GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 365 September 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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Daily Vendor Fee in Soonam Market Increased All At Once
New Province Party Secretary of N. Hamgyong Holds Food Policy Meeting
Hoeryong Junior High School Students Express Negative Perception of Pyongyang
Kim Hyung-Jik Military Medical School Students to Repeat the Year
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Daily Vendor Fee in Soonam Market Increased All At Once According to Its Trade Index
It became known that the Management Office of the Soonam Market in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, raised the daily vendor fee all at once according to its trade index since August 17th. The Market Management Office held an internal meeting and decided thus on 16th before announcing it to the merchants on 17th. The vendor fee is pursuant to the agreement with the Price Department of the People’s Assembly in Soonam District. The amount of the raise was known to be 30-50 NK won approximately. In this way, if the daily vendor fee was 100 NK won, it will be 130 NK won after 17th. The vendor fee of the things such as industrial products and daily sundries are rather high compared to other indices.

As the District Party and the Market Management Office increased the vendor fee such a way upon the agreement, many voices were heard. The position of the Soonam District officers is that it is not a big amount even if the vendor fee had increased, since the current value of the money was lowered. According to an officer from the People’s Assembly in Soonam District, in order to provide the supplies needed for various societal and economic tasks and national construction projects in which Chungjin City Party and the People’s Assembly of the City are demanding periodically, it is said that the only revenue that Soonam District has is the vendor fee of the Soonam market. Therefore, how to operate and manage Soonam Market effectively is an important matter, but the current revenue from the vendor fee does not help much, according to him. On the other hand, the merchants who have conducted business in Soonam Market have a different opinion. Since the amount of the vendor fee that the Management Office receives by operating the Soonam Market is enormously large, they think it really does not have to be increased. In addition, some of the merchants are also casting doubts on the increase of the vendor fee, saying it may be that the officers of the People’s Assembly in Soonam District and the employees of the Market Management Office are trying to embezzle the substantial amounts of the vendor fee.

As the vendor fee was increased, the merchants began to use their wits so they do not have to pay the vendor fee if possible. For example, people who earn their daily meal by selling vegetables and food put aside the business briefly while the employees of the Market Management Office are collecting the vendor fee. They put the vegetables and food that they were selling under the care of a fellow merchant who paid the vendor fee and leave the space only during that time. In such a way, they come back and continue the business only after the employees of the Market Management Office left after collecting the vendor fee. As the number of merchants who try to avoid the vendor fee increases as such, the Market Management Office decided to make more effort to regulate. The Management Office made a warning that people who are caught conducting a business without paying the vendor fee will pay a fine several times larger than the vendor fee or even receive a criminal penalty if it is serious.

New Province Party Secretary of North Hamgyong Province Holds Food Policy Meeting
On August 4th, the province party committee of North Hamgyong held a meeting to discuss invigorating trade to secure food sources. Currently every county and city in North Hamgyong province are lacking severely in food sources, and are in desperate need to secure food for the residents. The new province party secretary Oh Sooyong presided over the meeting where province-level officials of international trades and workers at steel factories discussed "exporting steel to China in exchange for food." The meeting began at 10am and continued until 8pm without much success. However, it was emphasized for each factory and business center to distribute the workers at least 15 days worth of potatoes grown in the assisting business sites for the month of August. Unfortunately after a distribution status check, it was found that there were many business sites that hadn't planted any potatoes at all, or others that gave up on potato farming due to cold weather damage. Once this was notified, the province party secretary summoned the managers and secretaries of business sites to criticize not running the potato fields, and laid off 17 officials for not abiding by the policies.

Rising Negative Perception of Pyongyang, Hoeryong Junior High School Student Expresses "It costs too much money and too much trouble to visit"
Sixth grade middle School students in Hoeryong North Hamgyong Province went on tour of Pyongyang last August during the summer vacation. There was much discussion before the ten day trip. Above all, there were cost issues. Students visiting Pyongyang needed to prepare at least 40,000 won per student which was a big problem. Due to bad business situation after the currency exchange, 40,000 won was still a big burden to urban residents. There is no need to mention the situation of rural residents who are much worse off. Many children eventually gave up their visit to Pyongyang. So, only affluent households could afford it. However, even those students who prepared 40,000 won and those who took as much as 100,000 won suffered severe hardship because the expenses were much higher than expected. Increasing number of students who have visited Pyongyang said their perception of Pyongyang turned negative. Before going to Pyongyang, they had high expectations, but seeing the reality of low standards of living of the residents in Pyongyang was disappointing. Though there were seemingly clean streets and houses, older people begging and eating from the garbage in Pyongyang was no so different from other cities. With the negative feedback of the Pyongyang field trips, the Hoeryong City Youth League Committee mobilized officials and tried to educate the students saying that, "At the present the country's economic situation is difficult but in the future it will improve, so think before speaking".

Coming back from Pyongyang, what were the problems students pointed out the most? First and foremost was the issue of food. The students reported that the only things they remember is the memories of crying out of hunger from the day they left until they came back. The idea of going to Pyongyang excited them for a while, but the memories of extreme hunger made them determined to "never return to Pyongyang again."The second criticism about the visit to Pyongyang was the people’s rudeness. At the inn the students were staying in, there were many rooms with no blanket or quilt, making students suffering all night in the cold and many caught a cold. On another occasions, students were turned away by the restaurant employee at Okruygwan and told to go to other restaurants while waiting in line telling them that “We don’t serve meals to students from provinces.” Students got angry and protested that, "You refuse to serve us just because we are from provinces? Do we look like some kind of beggars to you?” With the expensive travel expenses, hunger, and hardships, there was no beautiful sight or kindness to make up for such pain, students felt very disillusioned. The teacher interpreted that, "Because provincial residents are allowed to go to Pyongyang the children had big expectations." So, the bigger the expectation, the bigger the disappointment it gets.

Kim Hyung-Jik Military Medical School Students to Repeat the Year
It is reported that many fourth year Kim Hyung-Jik Military Medical School students will have to repeat the academic year. Since their coursework typically encompasses five years of study, the students in question will now have to complete six in order to graduate. Kim Hyung-Jik Military Medical School is specifically designed for training army doctors under the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces and the majority of its students have experience serving as medics in their respective units. On a normal day, students are expected to attend five hours of classes in the morning and spend their afternoons engaging in agricultural activities on the Medical School’s allotted farms. While most students are supported by their parents, those in need of financial assistance typically have a higher dropout rate.

The new academic year began on June first. However, since test results of the majority of fourth year students did not meet academic expectations, school officials initiated a screening process to isolate those who they believed would have difficulty with their upcoming practical training. Nevertheless, students able to pay their tuition were exempt from having to repeat the year regardless of their test results. Of the 36 students held back, some opposed the School’s actions, stating, “We endured hardships and poverty, and it is really disappointing to have repeat a year. What difference is there between the students allowed to continue and us held back? The only difference is they have money and we do not.” Since an additional year of study would strongly affect the livelihood of their respective families. Many of these students were disheartened, claiming that “money is the only thing that matters for academic success.”

Apart from what students said, a Kim Hyung-Jik Military Medical School Professor asserted that the reason why students were held back, in fact, did not have to do with their grades. In North Korea, the government promotes a so-called “positive education” system where society attributes students’ inabilities to the failure of educators. Accordingly, instances of students dropping out because of poor performances rarely occur, if at all. Instead, the professor placed blame on the School’s farming policy which prevents students from finishing their coursework in a timely manner. This type of practice is prevalent in other institutions as well, such as Kim Il-Sung and Gimchaek Universities. The professor also claimed that, in comparison to other Universities, Kim Hyeong-Jik Military Medical School is stricter in its discipline and regulations since it runs in accordance with the nation’s military system. No mention concerning students’ financial situations and their ability to advance was made.
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