Record-low temps a boon for winter goods purveyors

This is NK Market
Trends,
bringing you news about the North Korean
economy every week, and today, we are accompanied by reporter Kang Mi Jin. But
first, let
s take a look at the markets performance over the past week.*  

A kg of rice cost 5019 KPW in Pyongyang,
4970 KPW in Sinuiju, and 4980 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of corn kernels cost 1980 KPW
in Pyongyang. 1960 in Sinuiju, and 2200 KPW in Hyesan. The exchange rate was
8190 KPW to the dollar in Pyongyang, 8260 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8190 KPW in
Hyesan. The exchange rate for the Chinese Renminbi was 1320 KPW per yuan in
Pyongyang, 1330 KPW per yuan in Sinuiju, and 1300 KPW per yuan in Hyesan. A kg
of pork cost 10,560 KPW in Pyongyang, 10,500 KPW in Sinuiju and 10,900 KPW in
Hyesan. A kg of gasoline cost 6710 KPW in Pyongyang, 6550 KPW in Sinuiju, and
6880 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of diesel cost 5150 KPW in Pyongyang, 5000 KPW in
Sinuiju and Hyesan. This has been a rundown of the Weekly Marketplace Prices.
  

1. That was a rundown of this weeks prices. The weather has been really cold lately, and if it’s this frigid in Seoul, Im assuming its
a lot colder up in north? Today we
ve got stories on
people
s preparation for winter in the north. Reporter
Kang Mi Jin is here to tell us about it.
 

Yes, it is known to be a lot colder up in
North Korea than here in the south. Due to the severe weather compared to the
last week, people are shivering in cold at the market. As the weather grows
colder, firewood, coal, and winter clothes are in high demand. 

With the severe weather, winter goods are
popular in the market which are steady sellers for the merchants. Long
underwear are big sellers as well. When I was in North Korea, every year around
this time, I always wore thermal underwear. I
m sure
the women in North Korea would share my view and buy these sets for their
husbands and the rest of the family.
 

2. What about down
jackets? People must need those to buffer the wind.
 

That’s
right. Insulated jackets of all manner, known as
padding here in South Korea, are a foremost necessity because North Koreans
have to move around a lot out in the elements in order to do business. In South
Korea, since heated homes and public transportation are the norm, people don
t really have to deal with the cold weather for long periods of
time. But in North Korea, people have to fight the weather all day, cultivating
the land or working in one of many market-related roles. In South Korea, most
people don’t make frequent use of the hood on their down jackets but in North
Korea they are almost ubiquitously used, and women often wrap a scarf around
the hood of the jacket for extra protection. This is a fairly common
sight–it’s just that cold.
 

3. I
assume winter boots of some sort are another absolute necessity to endure long
hours outside engaged in market activities.
 

Definitely. They are an absolute necessity during
the winter. They’ll save your life, seriously! Our sources have said that as
the temperature continues to plunge many are layering up on foot protection: wearing
socks, then wrapping their feet with plastic bags, followed by foots stuffed
with cotton wool. Thinking about this reminds me of my days back in North
Korea, wearing those boots with thick socks while I was selling goods at the market. I
would skip back and forth from foot to foot to try to keep warm. My life here, compared to my life there, is just beyond comparison when I think about stuff
like that.

You
know, I was flabbergasted seeing women on heels on the subway during my first
winter after settling in South Korea. But not long after I got used to wear
spring/fall shoes when the weather permitted rather than winter boots or shoes every
day in the winter. Things like this make me think that I’ve adjusted to a new
life and new environment more than I realize.
 

4. Can
you give us a rundown on the prices of some of the winter outwear available to
North Korean residents?
 

The
price of a pair of adult gloves ranges from 4,000 KPW to 20,000 KPW. Men and
women who are a little more fashion conscious with a bit of extra cash prefer
leather gloves, prices of which range from about 6,500 KPW to 40,000 KPW in
Sinuiju.


Since most work in North Korea requires a high level of activity, people
typically need to replace their socks each year. These go for around 2500 to
6000 KPW a pair. In Hyesan Market, jackets stuffed with goose or duck down can
go for up to 4 million KPW. The versions stuffed with cotton wool or synthetic
down go for around 250,000 to 650,000KPW.
 

Those on
the more affluent end of things will obviously spring for pricier goods; others
will just make do with cheap goods donju [new moneyed class] and Party cadres
typically wear those 4 million KPW jackets to show off. You can buy 800kg of
rice for what that jacket goes for; it
s such a huge
amount of money for most ordinary North Koreans.
 

As would
be expected, kids’ versions of the products are a bit cheaper, save winter
boots. Boots for both adults and children go for about 40,000 KPW. The price of jackets stuffed with cotton
wool or synthetic down for kids ranges between 145 RMB and 170 RMB [about
200,000 KPW] at Hyesan Market in Ryanggang Province. Kids’ gloves can be
purchased for around 10,000 to 15,000 KPW a pair. I know our listeners–
consumers and sellers alike–are always interested in comparing prices from
other parts of the country as a gauge so I hope this helps!
 

5. Have people been able to properly heat their homes for a respite from the cold?

Yes,
in order to keep the house heated, you would need lots of coal. But you see,
people in North Korea have difficult lives compounded by tight budgets and
generally struggle just to get by. So people usually buy just enough coal to
survive the winter. But due to the severity of this year’s winter, people have to
make fires at least once during the day; other times they have to stoke to keep
it going the whole day. So it’s natural then that briquettes are selling so
well at the markets currently.
 

Thinking
about my fellow North Koreans that don’t get a break and are busy working out
in those harsh conditions, I feel sorry for sitting here in a cozy, heated
office.
 

6. Im intrigued to find out more about those briquettes you mentioned that
being snatched up so quickly at the markets. One coal briquette goes for about 500
KRW in South Korea. How about in the North?
 

Yes, I recently
spoke with sources in Ryanggang Province about the price of coal briquettes,
which are currently going for about 1,500 KPW–up by 200 KPW from December. As the
temperatures continue to fall, the price is expected to continue to rise along
with demand.
 

To all
my fellow North Koreans toiling out in the cold at the markets or collecting
compost to fulfill state-mandated quotas: hang in there–winter will be behind
us soon. We’ll meet again here next week. Until then, take good care of yourselves.

*This segment reflects market conditions for the week of January 28-February 1. 

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