Thermal water bottles and personal coal heaters insulate vendors from a brutal winter

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 market’s performance over the past
week.*

The price of rice rose slightly. A kg of
rice cost 5019 KPW in Pyongyang, 4970 KPW in Sinuiju, and 4980 KPW in Hyesan. A
kg of corn cost 1980 KPW in Pyongyang, 1960 KPW in Sinuiju, and 2200 KPW in
Hyesan. The exchange rate for one dollar was 8190 KPW in Pyongyang, 8260 KPW in
Sinuiju, and 8190 KPW in Hyesan. The exchange rate for 1 RMB was 1320 KPW in
Pyongyang, 1330 KPW in Sinuiju, and 1300 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of pork cost 10560
KPW in Pyongyang, 10500 KPW in Sinuiju, and 10900 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of
gasoline cost 6170 KPW in Pyongyang, 655- 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 Weekly Marketplace Prices.

1.  In light of the recent cold snap, today’s topic
will be how North Korean residents brace against cold weather.

It’s been a bit warmer in the past few days although the
snow hasn’t let up much. North Koreans still have to go to the markets to do
business despite the cold; otherwise, their livelihoods would be severely
endangered. Residents have now developed a stronger sense of self-reliance, so
that even if the state doesn’t provide them with insulation or heating,
residents look to create solutions on their own initiative. We’re going to dig into some of those solutions on today’s show.

2. In addition to warm clothes, how else do market actors
who stay outside all day keep themselves warm?

Due to the unusually cold weather, even residents who don’t
normally use coal-powered personal space heaters did so this winter. Needless then
to say that these personal heaters have sold very well at the markets this
season. Many residents also wear rubber pouches filled with hot water against
their bodies. These thermal water bottles are imported from China. Residents
fill these pouches with hot water in the morning before leaving the house and
tie it around their waist. They are then refilled with hot water after lunchtime;  this is one way they stay warm throughout the day.

3. Doesn’t the cold weather affect business?

North Koreans have a high endurance against low
temperatures. One reason for this is that during the winter evacuation drills,
they are forced to stay overnight out in the mountains. Thus, even when the
weather becomes formidably cold, their resilience remains high. Also, maintaining
the family’s livelihood is a very strong motivator against the cold.

Some merchants thought that the cold weather would deter
some vendors from braving the outdoors, and had hoped that this would help them
increase their sales. But to their surprise, when they went to the marketplace,
they discovered that the amount of people was the same as usual, as everyone
either had small charcoal heaters near them for heat, hot water pouches, and/or
were bundled up in layers of winter outerwear. Plus, when a lot of people are
gathered in a relatively small amount of space, the combined body heat raises
the heat in the market slightly.

4. What’s at the top of people’s shopping lists right now at
the markets?

In case of Ryanggang province, coal briquettes are
selling so well that some merchants even place direct orders for coal at the
Hyesan coal mine and make it into briquettes at home. Due to the high demand,
other merchants have put out for sale their own winter stock of coal briquettes
that have been stored for their households. Their plan is to sell as many
briquettes right now, and then make briquettes for home use when spring comes
around. Another item that sells well is boiling–not boiled–water.

The merchants at the markets buy boiling water to drink as
well as for their water pouches. Obviously, those who buy boiling water do so
because their houses are not near. Vinyl sheeting is also selling very well. Residents use it to line small containers and then put their feet inside to keep them warm.  

5. What are the prices for thermal water bottles as well as
boiled water?

In the Hyesan and other major markets, the price of a liter
of boiling water is 1000 KPW. The water itself does not cost anything since it
comes directly from the Amrok [Yalu] River; instead, it costs so much because it has to
be heated by coal or wood. Despite the high price, there is a lot of demand. As
for thermal water bottles, it ranges from 50,000 to 200,000 KPW. Obviously the
shape and quality affects the price; the most important is that the bottle does
not leak. The price of coal briquettes has stabilized at 1500 KPW after rising
last week. Obviously, the demand has increased due to the cold weather as more
people use it for heating and cooking, but the supply has also correspondingly risen.

6. What foods sell well when the weather is cold?

Warm foods like tofu soup, hot noodles, hot rice soup are
very popular. Potato rice cakes sell well in Ryanggang Province and other
regions, and meat soup is popular in Kilju County. Radish soup is another
popular item. Seasonal merchants who don’t have permanent stalls in the
marketplaces also sell red bean porridge and radish soup. The weather should start warming up soon, and hopefully that will make things a bit easier. Thank you for tuning in today.

*This segment reflects market conditions for the week of February 1-5.

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