products and other high ticket items for higher-ranking cadres.
These hotels and departments stores are engaged in fierce competition with one
another to secure the business of the rich out-of-towners. They even offer
delivery services as a premium in order to lure the big spenders in.”