Photos reveal growing class divide in Pyongyang

The most common transportation method used in North Korea is the bicycle. North Korean defectors describe a world in which every family has at least one bicycle or, sometimes, as many as the number of people in the family. Only the privileged class or party cadres can have a vehicle, so most Pyongyang citizens use bicycles to get around. Since Pyongyang’s subway is limited to the center and trains often times stop due to power outages, residents prefer bicycles over other forms of transport.
In the above image, marked by a red circle, is one of the ubiquitous greenhouses designed for raising official Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia flowers. Because they were named after the former leaders, the purple Kimilsungia and red Kimjongilia are symbols of revolution and immortality, and are frequently used in propaganda. North Korea suffers from often-crippling, chronic energy shortages, but these greenhouses are a priority and operate year-round.

The buildings behind the woman in sunglasses are high-rise buildings on Mirae Scientist Street. The buildings were constructed in 2014 to celebrate Kim Jong Un’s “achievements”. Based on what can be seen over the bridge, the bridge itself is likely Chungsong (Loyalty) Bridge. The bridge was finished on September 6, 1983, crosses the Taedong River, and connects Pyongyang and the Kaesong highway. Traveling on the bridge, one can see Unification Street, commonly used in propaganda, and Nakrang Street.

A North Korean resident loads up and travels on his bicycle. The man’s clothing, the bicycle, and the unpaved road all resemble South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bicycles are not just for transportation. Bicycles are used to transport grain and deliver regional products to merchants across North Korea by so-called “runners,” now gradually increasing in number. It is relatively a new job that appeared in North Korea, as markets have emerged.

A motorcycle passes by residents on bicycles. Motorcycles are popular among cadres or the new monied class, known as “donju” (literally, “masters of money”), who want something better than bicycles but lack the wherewithal to purchase cars.
Relative to the past, this represents a large number of vehicles traveling the main streets of Pyongyang.  It is often possible to see some traffic during rush hours in Pyongyang. Pyongyang was a city with no cars a few years ago, but now there are a few in the city. 
Solar energy powers streetlights as seen in the photos below. Pyongyang has more access to electricity than any other place in North Korea, but still, local solar power is apparently necessary. The lack of electricity is a harsh contradiction of the “rich nation, strong army” envisaged by the Kim family.

The following photos show a typical washroom (those found in restaurants and outside major tourist attractions) in North Korea. Note the washbasin, filled with water. When the electricity goes out, the water pumps stop working, so washrooms usually have large tubs and buckets of water.

As markets in North Korea expand and the state distribution system disappears, there is hope that people won’t starve as they did in the past. But the resulting disparities among social classes are widening. The huge gap between rich and poor is becoming an issue in the regions and cities. There is a vast gulf between the lives of Korean Workers’ Party members and ordinary residents, even within Pyongyang. In this picture, the outdated train most residents use and the high-class Audi sedan driven by a Party cadre illustrates these disparities.

This train transports residents from the outskirts of Pyongyang to the city center. Other trains circle only the main parts of Pyongyang without crossing the Taedong River. The train in the picture runs from West Pyongyang to Nakrang, but there are other routes as well. According to defectors, it is extremely common for the train to stop, as the electricity shuts down frequently. 

The Audi passing by the train has a license plate beginning with 07. According to a high-status defector, the cars managed by the party have license plates that start from 02 to 07. A party cadre likely uses this vehicle. Kim Jong Il, who was a fan of the Mercedes Benz, gave them out as presents to his personal aids, but it seems Audis have taken this place of honor.
*All photos credited to T. Cornelius