GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 370 October 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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One Million Won Required for Obtaining a Position as a Hyesan City Police Officer
Stealing Corns in Field by the Third Corps Are Becoming Serious
Hwaeryung City Party Supplies School Material to Secheon Schools
Dire Food Shortage at Secheon Farm Attributed to Failed Crops Last Year
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One Million Won Required for Obtaining a Position as a Hyesan City Police Officer
Hyesan City police officers in the Ryanggang Province are still doing well amidst North Korea’s economic chaos which has been further exacerbated by the government’s recent currency reform. Illegal trade in Hyesan, which is close to the national border, is rampant and particularly connected to the sale of drugs as well as rare metals, such as gold, silver, copper, iron, et cetera that are under tight government control. While some smuggling operations are managed by individual venders, most are large-scale enterprises. Bribery has thus become customary since sending and receiving prohibited items requires the aid of police or security officers. As a result, obtaining such positions in Hyesan has become very competitive; in particular, many Ryanggang Province officers have been applying for transfers, with bribes being exchanged in the process.

In order to become police or security officer in Hyesan a candidate must offer a bribe of at least one million won in the new currency. This may be a large sum of money; however, it’s only a matter of time before officers recoup their investment by taking in bribes from the smugglers. A smuggling or drug case that may be considered big in other regions can be resolved fairly easily if the right security officials are involved. Last September, a reputed drug trafficker who was arrested on drug related offenses was released within days after being declared innocent of charges. Although an order for intensifying drug regulations had been issued across the country, money clearly had priority.

Such corruption is encouraged by a society-wide permissiveness that doesn’t make a big deal out of anything unless it has to do with ideology issues. Simply speaking, if an incident is not “related to espionage,” then it is not a big deal. Rather, releasing culprits in exchange for money is regarded as a way of surviving during difficult times. Since corruption has become routine, neither officers nor smugglers seems to have a sense that what they are doing is wrong. The same goes for the people at large. For example, although officers are prohibited from possessing and riding personal motorbikes, those who do not own their own are often looked down upon by citizens; they believe that such officers must be slow-witted for not having one being in the position that they are. Along with the jeering is a healthy dose of envy.

If the officers take bribes from smugglers to look the other way, the wives of officers use their husbands’ status to actually join in the fray. They send articles to and receive prohibited items from China; they money they earn from such smuggling activities actually surpass the amount their husbands earn through bribes. Even if the wives are caught, the husbands step in to make the problem go away. The money a husband-wife team earns in this way surpasses the imagination of ordinary people. In Hyesan, there is a saying that only police officers have withstood the currency reform tsunami without breaking a sweat. Others say that “all the laws enacted by the government only serve to fill the bellies of the police officers.”

Stealing Corns in Field by the Third Corps Are Becoming Serious
The troops of the Capital Defense Command that are stationed in Kangseo County of South Pyongan Province are still struggling with the food problem. The food situation was dreadful even with the new crops harvested. From July 29 to August 26, the only meal that each regiment had was corns; the battalions harvested corns by themselves in the side-working field, and ate boiled corns as a breakfast and dinner substitute. Since they could not fill their young stomach by eating only corns, they eventually plundered nearby farms frequently. As they pillaged corns every day, many of the farms within Kangseo County were completely devastated. The angry farm managers raised this issue to the Corps several times, but each incident was hushed up as no one could come up with a way to resolve the situation. One time, the Leading Party Secretary of the local Ri [smallest administrative level of rural government] went to a colonel directly and complained, but to no avail and the farm fields were still looted afterwards. The farm workers who could not endure this anymore even announced in a meeting where the officers of the County Party and County Farming Management Commission gathered that “they cannot fulfill this year’s grain project at all because the soldiers’ attacks occur several times a day.” The County Party reported this to the Provincial Party of South Pyongan Province, and the Provincial Party dispatched a political officer of the County Party to each unit to investigate the situation as well as raising this issue with the commander of the Third Corps. The Third Corps attempted to settle the matter by identifying and punishing the offenders because they could neither provide enough food to the soldiers nor afford to compensate the farms for the damages. Punishing the soldiers was not easy either, however, because so many soldiers had committed stealing as to the point that it was more difficult to find the soldiers who did not steal. Eventually, they selected the soldiers who stole the most and their supervisors and punished only these few as a showcase. In the middle of last September, the corps settled the matter by giving party punishment to some battalion commanders and political directive officers and sending 3 soldiers to the Discipline Center in Jungpyung County of South Hamgyong Province. In spite of this, the soldiers are still stealing corns in the field regardless of the showcase punishment, and the phenomenon is becoming more serious as the harvest season has come in earnest.

Hwaeryung City Party Supplies School Material to Secheon Schools
Hwaeryung City of North Hamgyong Province supplied school material to Secheon Town’s elementary and middle school. The inspection at the start of a new school year on August 27 found many students absent and those who were present not equipped with decent supplies. To assist with the students’ education, the Hwaeryung city donated 4000 workbooks produced from local paper mill, as well as 200 pencils and 150 mechanical pencils. The city party emphasized that “though (Secheon) farmers do not come to work, the government nevertheless guarantees education for their sons and daughters.” Secheon is so poor that not even one student was able to participate in the last Pyongyang tour, although students from Hwaeryung and other areas participated. That’s because too many farmers are starving and barely survive each day on wild plants to care about their children’s education. Instead of going to work on the farms, farmers are instead looking for wild mushrooms to eat.

Dire Food Shortage at Secheon Farm Attributed to Failed Crops Last Year
Farmers of Secheon Labor District in Hwaeryung City barely managed to survive on corn powder and wild greens up until June of this year, when they were able to supplement their meals with potatoes. From July through August, they ate porridge made from ground corn. In September, there were increasing numbers of farmers who eagerly scavenged for Matsutake mushrooms which can be traded for rice at a government procurement office. Picking Matsutake mushrooms is a difficult task, however, so most farmers are still very short on food.

The City Party attributes the serious food shortage to last year’s failed crops. Last year’s harvest only produced 2 tons of corn and 1.5 tons of rice per jungbo (a unit of area). Consequently, less food and cash were distributed. Even before spring of this year, there were people who starved and farmers who, instead of going to the collective farms, were forced to forage for food on their own. The number of farmers who remained on the collective farms was reduced by more than a half. The City Party and the farming management commission blamed the reduction in crop production on the farmers’ attitude and absences. The Nonggeunmang Committee also criticized the absentees who neglected their duty and instead searched for wild greens or grass to eat. Police officers harassed farmers for their absences and attempted to persuade them to return to the farms. Farmers insisted that the poor production was a result not of the increased number of absentees but of the land, which is dry, acidic, and in need of fertilizers.

North Korea Today No. 369 October 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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Yanghwari Farmers in Shinpo Survive on Grass Porridge
“If not for the currency reform, I would not have dropped out of college,” said a college student in the Kangwon Province
A Patient in the Family is a Recipe for Bankruptcy
Electric Rice Cookers Forbidden in Order to Reduce Electricity Usage
[Investigative Report]
A Society that Generates Human Traffickers: The Story of Kim Kwangho
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Yanghwari Farmers in Shinpo Survive on Grass Porridge
Farmers of Yanghwari Farm in Shinpo, South Hamgyong Province, are still living on grass porridge. The food that had been distributed to them last year has long since run out, and crops, including barley, potato, and corn, planted this year have been ruined due to frequent storms. The managers of the farm claim that they have no more food, because last year’s ration was only enough to sustain farmers through September. The farmers say that not much was left after the army took their rice and pork to be used for army provisions. Although another food ration is coming up after the harvest, the farmers are already grieving because they believe that it will not be enough.

The mangers are keeping a close watch on the attendance of farmers as the harvest season is approaching because the amount of ration they receive is determined by their attendance. Farmers who did not come to the farm during the recent time of hardship to search for food are now helpless. Those who received a doctor’s note, however, are excused for their absences.

“If not for the currency reform, I would not have dropped out of college,” said a College Student in the Kangwon Province
A growing number of college students in the Kangwon Province are leaving school this year. Although incidents of dropouts have been sporadic in the past, they are currently rampant in every Kangwon Province College. The problem has to do with the currency reform act which severely devalued money overnight and left many households, particularly those engaging in business, in economic shambles. Accordingly, many students decided to discontinue their expensive educations as their families struggle to buy enough to eat in the midst of the ongoing food shortage. In April and August, sixteen and fifteen students, respectively, of the Jogunsil College of Education in Wonsan City left school voluntarily. Although Professors were not happy with the situation, their attempts to dissuade students from dropping out were unsuccessful. Students had to endure various school-imposed social fees (non-tax payments) and inadequate dormitory meal plans that left them hungry. Free education is one of the nation’s central propaganda tools, but in reality, the actual cost of education is significant. The situation is similar for students of Jungjuntaek College of Economics in Wonsan City. Sunghee Lee (alias), a Jungjuntaek sophomore reported that “people are surprised that students, whose living conditions were stable in the previous year, are now leaving.” She added that “many students blame the government and complain that, if not for currency reform, they would stay in college without quitting in the middle of their studies.”

A Patient in the Family is a Recipe for Bankruptcy
A medical doctor at North Hamgyong Province People’s Hospital reported that there was a rapid increase of patients this May and June. He suggested that the reason might be the food situation that is worse than last year and the spring lean season. Once a family member falls ill and becomes a patient the family has to pay for all the expenses. Therefore, people say that bankruptcy is only a matter of time for a family with a patient. Those who are hospitalized need to buy medicines themselves because hospitals do not have them. First, people use up their seed money pay for medicines, and then sell their furniture, and finally end up going into bankruptcy. Despite all these efforts, patients who get discharged from the hospital after complete recovery are mostly from officials’ family.

Those who can afford to keep a patient hospitalized in the Province hospital and provide financial support are better off. Patients in a critical condition are sent to the Province hospital, where they are screened at the registration. The hospital asks the patients’ family, “Can you pay for all the medicine expenses after being accepted?” and allows only those who can afford them to register. After all, it is treatment for free only in name.

No ward cafeteria in the hospital also is a burden for patients’ family since they need to prepare food for themselves while staying with the patients at the hospital. Unstable supply of electricity makes it difficult to cook. So, most patients’ families usually use a portable gas stove.

After the currency exchange measure, hospitals see more patients hospitalized but the time they spent there decreases. In September, increasing number of patients could not afford the expenses and had to leave the hospital even before they spent a week. Since April, the supply of basic medical necessities such as disinfectant, antibiotics and dressings stopped, and a trivial scar is often left without disinfected properly and aggravated to the level of critical condition and even death. Families of patients express grievances that there is no benefit of hospital treatment and incompetent doctors only ask for bribes. The frustrated families are losing hopes in hospital treatment.

Electric Rice Cookers Forbidden in Order to Reduce Electricity Usage
Beginning in the first half of the year, the North Hamgyong Province People’s Assembly’s Supervising Department of Electricity has been strictly monitoring all electricity usage in order to eliminate unnecessary waste. Every sector, with the exception of the “second economy” factories and public enterprises, are to be evaluated and if found suspect may face austere measures such as being completely cut off from power. For citizens, the use of electricity is only allowed for certain purposes, including lighting and television and is strictly prohibited for cooking and heating which may result in fines. Although citizens generally use coal for cooking, electric rice cookers or frying pans are preferred for the sake of conservation of coals whenever power is available. Their already difficult situation, originally only allowing two to three daily hours of access to electricity which is difficult to harness from transformers, has been accentuated by this initiative. In addition, although not profiled, the “second economy” factories and public enterprises have also been suffering from government actions. From July to August, power lines have been completely cut off to more than 200 locations in North Hamgyong Province. This has resulted in over 100 reports of broken transformers due to the great amount of electricity overflowing into remaining power lines.

[Investigative Report]
A Society that Generates Human Traffickers: The Story of Kim Kwangho
Kim Kwangho, a 33 year-old single man, lives in Nammun-dong, Hoeryung City, North Hamgyong Province with his father and a younger sister. They come from lower social and economic background and have always been very poor. After completing his military service in the People’s Army for 10 years, he came back to his family and earned very little money by doing some chores for others in the village. Since he did not have any economic foundation, he was exploited like a slave only to be paid a little amount of food barely enough to survive, according to his friends. His father did some small land patch farming in Soonan valley in Daeduck-li, but the yield was not enough to support the family of three.

Being so poor, he could not even hope to get married but only wished to earn a bit more money. He used to ask people around him saying, “For money, I can do whatever I need to do, even if it is something huge against the national law. I just do not know how to do it.” About one year ago, he was asked to find missing persons. He would be paid to go across the country and find the people. Actually, it was not a simple matter of finding missing people. It was a job within the chain of human trafficking brokerage, and his job was doing a marginal part of it – doing the leg work and getting paid a small amount of money. At first, he was not assigned with very risky work. They gave him small and easier task to see if he could get things done he was responsible for. He was so grateful to earn some money and did his best for whichever job he was assigned. He proved himself useful and received riskier assignments.

This year, he received several assignments of locating South Korean prisoners of war and those who had been abducted to the North Korea. In June, Kwangho got an assignment to find Lee Hogu (age 68), living in Kangan-dong, Suncheon City, South Pyongan Province. In early 1970s, Lee was drifted to the North Korean sea by a typhoon storm while fishing in the West Sea and got arrested, never to return. His son in South Korea contacted a human trafficking broker and commissioned them to find his father, Lee. That was the assignment Kwangho received this time. He searched for Lee everywhere in Suncheon for a month and found him. The surveillance for the abductees was so tight that it was very hard to go unnoticed. He had the letter and photos sent by Lee’s son, other letters of introduction, and some drug he was given to commit suicide to protect other brokers in case he got arrested. He was promised that his family will be taken in a good care even after his death. After completing his assignment successfully, he also made it to another old man living in Ryunbong-dong for his next assignment. While he was trying to take him, he had to kill a police informant who was watching him. It was the first time he killed anyone. According to his friends, it was about that time when he became very aggressive and his family became noticeably better off.

During the past one year, the brokers who gave him assignments took most of the commission, giving him only a fraction of it. However, since he made a success in Lee’s case, he started making a lot of money. “The day of blooming flowers and beautiful scent in life” finally arrived. He bought TV and VCR sets, a second-hand bicycle, and wore Chinese-made ready-made suits purchased in the market instead of the old rugged clothes. To avoid other people’s suspicion, his father pretended to keep farming on the small patch of land. If he had stopped farming, people would have wondered how the family kept doing well when nobody earned any money. However, this cover was not enough. Everybody’s life got worsened after the currency reform, but people could smell cooking oil coming from Kwangho’s house whose family might as well be dead by then from hunger. The police department in charge of his neighborhood especially thought it was abnormal. Starting from July, police officers went to the workplace where Kwangho belonged to and checked if he was coming to work regularly. He was not – he had been paying 12,000 NK won per month to be condoned for not showing up. The police began an investigation how such a poor family could afford paying such a large amount of money and questioned his friends who hung out with him. In mid July, a neighbor slipped a word of warning about the police investigation and Kwangho’s family got very nervous.

In late July, his father and younger sister were summoned to the police station. The officers questioned them hard about Kwangho’s older sister who was said to have crossed the river to China seven years ago. They pointed out the TV set and VCR and asked how the family could live out of their means. The father said he really did not know anything about his older daughter and he had been saving money by farming while his son was in the Army. The police officers did not believe him citing the recent currency reform, and the father said he had kept money in Chinese Yuan. The police officers thought it must be the older daughter in China who gave the money and continued questioning him about her and the money. He kept denying everything, and the police issued a warrant to search his house. No evidence about the older daughter but 120,000 NK won in cash was found.

Meanwhile, Kwangho, hiding himself in a mountain, received another assignment. A woman who escaped from North Korea nine years ago and now settled in South Korea wanted to bring her son left in the North back to South Korea. With the photos and letters from her in his hand, Kwangho went to her home in Eunduck County. However, the father of the child would not let him go. The mother left them when the child was five, and the father had been raising him alone in a hardship. The father insisted he could not let him go unless he himself accompanies him. Even though he was saying it was not that he wanted some compensation, he confessed that he would like getting some help because life was so hard. Kwangho was ordered to bring the child only, but he had never been in this situation before and brought the father as well. The father, however, changed his words while talking on the phone with his wife. He threatened he would not let his son go unless she sends 10,000 Chinese Yuan. In the process of several long phone calls, they got caught in the police surveillance. They had been making phone calls from Eunduck County and the surveillance for cell phone calls near the border area was especially tight. Despite their caution, they got spotted.

Not realizing they were being watched, Kwangho kept bridging the broker and the father of the child. The father negotiated the deal for 8,000 Chinese Yuan. On his way home with the cash, the father got arrested by police. The child got arrested while attempting to cross the Tumen River with a human trafficker. Kwangho was hiding in a mountain, but he also got arrested while dropping by his home. They were all sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Suseong Re-education Center in Chungjin City. The news was announced in public as “a horrifying evil human trafficking: father sells his son for 8,000 Chinese Yuan”. Kwangho’s friends and neighbors who know the situation lamented that an ordinary good man fell victim by doing some errands for others just to make a living. They bemoaned that what is bad is not Kwangho but the society that made him do such things. It seems to be widely believed that the anti-revolutionary people are not originally bad but put into such situations by the society that went wrong.

North Korea Today No. 368 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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Kim Jong-Eun’s Special Villa Construction in Kyongsung County Seriously Strains Military-Civilian Relations
Residents Suffer from Burden of Non-tax Payment due to Special Villa Construction
Safety Accidents Recurs at Heechun Power Plant, Jagang Province
Construction Equipment Malfunctions Cause Frequent Accidents and Failures at Heechun Power plant
Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Struggles as Posterior Support Cut off at Heechun Power plant
Meal Quality Deteriorates at Heechun Power Plant
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Kim Jong-Eun’s Special Villa Construction in Kyongsung County Seriously Strains Military-Civilian Relations
A new mansion, known among officials to be Kim Jong-Eun’s villa, in Kyongsung County, North Hamgyong Province, will complement several existing estates built for Kim Jong-Il (Chairman of the National Defense Commission) and the late Kim Il-Sung. No official announcements concerning the project have been made by the Central Party, but even average citizens are able to discern its purpose which began construction on July 21st. With the exception of one ton of Sangwon cement, all materials for this four floor estate have been imported. The second floor has been completed as of the end of August.

The building of the villa has entailed mobilizing roughly 12,000 soldiers of the first, second and third battalions of the Engineering Brigade. Due to the hunger these soldiers have had to endure because of the ongoing food shortage, they have resorted to raiding local farms. Farmers have been powerless to stop the onslaught which has resulted in severely damaged fields and those who reported grievances were simply ignored or rebuked by military commanders. On August 16, when farm officials requested that commanders assume responsibility for their soldiers’ behavior, they were beaten. Although complaints ceased after this incident, news of this mishap has spread throughout the region resulting in civilian mistrust of soldiers who are believed to be connected to the suspect leadership of Kim Jong-Eun.

Residents Suffer from Burden of Non-tax Payment for Special Villa Construction
The non-tax payment for constructing new special villa in Kyungsung County is increasing the sufferings of the residents. Chungjin City and Hoeryong City were assigned of quality native rocks to be used for the construction, and when each City Party was instructed to prepare 800 cubic meters of small rocks that are 6 cm of length and 5 cm of width, it imposed the burden of non-tax payment to its residents. The households of the Neighborhood Unit had to fill 10 buckets with stones and turn them in. They could not include large rocks and had to break each one to a size of an egg before submitting them to the district office. This burden of non-tax payment increases even more because it is not just given to the Neighborhood Unit but is also given to each factory, public enterprise and other units as a whole. The children who attend school must submit their share of work, the housewives of the Neighborhood Unit must submit their share of work, and the laborers who work in the factory or public enterprise must submit their share of work, so if one combines the individual share of the mother, father and children, the total amount of the non-tax payment can only increase. People with money could evade the work as usual, but the poor residents had to go to the riverside to break stones under the scorching sun in midsummer. Although there were some people who were making money by breaking stones for other people, most of them were just busy with taking care of their own burden of non-tax payments.

Moreover, the parents were worried because their young children were mobilized to do the work as a part of the school project even though they could not even walk well due to the hunger and the work was difficult even for an adult. They have also suffered flood damages due to the localized torrential downpours and the public sentiments began to aggravate. People have much to say: “Just like a beggar, people cannot eat nor drink, and a lot of people are living a life in a rented house or storage that stores coal or firewood in an apartment because they do not have a house to live, so this special villa is a sheer nonsense. It is pathetic that they do not care about people’s livelihood at all and mobilize these hunger-stricken people to build a special villa in which nobody knows when to use. So many special villas are empty, and they could have used one of them. What are all these special villas for? Do they have to exploit the people by any means?” In addition, as if breaking and submitting the stones are not enough, it is also collecting the transport charges so it can transport the stones from Hoeryong or Chungjin to the construction site, thus creating more resentment of the residents. The City Party said that it must collect 500 NK won per household for the expense of renting a truck as well as the fuel cost since the stones cannot be moved by carts.

Safety Accidents Recurs in Heechun Power Plant, Jagang Province
Safety accidents are recurring at Heechun power plant in Jagang Province, which has received high attention from the government. At around 3 pm on August 13th, two people died from a fall accident in a construction site of Gangwon Special Labor Brigade 3rd Battalion’s waterway tunnel. When an explosion agent and a labor safety agent from the 2nd company’s mine entered the tunnel to disassemble an exploded detonator, the tunnel collapsed and the agents were buried underneath. Officials of the Special Labor Brigade took the accident for granted since they regarded it as an everyday occurrence. They reported to the upper unit that the deceased agents caused the accident by breaking the safety regulations due to their eagerness to work fast. The officials blamed the victims out of fear of being held accountable for the deaths once the specifics were uncovered. Only the families of the deceased were crying, and none of the officials showed pity, nor did they pay compensation. They only gave the families one Arirang Television demanding appreciation for the Party’s consideration.

When a safety accident occurs, the officials need to disseminate it and establish measures in order to prevent similar incidents. However, in many cases, they are treated as negligence or mistakes of the victims, which contributes to frequent recurring of similar accidents. On July 12, steel cable from a mine car broke, seriously wounding two soldiers who were working with hand tools. One broke his spine after being hit by the cable and the other got his ankle amputated. The victims were transferred to the wounded soldiers’ hospital of Ministry of People’s Armed Force but severe disability will make their living difficult. The direct cause of the accident was the worn-out steel cable from overusing. It was also pointed out that the soldiers were only focusing on meeting the daily labor goal and neglected the safety regulations.

Construction Equipment Malfunctions Cause Frequent Accidents and Failures at Heechun Power Plant
Unending accidents at Heechun Power Plant can be attributed to frequent breakdowns of construction equipment. Though various construction equipment and tools were used when construction first started, they did not last very long before breakdowns occurred. Due to failures in getting repair parts and supplies, some equipment remains useless for months. When a jackhammer broke down at a waterway construction site, people had to dig the waterways by hand. Two waterways had to be dug up, 4m × 5m in height and width, and concrete work had to be done. Moving debris could not be achieved by a winch due to a brake failure, so a tram had to be pushed by three crew members. Losing control or skidding on the way downhill caused workers’ arms and legs to be stuck between wagon wheels or cut off or even pinned under trams to their deaths. It is more regrettable that such accidents occurred because of equipment malfunctions.

Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Struggles as Posterior Support Cut off at Heechun Power Plant
Regional Special Brigade drafted for Heechun power plant in Jagang Province has been having a difficult time. Even the South Pyongan Special Brigade, known to have been supplied with food and various home front supplies, has been struggling. The commander of Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Kim Hakrim (alias) said “There were no worries up to last year since all the work wear and coatings were guaranteed by the set dates, and the heavy workload didn’t bother us since the posterior supply was reliable.”

However, they’ve had posterior supply issues since the currency reform took place and according to Kim, “All supply systems have been failing from this February along with the declining quality. So, it’s made it difficult for the Brigade to work.” After being asked whether the South Pyongan Brigade is in better circumstances than the Gangwon province or Hamgyong provinces, he said that was back in the old days.

“They supplied our South Pyongan Brigade with all food, tools and other posterior supplies. When the district city and county sends us the work outfits, utilities and supplies, we in the Brigade would then resupply it to sub-cities and districts. However after the currency reform, the entire people’s economic standards have dropped to the worst, there’ve been no improvements in food distribution, and continuous disasters have worsened the situation as a whole,” Kim said.

Ri Chulyong (alias) from Special Labor Brigade says he received money from home every month but recently he has been getting paid every other month. Their family’s savings have been used to the last dime since the currency reform, and his wife stopped working as the market closed earlier this year, the final strike on top of everything.

The market reopened but business is not like before and she is having a hard time paying the rent to even keep her shop in the market. Bringing home the bacon for the family of five including aging parents is a burden itself which prevents Ri from taking care of the family head living away. He says “For the months they can send me 10,000 won, the rest of my family can barely eat any porridge. So could I possibly ask them to send me money?” He says that it would be alright if his family could support him when the Brigade cannot provide him with supplies, but it’s the laborers that end up suffering since their families are in no better circumstances.

Meal Quality Deteriorates at Heechun Power Plant
Drafted by massive doses of national capacity, the food and material supply was at its highest when the Heechun Plant construction first began. Non-glutinous rice was provided every day and meat every two days. However, after the currency exchange last year the quality of meals has become significantly worse. Since this February, corn and rice each composed half and half. Now, rice consists at most 30%, and 70% is filled by corn. Barely a spoonful of soybean oil is given, and meat is given at most once a week. Last year, there was quite an amount of meat, but now it is difficult to find two or three pieces of meat. People express that they “drink soup that has barely the scent of meat.” Side dishes are salted radish and salted cabbage. Alcohol is sometimes offered, one bottle for three people, to relax after a day’s hard work before bedtime. Though better than other construction sites, compared to last year, the tangible deterioration of food felt by the crews of Special Labor Brigade’s is great. Above all, labor intensity is very high. The Brigade is composed of six troops. For waterway tunnels, the groups take nine hour shifts. Failure to meet the standards results in failure of the shift and sometimes people work for 12 hours a day or more. Overall, with a more difficult life, there are more safety accidents, and desertions. Though there are fewer deserters than other sites because they get sent to detention and receive severe ideological armament, their numbers are gradually increasing.


North Korea Today No. 367 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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Kkotjebi Increase in Shinsungchun Station in July and August
Murder by Homeless in Sinsungchun Train Station
Increasing Absenteeism of Women in Rural South Hwanghae Province
Official’s Family Farm Work Units in Jaeryong District Face No Food Shortage
Farmers Complain about Privilege of Gimchaek City Officials’ Family Work Units
Hoeryong Factory Run by Retired Soldiers Closed and Reopened due to Heightened Protests
4000 Won a Month for Breeding Rabbits, Ranam District, Chungjin
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Kkotjebi Increase in Shinsungchun Station in July and August
The number of Kkotjebi at the Shin-Sungchun Station in South Pyongan province has significantly increased from July to August. Last February, the number of Kkotjebi dramatically increased because of starvation then subsided for a while when authorities cleared them out of the station. However, the number has been rising again because of flood damage, which just occurred in the region. According to a survey conducted by North Korean authorities, there were approximately 25 Kkotjebis wandering around Shinsungchun station until last April. However, during July and August, there were 40 to 50 Kkotjebis. Constituting 80% of the Kkotjebi group, the number of adults has increased the most in contrast with the past. The train station employees continue to report these problems to Songchon County Party committee and the security authorities, but state officials are only handling the young members of the Kkotjebi group. Caring for adults is much harder because they depart for two to three days as soon as Kkotjebi control is enforced. These adults gather around places like the train station, where there are many travelers, and steal from travelers in order to survive. They attack merchants, go begging in neighborhoods, and eat food left on the ground. Security officials said that Kkotjebis wander around because there are many travelers at this station, which serves as the major transit point for people traveling east and west. The Kkotjebis are contributing to a higher crime rate. The current method of control implemented to restrict Kkotjebis by sending them to kkotjebi shelters or Youth brigade fails to deal with the problem at hand.

Murder by Homeless in Sinsungchun Train Station
In mid-August, a woman who was waiting for the train was killed in the bathroom at the Sinsungchun train station. The victim was identified as Ms. Kim, a salesperson at the market regulation office in Taetan County, South Hwanghae Province. Ms. Kim was murdered on her way to Wonsan City, Kangwon Province, by two adults and two younger homeless people. The attackers were caught approximately 21 hours after the incident at a nearby village while attempting to sell the victim’s clothes and belongings.

According to investigators, the attackers wanted to steal Ms. Kim’s valuables such as her watch, cash, and handbag. When Ms. Kim resisted, the assailants struck her and murdered her unintentionally. The attackers responsible for the murder were dead because of a severe beating they received after being transferred to the police station.

A police officer reported that the police did not conduct a proper investigation because the attackers were homeless. Even though they committed a serious crime that could lead execution by firing squad, they were not executed publicly but were killed in the police station because police were conscious of potential public criticism which may say, “This incident happened because the government could not provide minimum living standards for the homeless people.”Many people who heard about this incident were sympathetic to the homeless people even if they committed the murder. People said, “We cannot solely blame this incident on the homeless people. It is an indication of poor societal administration by the government. Our lives became dismal after the currency exchange measure. Families were broken and the number of homeless people increased because it is difficult to eat and survive. If people were able to eat enough corn, there would be no reason for broken families and homeless people. Then there would be no incidents like this one. There is no doubt that the murder is bad, but it is sad that homeless people who suffered and must beg for food to survive were beaten to death in the police station.”

After the Sinsungchun train station murder incident occurred, the South Pyongan Provincial Party informed the police stations in Sungchun County that all homeless people must be strictly controlled. Accordingly, the county police stations sent young homeless children to a school and adult homeless people were sent to a rural area. Despite such efforts, the measures were not sufficient to prevent crimes and reduce homelessness because the police handle control of the homeless just to impress the upper management units. The police in Sungchun County reported that they just pretend to do strict homeless control and complain about how the county could resolve the very issue that could not be resolved even at the provincial party level last June.

Increasing Absenteeism of Women in Rural South Hwanghae Province
In South Hwanghae Province, one of the most important tasks for opening the doors for “Strong and Prosperous Nation” is resolving food problem. So, priority was placed on having extra sets of hands on the farms. Following the provincial party’s orders, the Democratic Woman’s Union was told to send 150 women to the farms located in Anak County, Baechun County, Ryongyeon County, Ongjin County, Taetan County and others. However, due to lack of volunteers, incentives to give rations in advance were offered. For every one woman, 50kg of rice and 160kg of corn were given. Although this is a small amount to cover for the period of February to November, women who were barely keeping alive after the currency exchange were the ones volunteering for the span of three years as an agreement with the state.

Out of these women, none of them were wives of those in the Armed Force Party, Committee of Armed Force Party, Police, public prosecutor’s office, National Security Agency, or any workers, but wives of laborers who were barely making a daily living. The women said, “If it wasn’t for the currency exchange, I would not have volunteered to work on the farms. Last year, we were able to get by as merchants, but because business has become so bad, I volunteered only for the food.” As food has decreased, the rate of absenteeism has steadily increased. By May, many homes had already run out of their food supply and despite the busy season, the women did not go out to the fields to work. The chairman and members of the county party tried to persuade the absent women and even bullied them, but the situation has not improved. The officials are threatening by saying, “How can they take the food and not come out to work? If you can’t work, return the food” but the women are not budging and responding by saying, “There is nothing to eat even if we go out and work. Since there is nothing we can fill our bellies with, we must sell things to get by.” In August, the situation improved a little from eating grass porridge as early crops of corns become available. But, because South Hwanghae Province suffered from the flood this year, there are many corn plants that went bad. Also, besides food, other expenses in order to make a living have driven these women from volunteering on the fields and into the streets in order to sell something to make a living. The general consensus is that the women “have to buy the children’s clothes and other school supplies to get ready for the beginning of the school year. Also, there are many things the school expects from the students to contribute and the neighborhood unit also collects quite a lot. Either don’t give us nontax burdens or don’t collect fees for this and that when we have no money at all.” It is not that the county parties did not expect this to happen, but because they cannot be more aggressive, they are pressuring the women to go back to work by saying, “Make contributions to the ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’.”

Officials’ Family Farm Work Units in Jaeryong District Face No Food Shortage
In February agricultural work units consisting of families of government officials were formed in Jaeryong District, South Hwanghae Province. The theory behind the initiative was that “the wives of government officials must set an example for the people by working on the front line of the agricultural revolution.” The work units might resemble other agricultural groups initially, but they are vastly different. First, those who do most of the farming are members of the Democratic Women’s Union, who are the ordinary housewives. The wives of the government officials just participate in “Friday labors.” Yet, they enjoy greater benefits. Whereas the ordinary family work units need to shop for their necessities because they cannot keep their harvests, the families of officials do not. Their share of the harvests is much greater. The families of the officials each took 20kg of barley during June and July, and 30kg of potatoes. Such disparity incited anger among other farmers.

Farmers Complain about Privilege of Gimchaek City Officials’ Family Work Units
Wives of officials of the Gimchaek City Party, in North Hamgyong Province, also organized and operated work units. A similar measure forcing officials’ wives to work at the farm was issued in 2008 and this measure was ordered again on January 8, 2010 when people’s living conditions nationwide worsened as a result of the currency reform. Gimchaek City maintained these units organized with family of the City Party officials since 2008. The units were expanded following the measure that was adopted in January. Wives of officials of the City Party, police officers, and public prosecutors also joined the organization. Most family members of officials avoided joining the organization in the past because working on the farm is difficult.

Although the purpose of this measure to set an example seemed acceptable, most farmers felt frustrated because every possible privilege was given to officials’ wives. Before harvesting new crops, especially from May to July, many farmers starved and did not go to work. Compared with ordinary farmers, each household of these units received 38kgs of early ripe potatoes on June 25. They also received 30kgs of thrashed barley in July. However, ordinary farmers received only 15kgs of green and poor potatoes during a later phase of distribution. They could not even imagine receiving thrashed barley, so it was natural for the farmers to complain about this situation.

The members of the officials’ family units also received vegetables that they grew. As a result, they did not need to buy side dishes at the market. Some wives of officials said, “We did not like working at the farm, but we really like it now because it is better than trading at the market. It helps our family, and the work is not so hard.” A few farmers complained about this issue to the City Party or Province Party by saying, “Why do you provide only for the family of officials with food and side dishes? Give us the same distribution level, or do not distribute anything to anybody.”

The City Party responded to the complaint by saying, “The wives did not have time to trade at the market because they worked at the farm, so we gave them some vegetables as compensation. You should not complain about this treatment.” The Party ostracized people who made complaints by critiquing their ideological commitment. One observer said the other farmers cannot complain openly, but grumbled in secret by saying, “Officials are totally unfair. They take credit for themselves for having their wives work at the farm. They take every possible benefit and privilege for themselves.”

Hoeryong Factory Run by Retired Soldiers Closed and Reopened due to Heightened Protests
Hoeryong City of North Hamgyong Province closed a factory, which was shortly reopened by the Central Party’s decree. The factory produced basic commodities and it was run by retired soldiers who were either relocated to Eunha Clothing Factory or primarily neglected after the shutdown. Approximately 140 out of the 240 of these retired soldiers were assigned to alternative posts outside of the city, which raised massive complaints directed at the City Party and the City People’s Assembly. The factory was closed after the City Party Committee determined that it was not contributing to overall social progress. Since many of these soldiers have disabilities, the burden of accommodating them greatly outweighed their low productivity. Despite the reason for closing the unit, due to inadequate follow-up measures taken, this problem was escalated to the Provincial Party and even to the censorship of the Central Party thus politicizing the issue. The City Party’s poor management of this shutdown left numerous soldiers unemployed.

Consequently, the City Party Committee held a plenary meeting on August 3rd and decided to resume the operation of the basic commodities factory, restoring the employment of the previously displaced soldiers. An officer from the City Party explained, “At first, the City Party decided to close the basic commodities factory because the physical challenges of many of these retired soldiers have prevented them from effectively contributing to the economy and were viewed as unnecessary.” He continued, “The City Party was compelled by the Central Party to reopen the new public enterprise as complaints ensued.” The reopening of the factory also required new appointments to oversee the operations. Since the factory consisted mainly of retired soldiers, the officer positions including the Party Secretary and manager positions had to be filled by these same retired soldiers employed at the factory. However, this would also be a challenge considering that many of the retired soldiers do not hold university degrees to qualify for these positions. Despite these limitations, the City Party continues to distribute at least corn in consideration of the livelihood of these soldiers. According to him, the Leading Secretary of the City Party and the Chairman of the City People’s Assembly personally went to the newly established factory of the decorated soldiers on August 6th, and asked them not to be disappointed anymore and to work hard. In short, they were appeasing them so that this problem would not cause another disruption within the Provincial Party or the Central Party. The City Party promised that it will continue to provide food as usual regardless of the productivity of the factory.

4000 Won a Month for Breeding Rabbits, Ranam District, Chungjin
In Ranam District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) started a project of breeding rabbits earlier this year. This requires giving of one healthy female rabbit to the Union every month. If all 30 people in the newly formed Union would provide one rabbit every month, it would exempt them from other kinds of burden or service required by the state. Also, some women, who have enough money to simply purchase the rabbits for the exchange, can freely trade it at a favorable price. Until the 15th of April it was in the form of making donation to the army. However, for some reason it was changed to 4,000 Won every month from each and every group. The DWU stated that money was necessary to meet the seasonal funding requirements of the army. They also claimed that the varied needs of the army call on them to make greater efforts, like capturing rabbits. However, some DWU members are suspicious about collecting of money instead of rabbits. Many are even suspecting the district DWU officials of intercepting the money in the middle for their own use.



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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