GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 334 March 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics]
Sinuiju City Party Urges "Let's help the poor," but Residents Remain Indifferent
Residents of Baeksa-dong in Sinuiju City Fights with the Head of the Neighborhood Unit
Funeral Cars Enter Chung-Jin Cemetery Daily

[Food]
The Urban Poor, Pushed to the Level of Eating Corn Noodles Flavored only by Salt

[Economy]
Gimchaek Steel Mill Loses Corn Supply Received from Hoeryong

[Politics]
National Security Agency, Prevention of Defectors is the Top Priority

[Society]
Soldiers’ Malnutrition is Serious Enough to Affect Military Training
Son Returns from Military Service Looking Like a Walking Corpse, Ill with Tuberculosis and Malnutrition
Parents Are Summoned by a Troop to Find Out Their Son Is Dead

[Women/Children/Education]
The Number of Kindergarten Children Has Decreased Each Year in North Hamgyong Province
Maternity Ward Rarely Used in Hoeryong for its Worn-out Facility and High Costs
Harsh Living Condition Poses Difficulties with Post Delivery Care

[Accidents]
Suicide at Kim Jung-Suk Historic Site
Leading Secretary of Kangwon Province Died in a Car Accident Heading to a Meeting in Pyongyang Last Year

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[Hot Topics]
Sinuiju City Party Urges "Let's help the poor," but Residents Remain Indifferent
The farming management commission of Sinuiju City in the North Pyongan Province held an emergency meeting to prevent mass death from starvation and distributed 10 kg of grain to the poorest households. However, more people are dying due to starvation. The City Party and the People’s assembly held meetings at each neighborhood units and stressed, “It is time to show our public moral and help our poor neighbors voluntarily.” However, the residents were indifferent to the campaign for voluntary help. The residents complained, saying, “Who can we help when we are barely surviving?” Other than a few residents who called the campaign crazy, rest of the residents stayed quiet during the meeting.

With the residents refusing to voluntarily help the poor, the City Party ordered the heads of the Neighborhood Units to collect 2kg of rice from each household. The heads of the Neighborhood Units began collecting rice next day; however, only two or three out of 40 households contributed. The heads of the neighborhood units even begged them to contribute even several hundred grams, but the residents remained indifferent.

Residents of Baeksa-dong in Sinuiju City Fights with the Head of the Neighborhood Unit
The heads of the neighborhood units run into conflict with the residents as they attempt to collect grain from each household. Park Hye-Ran (alias) who lives in Baeksa-dong in Sinuiju City yelled at the head of the Neighborhood Unit, "We didn’t get anything from you. Why do you keep trying to take what we have? We are also having a hard time surviving!” She said “If you still want something from us, just take this.” And put a trashcan on his head. The head of the neighborhood units got angry at her, "What can I do? I’m only carrying out the orders of the high officials. Do you think I am taking your grain for myself?" He ended up getting into a physical altercation with Mrs. Park. As people stopped the fight, Mrs. Park threatened, “If you show up at my house again, you better be prepared to die!”

Funeral Cars Enter Chung-Jin Cemetery Daily
In North Hamgyong, Chung-Jin City, within the area of Chung-Ahm, there is a graveyard known as Gu-Juk town. Before the currency exchange announcement was made, one corpse arrived every three to four days for burial. As food costs rose and the number of starving citizens skyrocketed, there has been an increase in the number of deaths because of malnutrition and illness. The number of households that visited the Gu-Juk cemetery from January 7 to 27 this year averaged from four to six households. Currently, at least two to three cars enter the graveyard daily. This indicates an increase in the number of deaths. Sang-Jo Kim (alias) said that the biggest reason for the higher number of deaths is starvation and “the inability of the sick to obtain cures caused much of the deaths. Hospital patients could not use any drugs because the pharmacists would not sell them.” He expressed frustration with the way the market was managed.

[Food]
The Urban Poor, Pushed to the Level of Eating Corn Noodles Flavored only by Salt

The level of food that poor urban residents consume is deplorable. Most add condiments such as salt and soy sauce to add flavor to an otherwise flavorless soup of corn noodles. Those who can afford kimchi are much better off. Others who can manage to eat bits of corn or vegetables in the soup are in much better states. Sung-Hee Lim (alias) expressed the sorrow and difficulty of getting food. “Noodles such as udon become thin gruel in water. They are digested quickly, and we feel hungry after a moment. This is why corn noodles are more suitable, but it is not easy to gain hold of bits of corn noodles,” he said. The residents are in urgent need of a greater food supply.

[Economy]
Gimchaek Steel Mill Loses Corn Supply Received from Hoeryong

The Gimchaek Steel Mill Association of Chung-Jin City, North Hamgyong is facing problems with its initial plans to sell steel to China and receive corn in return. The association exchanged fertilizer and plastic wrappers received from China with Hoeryong City to receive corn in return. Since February 20, the corn that was to be delivered to Gimchaek Steel Mill was piled at Hoeryong station. However, the plan was delayed as the necessary vehicles could not be properly assembled, and the crops had to wait until February 25. The farm guards secretly sold the corn to traders. The amount of corn returned by the police was over four tons, and about 300 to 600 kg was taken per day. Some farm workers were caught while unlawfully trading the crops for necessary farm items during the delivery to the station, and the amount was as large as three tons. With the decrease in the amount of corn delivered to Gimchaek Steel Mill, crop distribution to each laborer will also be decreased.

[Politics]
National Security Agency, Prevention of Defectors is the Top Priority
This year, the National Security Agency decided to strengthen the crackdown of defectors by making it a top priority after many incidents of people fleeing abroad due to domestic economic difficulties. Accordingly, the security agencies near the national border areas in North Hamgyong, Ryanggang, and North Pyongan Provinces are monitoring the families of defectors. First, they check the financial status of the family of a defector and investigate the source of money if they exchange foreign currency, seem to have too much money considering their income and expenses, and summon them to check if they purchase something at the market. The family members suspected of maintaining connection with the defectors are followed around, and stopped and searched their bag or luggage without a probable cause, which places them under tight surveillance even in the absence of evidence.

The People’s Safety Agency is monitoring the Chinese people residing in North Korea. They ordered the police stations in the national border regions to check if they have received money from the defectors. Monitoring of phone calls is done 24 hours a day by deploying call detecting devices around the town or near the border areas where phone calls can be made. Those who stay outside late at night are stopped and frisked. The family or relatives of defectors under suspicion are being put on the blacklist and followed, or being stopped and searched when they are about to enter their house. In the mean time, those who get caught while carrying a mobile phone become subject to severe physical punishment to make examples out of them.

[Society]
Soldiers’ Malnutrition is Serious Enough to Affect Military Training
With the exception of special branches of the military, the malnutrition problem among the regular soldiers is very serious. In the case of artillery training, solders can’t even load the 10kg shell properly to the cannon because lethargic soldiers are unable to lift cannon shells. The morale of soldiers in an army base in Kangwon Province fell to the bottom because numerous soldiers in each company became weaklings. Each military base is taking the measures of selecting the soldiers in a serious condition and let them receive medical treatment at a military hospital. However, that is not sufficient to improve the malnutrition problem. The soldiers in the military hospital who can’t even move around on their own are being sent home. Currently, the officers are receiving food distribution, but their families did not receive distribution in January and February.

Son Returns from Military Service Looking Like a Walking Corpse, Ill with Tuberculosis and Malnutrition
Huh Yong Sook (alias) separated from her husband in her 30's and raised Kim Kwang Hyuk (alias), her only son, alone in Hamju County of South Hamgyong Province. She managed a photo shop and proudly raised Kim before sending him off to serve in the military three years ago. Worried about her son, Huh even snuck the escorting officer a few extra bucks to ensure her son's well-being. During Kim's servitude, he sent Huh many letters saying he was doing just fine. In her reply, Huh asked Kim to send her some photos of him in his uniform, but she was only sent a picture during his trainee days and nothing else. Then this February, Huh almost fainted upon seeing her son's corpse-like appearance; he was so haggard and thin that he looked as if he was about to collapse in a moment's notice and his own mother could not even recognize him. According to the officer in his base, Kim was diagnosed with tuberculosis last year and had been receiving treatment in the unit ward. However, due to his worsening conditions, he was unable to fulfill his military duties and had to be sent home. Huh could not believe this news, as her son never got sick, let alone catch a cold, and now was on his death bed with tuberculosis: "If it's been a year since he was diagnosed with this disease, shouldn't they have contacted his family as soon as possible? How can I bring him back to health at this stage of his sickness?," cried Huh holding onto the officer. In response, the officer said, "We cannot send home every soldier who gets sick. If so, it will only shake up the men and disturb the discipline process. Thus, the superiors do not allow such departures." The main cause of the illness is attributed to the lack of food for the soldiers after difficult training. Due to malnutrition and weakening of the body, the men are more prone to diseases. Huh's neighbors were sympathetic and shed tears upon seeing Kim, for they had known them for awhile and had a hard time finding words of comfort. As an attempt to help Kim improve his health, the neighbors brought over valuable food that they rarely get a chance to eat themselves such as eggs, fish, soymilk, and other nutritious foods. Kim's health has worsened to the point where he can barely summon the strength to move his fingers and thus have a doctor doing house calls. With medication and nutrients, his life can be extended, but due to his weakening body and worsening disease, it is difficult for the doctors to determine his fate.

Parents Are Summoned by a Troop to Find Out Their Son Is Dead
Baek Heung-Su (alias) and his wife, who live in Jungju City of North Pyongan Province, have a son and a daughter, and the son had finished the middle school (equivalent of high school in South Korea) and joined the army last year. Mr. Baek, the householder, worked in a woodworking unit for more than 25 years as a carpenter, and his wife Han supported the livelihood by raising livestock and doing farming at home. They devoted themselves to take care of their children and were living happily despite the hard living environment. In the middle of this February, however, they received a telegraph from their son’s troop to come quickly. The reason was not stated; they were just asked to come. The parents were simply excited at the thought of seeing their son and hurried the preparation. They visited the market diligently and prepared things like their son’s favorite foods, medicines, underclothes and socks. The neighbors who were close in the village also heartily donated some money to buy some snacks. However, the parents returned from the military camp only after a week, being in a state of shock. The parents were too dumbfounded to say anything when the neighbors asked them what had happened. They were barely able to say that the son was killed in an accident when he went to the mountain during the winter training as he hit his head by a log that fell from the opposite side while he was sawing logs. Yet, the most absurd thing is that the troop sent the news to the family after a month after their son’s death. The parents said that when they went to the military camp, the funeral was already finished and they were only able to receive their son’s belongings. They brought up their only son like a precious treasure despite their hard living environment and sent him to the army. They found themselves lost for words when their son, whom they believed that he was doing well in the army, is dead as a result of an unbelievable and absurd accident. After this news spread, the parents in the neighborhood who have a son express concerns, feeling as if it were their own accident. All they can do is to wish sincerely that their own son would come back safe and alive.

[Women/Children/Education]
The Number of Kindergarten Children Has Decreased Each Year in North Hamgyong Province
In North Hamgyong Province, population size has decreased since 2001. When data of children before the school age in Kindergartens in Chungjin, Hoeryong, and Musan were collected, the number of children has been decreasing obviously. The standard number of kindergarten children per teacher the Education Department has set is about 38. The department, however, should reduce the number of teachers as the number of children is decreasing. Although the government encourages parents to have lots of children, people are struggling to survive that they would not have more than one child. In response to this situation, the government ordered offices of corresponding areas to distribute provisions normally and take a special care of the family having more than 3 children, but this project is not executed well. Since the Arduous March till now, people have been dying for starvation and hardly bearing children, and so it is unclear to what extent the population size would decrease. After the recent currency exchange, clearly more parents do not send their children who need education to kindergarten. The parents claim that they can hardly feed or buy clothes for their children, and then how they can even make things better by sending children to kindergarten. Since people prioritize eating to strive as life becomes harsher, the quality of education is relatively reduced. Children who should learn writing, singing, dancing and playing with friends are now living every day by selling goods next to their mother in market or doing chores.

Maternity Ward Rarely Used in Hoeryong for its Worn-out Facility and High Costs
Women in Hoeryong bearing children can use maternities ward service provided by the Central Party for the reason that Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province is hometown of Kim Jong-Sook. The gynecology service is supposed to take care of checkup, delivery, and post-maternity care for free, but the maternity ward, despite its large scale, is worn-out and equipments are outdated. Free treatment is only an empty word, but patients should pay all fees by themselves. Rooms in hospitals are freezing because the heating system is not working properly. Families of patients bring several quilts from home, covering their whole body to stand the cold. However, families of high officials or the rich are secretly provided high quality medical care, which are supplied by the party, but normal people should pay high price to get medicine or treatment. As a result, people of Hoeryong are reluctant to use hospitals. Women are giving birth to children at home and recuperate at home as well. It is safer to deliver children in hospital, but that is too burdensome for the mothers. The majority of women have to earn money and at the same time, take care of households. Because men should work in factories every day even though they cannot get paid, the only things they could do are caring for children and doing house chores.

Harsh Living Condition Poses Difficulties with Post Delivery Care
Jung In-soon (32 yrs old) lives near Kim Jung-sook College of Education in Hoeryong City with her husband and mother-in-law and makes living by selling bean sprouts and bean curd. Her husband stays at home being dejected after spending 6 months in labor discipline center for absences from work without notice. Her mother-in-law excretes urine and stool lying down due to stroke. When there was nothing to eat during her pregnancy, Mrs. Jung ate a mix of dried radish leaves and residues from making bean curd that were simmered and brewed for 2 days. The residues from brewing are poisonous, so when not simmered properly, it has a side effect of body swell, which happened to Mrs. Jung several times. Mrs. Jung has made the ends meet by making and selling bean curd early in the morning every day. Even later in her pregnancy, she walked for 3 hours to gather firewood and carry them on her back. Currently she sells bean sprouts although she has not been eating well and recovered from childbirth yet. Even if she sells bean sprouts and bean curd, all she can provide for the family is porridge from a mix of bean curd dregs and powdered corncob and bean sprouts with salt for side dish. Since Mrs. Jung is not fed well, she does not produce enough break milk and her child whines all day due to hunger. She has to spare some liquid extracted from making bean curd and feed the baby with it little by little. Even worse, tap water is not provided sufficiently so she draws water from a river. Currently the river is frozen so she breaks the ice and draws water from the hole. Not knowing when the tap water will be available, she draws and secures water using all the water containers she can obtain. Rubbing the dry skin of her face with her chapped and coarse hands, Mrs. Jung however showed a faint smile saying that she needs to survive by any means for the sake of the baby.

[Accidents]
Suicide at Kim Jung-Suk Historic Site
On February 24 there was a suicide at Kim Jung-Suk historic site in Osanduk-Dong, Hoeryong City, South Hamgyong Province. The victim was Dae-Han Kim, who was a laborer in a factory making iron supplies. After his wife’s business went bankrupt and the family debt increased, Kim’s family lost their house and was evicted in August. His wife left him soon after, and he lived with a relative. In the fall, he started gathering grains in the farm or private field where the harvest was already complete. After the currency measure announcement, his relatives had a hard time living by themselves, and he had to leave the house. Since January, he stayed in the staff lounge of his workplace where he suffered from severe weather without heating. In February, he suffered from a cold for more than 10 days and eventually went up to the hill near the Kim Jung-Suk historic site and hanged himself from a white apricot tree. Osanduk-Dong is a historic place with a statue of Kim Jung-Suk and is sparsely populated. The following morning at 11:20 a.m., a ranger found Kim dead and reported it to the police substation. The police officer checked Kim’s residence and then informed his workplace. The factory did not hold a funeral. He was laid in a coffin and buried right away. Neighbors who were told the news are whispering that Kim killed himself filled with complaints about politics because the suicide happened at a historic place.

Leading Secretary of Kangwon Province Died in a Car Accident Heading to a Meeting in Pyongyang Last Year
Lee Chul-bong, the leading secretary of Kangwon Province, died in a car accident heading to Pyongyang at the age of 73. Lee was going to Pyongyang to attend a welcome meeting for laborers of the Sungjin Iron Works United Enterprise when his car lost control on the snowy road causing an accident on December 25. He held several posts during his career. He was head of the social security department of Jungmoowon (the highest level public administration institution) in 1984, head of the urban management department in 1989, general manager of politics in the national railroad administration of the cabinet from 1999 to 2005, and leading secretary of Kangwon Province in October 2006. He served as a congressman in the 8th to 12th terms in the Supreme People’s Assembly from 1986 to last March. Chosun Joongang TV reported his death on December 26.

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