The General’s Birthday Gifts, 2009

[imText1]Shenyang, China — As is the custom, packets of confectionary were distributed to elementary school students all around the nation, on the day before Kim Jong Il’s birthday, 16th February.

The gifts that have traditionally been distributed to students in commemoration of Kim Jong Il’s birthday vary between Pyongyang and the provinces. In Pyongyang, one or two additional more luxurious cookies or pieces of caramel are supposed to be included in the package. The pictures here are of the gifts given out in Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province.

According to defectors, the variety and quantity of snacks that are provided to the students are significantly lower than in the past; the size of the package has apparently been reduced by a third. The size of the “General’s Gift” can be seen as an accurate reflection of North Korea’s difficult economic situation.

On this day, in elementary schools, students, teachers, and parents come forward one by one to take an oath of loyalty. The students bow in front of Kim Jong Il’s portrait and thank him, saying, “Thank you, Dear Leader” before receiving the gifts.

This year’s packages were apparently missing gum. Last year’s packages contained about three pieces of strawberry and apple-flavored gum. A source noted that recipients were told they would have to purchase gum at state-operated stores.

The reason cited for this by the schools is quite far-fetched–children often buy gum from the state-operated stores, so distributing gum for free would apparently be bad for business. In a country like North Korea, this is hard to believe. An explanation such as that the Pyongyang gum factory had gone out of business or that production amounts had decreased would be more believable.

On the plastic bag of the package is written, “There are no objects of envy in the world,”–the same as last year. However, as one can see in the photo, the quality of the snacks is poor. If North Korean kids saw snacks from South Korea or other countries, there would be objects of envy everywhere.

However, on this day, the North Korean children who returned home holding these packages of confectionary most likely savored every piece. Among children, white peanut candy is the favorite, defectors say.

In North Korea, snacks are in high demand, so people tend to share them with their family members. Mothers try to cajole their children to save the confectionary until the next day, “after they have bowed in front of the General’s portrait on the day of the General’s Birthday,” but to no avail.

The confectionary runs out after a day or two. The blue clip used to tie the package is not thrown away, but is used as a necktie pin by members of the Children’s Union.

Those who dream of receiving more sweet gifts must look forward to Kim Il Sung’s birthday (Sun’s Day) on April 15th.

It is our hope that readers, along with their children, will think about the current situation and the future of North Korean children, who have only biannual chances to taste such humble snacks…