[imText1]Shenyang, China — With the rapid increase in the number of bicycle-owning households, accidents and incidents involving them are becoming common. Conflicts between women on bicycles and officers of the People’s Safety Agency (PSA) who have to control them have become fiercer, while bicycle theft is causing problems as well.
North Korea, since the mid-1990s, has prohibited women from riding bicycles. This was due to an edict handed down after Kim Jong Il himself took exception to seeing a female cyclist while he was conducting an inspection. Subsequent enforcement has differed from region to region but, if caught by the officers of the PSA, 20,000-30,000 North Korean won in fines has to be paid.
The People’s Safety Agency tends to only control women who are moving on bicycles. If the women are walking alongside their bicycles, they will not be punished. Inevitably, the women end up getting off their bicycles and walking alongside them when an officer appears.
A source from North Korea said in a phone conversation with the Daily NK on the 4th, “Only women can engage in business, so women on bicycles loaded with goods can be seen near the jangmadang. When women got off their bicycles and walk pulling them all of sudden, you can be sure that officers of the PSA are around there.”
When inspected while riding bicycles, even people’s belongings are searched, which is a significant source of nuisance. Around mid-March, a female teacher in her 30s returning from a jangmadang near Suncheon with five kilograms of corn was caught by the PSA. This resulted in the confiscation of her belongings and bicycle and the woman throwing herself into the Daedong River.
The source said, “If you go to the jangmadang nowadays, groups of thieves scoping out the scene aiming to steal bicycles have increased. While people are picking out goods after parking their bicycles, thieves come and cunningly remove them, so you have to be constantly on guard.”
What accounts for the high rate of bicycle theft is that all the civilians are having a difficult time getting by and the price of bicycles has risen two-fold since a year or two ago. Thieves can make 80,000 won from stealing a Japanese bicycle. This is equivalent to a month of living expenses for a household in the lower-middle class.
The source said, “The stolen bicycles are immediately sold at a nearby jangmadang, so it is difficult to catch the thieves even if one reports to the PSA. A vicious cycle of victims subsequently stealing from another person is reinforced.
According to the source, “At night, thieves have even been violently mugging bicycle riders. Because it is difficult to discern what a person is carrying on dimly-lit streets, people have been blindsided.”
In one county in North Pyongan Province, two bicycle thieves were even publicly executed in the beginning of the year. Two robbers attacked a man returning home at night on Japanese a bicycle and stole his bicycle. Unfortunately for the thieves, the victim was a cadre of the Provincial Committee of the Party.
When the incident erupted, the Committee was in uproar. The PSA, in order to catch the thieves, infiltrated the nearby jangmadang with officers disguised as bicycle patrons and attempted to catch them whist being shown bicycles.
For merchants for whom it is difficult to even get by day to day, having a bicycle stolen is a serious occurrence. For this group, a day’s earnings are the allowance for the day and the capital for the next day’s business. Moreover, a breadwinner being sick for several days can hit a household hard.
With the increase in the incidences of theft, merchants travelling on the streets at night have tended to cluster together, and when there is no one to accompany them, the Chosun (North Korean) trend has been for people to sleep someplace, and then travel the next morning.