North Korean trade merchant Kim Young Chun (anonymous, age 35), who has just come for business in Dandung, China, says about the city of Sinuiju that – majority of people go to local markets in order to sell due to economic hardships – shaped clothes and straight leg pants are in fashion among women – foreign drama programs are watched by many locals.
As a matter of fact, Sinuiju has a role of the fashion leader in North Korea, facing and culturally exchanging with Dandung across the national border. Under these given circumstances, it is not impossible to assume that it may resemble to what North Korea would look like in the near future.
Many unemployed among the youth in Sinuiju
– Situations in the government-controlled business sector
”Supply for labor workers is no longer provided by general factories except munition plants. Also, the munition plants distribute to their workers only 60% of the government-regulated amount of supply. The executive manager solely determines whether the rest of 40% should be distributed, or not. There are no government subsidiaries available for general factories. The executive manager of each general factory is independent, self-sufficiently providing all the necessary resources for its production such as labor, raw materials, energy and so forth. If the business goes well, some of the profit goes to the local government. Then, some of the rest goes to workers. But, the reality is that most of the general factories have shut down a long while ago. No wonder why workers can no longer receive their supply. They do not expect to get it, either.”
– How is the work environment?
“A small local factory of 60 workers in Sinuiju produces iron pots and saucepans, and about 40 of them do not work. Normally, they either do not come to work without notice or make excuses for their absence. The reason for that is the operation ratio of the factory is less than 10%, so it usually cannot provide its workers much work to do or generate any profit. In fact, the executive manager must regularly report to the local security office on the employment records of all the workers hired. But instead, some workers give him bribes for making fake reports on their presence and permission to go to local markets for making money. Then, he uses some of the bribes to pay tax in order to fulfill an assigned quota regulated by the local government. As a result, the manager himself encourages his workers to be absent. These days, 80 percent of the workers at each local factory go to other cities of North Korea and China for better income. There is also an increase in the unemployment rate among the young locals. And, many of them do sales at local markets.”
Distributions mostly by Chinese
– Which items are popular in North Korea?
“It depends on each season. Clothing items sell during the summer. Ladies and children’s clothes go well. Especially for women, who do not have to starve in North Korea, a combination of shaped blouses and straight leg pants is the most in fashion.”
– How are items distributed?
“It is simple. A large number of items are flowed into North Korea by Chinese traders, and then we resell them to local marketers in different cities for marginal profits. The further the city, the higher becomes the price. Most of the imports usually go to Lajin, Sunbong, Huiryeong, Chongjin in which these imported items are resold and others are purchased from local markets to resell in China again. As there are many different items purchased from each city, it is profitable to resell them in different cities and countries. The volume of sales revenue varies between individual traders from 200 to 10,000 US dollars.”
– Is it true that South Korean drama programs are available and popular?
“At local markets in Sinuiju, it is not hard to find videotapes of foreign TV dramas such as Chinese, Russian and Indian. On the other hand, South Korean drama programs are strictly prohibited from being sold and watched throughout the north. If caught, severe legal punishments are applied, such as imprisonment and expulsion. But, the reality is videotapes of South Korean dramas are so widespread through the black market in Sinuiju that it seems almost out of hand for the North Korean regime to have control over it. For young locals, it is not unusual to have seen a foreign drama or film. It is even safe to say that a lot of people have seen at least one South Korean drama series, watching five to ten episodes per series.”
South Korean actors’ names well known in Sinuiju
– Do average people have video players?
“Almost every household owns a Chinese-made video player. In our residential building, for instance, thirteen out of eighteen households have a video player. Each Chinese trader brings in and sells about 500 to 1000 players at wholesale. And, a variety of videotapes are available at local markets for cheap prices, as copies of the original. It is normal that many residents swap videotapes with each other. At bookstores, videotapes are also available from the official video tape manufacturers of Hana electronics and Moklan electronics inc.. But, they are usually more expensive.”
– Which South Korean dramas are popular?
“It is ‘Autumn Fairy Tale’, ‘All In’ and ‘Pure’ starring Song Hye Kyo, Song Sung Heon. Many people also watch ‘Winter Sonata’ starring Bae Yong Jun as well as ‘Summer Fragrance’, ‘Lovers in Paris’, ‘Glass Shoes’, ‘Youth of Bare Feet’ and ‘Truth’. 70 percent of the gross sales comes from South Korean dramas. Local residents know many South Korean actors by name. In the past, local people secretly listened to radio programs broadcast from overseas, and it is now dramas and movies that are popular among them. The security office and National security agency try to crack down on those who listen to foreign radio broadcasts rather than on those who watch videotapes of dramas and movies. In fact, severe legal punishments are imposed for listening to foreign radio broadcasts as a political issue. In order to listen to such radio broadcasts, extreme precaution is needed because the local security officials consistently track down and arrest. I have listened to the Voice of America(V.O.A.) several times before, and you can listen to it clearly in Sinuiju.”