GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 381, December 15, 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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More Young Women in Ryanggang Province Dream about Life in China


Poor Parents Encourage their Daughter to Cross River to China

As Female Border Crossers Increase, Emphasis on Ideological Education

Baekam County Security Guards Receive Bribes to Release Fugitives

Kwangduk Farm in Baekam County Receives a Full Food Distribution this Fall

Kaechuk Labor District in Daehongdan County Returns Military Rice

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More Young Women in Ryanggang Province Dream about Life in China

Attempts of river crossing among young women are on the rise in Hyesan city, Baekam county, and Samjiyon county in Ryanggang Province. Women give up their job as they receive no food distribution despite working at the factory and workplace and as their salary diminishes. They can’t even start a business because of the lack of start up money. Those who barely manage to make a living through small patch farming try to look for a breakthrough under a vague illusion of going to China as they think they can make more money in China.

Choi Hak-cheol (Alias) says, "As the food situation became aggravated after the Currency Reform, those who have relatives in China were given border pass to cross over to China relatively easily so that they can bring in money and food. The labor shortage in rural China is very serious and Chinese women are not interested in marrying a man living in rural area. Therefore there are many old unmarried bachelors among rural Chinese men. As such, many requests came to the relatives in North Korea asking to find a smart and healthy woman and arrange a marriage between Chinese men and North Korean woman. As a result, people who have relatives in North Korea got involved in arranged marriages across the border, and the number of women who crossed the border illegally by bribing the border guards increased drastically.” Some of those who married Korean-Chinese men are the lucky ones, but those who married the Han and Manchu Chinese are having difficulties because of differences in customs as well as difficulties with hiding identities and their illegal status.

Nevertheless, some desperate women in search of a breakthrough seek out those who specialize in assisting river-crossing or those who make living out of it, and ask about river-crossing despite the potential hardships they may have to face in China. Kim Hak-bong (alias), who has mainly been engaged in human trafficking says, “It is mostly unmarried young women in difficult situations who come to me and beg to be sent to China. That’s why I do it.” He said he doesn’t have to do anything because they come to him on their own. According to Kim, when he get three clients together, he charges 8,000 Yuan per each person and helps them to cross the river; most of them get married to men in rural China. "Although forming a family with a person who has different language and custom is an enormously difficult thing, those women still want to do it.”, he said. When asked how many of those who married Chinese men get to send back help to their families in North Korea, he replied that there aren’t many. No matter how hard they try, it is very difficult to win the trust of the Chinese people they live with. That is because there have been many incidents of North Korean women running away not long after the marriage. According to him, the expectation of living a good life once you go to China is only an illusion.
Most of the Chinese men North Korean women marry are very poor people even among those in rural China. Also, it is not easy to meet a man without mental problems or physical disabilities as marriage partner. In many cases, there is a big age difference or many of the men don’t have a stable job. Even though these women try hard to accept the situation and stay with the man, many end up trying to run away whenever possible as they realize that there is no way they can send some money to their family in North Korea because the situation is extremely destitute. Kim said there are a small number of women who manage to send money to their family in North Korea, and sending about 2,000 Yuan is considered a big amount. Despite this reality, the fact that more North Korean women are trying to sell themselves to Chinese men is an indication that surviving in North Korea is extremely unbearable.

Poor Parents Encourage their Daughter to Cross River to China

North Korean authorities are raising the levels of punishment to prevent people from crossing the river to China. Cell phone users and drug users/buyers receive more than 3 years but less than 7 years of re-education sentence, which is a longer sentence than for those who committed other criminal offenses. Last September 21 to 27, 150,000 inmates nationwide were either pardoned or got their sentence reduced in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Central Party. However, the river-crossers were not even considered for the amnesty. Despite authorities’ strengthening of border enforcement, river-crossing by young women has not ceased. More young women are being sold just like the classic Korean story of Shim-chung where a young girl was sold at the price of three hundred sacks of rice to help heal her father’s blindness.

Some young women cross the river to China voluntarily, but others cross because they are from extremely poor families without even a patch farm and are pressured by their parents to leave as a means to ease the economic burden on the family. The parents suggest that a daughter leave for China on the hopes that the rest of the family can survive if their daughter marry a Chinese man and send home about 2000 Yuan at least once a year. Lim Gye-hwa (alias) said, “During the Arduous March years, I swore to myself that I would never send my daughter to China while other families were sending their daughters to China.” It was also because her child was too young then, but also she could not let her child go at the thought of hardships in a foreign land with different language and custom. So, she endured the difficulties by peddling and potato farming, but they almost starved this past year because they ran out of things to sell. “It is cold winter and there is nothing to use for heating. So, I told my daughter to think about going to China just for the sake of saving herself. I told her I was sorry. It would be good if she goes to China and she can afford to help to the family, but it will be blessing for us even if she just saves herself from starving." She made efforts to stay calm, but soon burst into tears and said, "It breaks my heart because I don’t know when I would be able to see my daughter again."

This is the reality of destitute families in Raynggang Province these days. Just like Mrs. Rim and other poor families, their daughters are the only resource they have, so they are trying everything they can to send their daughters to China.

As the Number of Female Border Crossers Increase, the Youth Education Places Emphasis on Ideological Education


The harsh conditions of this year’s unusual cold and food shortages are leading more women, who are already struggling to survive, to look to border crossing as a solution. Although the number of crossers is small compared to that from the era of the Arduous March, it is significantly increasing in comparison to the past 2 or 3 years. Therefore, youth unity education is emphasized in places like Hyesan City, Baekam County and Samjiyeon County. They are giving two hour long concentrated study programs every week as well as frequent question and answer discussions so that the youth will not be tainted by capitalism. However, the students complained that these study sessions were useless when actual survival is at stake. Lee Dong Hee (alias) said, “Who wants to listen to the same story again and again? No one really pays attention during the class. We all just attend for the formality of it.”

The North Korean government claimed that they will not just stop at increased youth education, but go on to fortify border security. However, the crackdown is only making the crossings more organized and led by professional coyotes. Choi Young Hak (alias), a person specializing in border crossing in Hyesan City, said, “A woman is sold for about 8,000 Yuan. Then, 3,000 of that money goes to those security officers at border patrol who help them out. We coordinate the time and place for border crossing over Chinese-made cell phones.” The officers willingly agree to help due to substantial amount of money they receive in return.

Baekam County Security Guards Receive Bribes to Release Fugitives

Due to the recent rise in the number of runaway females in Baekam county, Ryangkang province, security guards have been specifically allotted to arrest a specific quota of border crossers. However, most security guards receive money to let them escape or even protect them. In mid-November, Jung Kyung Taek (alias) was caught; he was attempting to cross the border to China from Heungam-ri in Musan County with a 21 year old and 22 year old women. Baekam County safety officials took over custody but soon lost them. Baekam County police station immediately dispatched police officers to Yupyong Laborer’s District to search the houses of the female runaways, which turned out to be in vain. The officers stormed into the fugitives’ friends and searched their houses also, only to raise complaints from the residents and neighbors. They complained, “You can’t force people to bring back the runways just because they were friends. In fact, the safety officials might have been paid to let them escape. You investigate among yourselves first.” This reflects the fact that most people know about the relationships between border crossing coyotes and security officials.

Kwangduk Farm in Baekam County Receives Food Distribution in its Entirely this Fall

The Kwangduk Labor District farms in Baekam County, Ryanggang Province, have finished their food distribution for this fall. Although the amount of food distribution differed because each farmer had different number of days he worked through the year, it was confirmed that they had generally received approximately 8 months’ worth of food: five months’ worth of potatoes and three months’ worth of mixed grains. Until the early October, the residents worried, believing they will not even receive half if they set aside rice and pork meat to support military. In addition, many households have ruined their individual small land patch farming due to the frost damages this year as well as last year. Because of these circumstances, nine out of ten farm members were nervous about how much food they can receive from the farm.

According to Han JooHyuk (alias) who is an official of the Provincial Party, military rice was not originally collected in Ryanggang Province, Jagang Province and North and South Hamgyong Province, because they contributed only a small portion of the national grain production. However, due to the lack of military rice, the military exerted pressure on the local parties, so the local parties have been collecting the military rice. But as the food situation had gotten worse and the complaints of the farm members were raised, they got the attention of the Central Party. Finally on October 30th, the Central Party announced that they will stop mandating the collection of military rice, at which every farm member was delighted. If they had had to give up half of their food allotment for the military, they would have had to last one full year with only four-months’ worth of food; but now, they have the full eight-months’ worth of food.

Kaechuk Labor District in Daehongdan County Returns Military Rice
After the announcement of discontinuing military rice remittance obligations, the Kaechuk Labor District farms in Daehongdan County, Ryanggang Province have returned the military rice and allotted pork meats that it had taken in advance. Most of the farm members were pleased, feeling they have retrieved the food that has been forcibly taken away. However, the farm members who raised pigs in advance at home and submitted pork meat to support military to the work unit became unhappy. They had submitted a whole pig they have raised according to the practice of volunteering a pig every year as they expected to receive money for the pork meat or corresponding amount of potatoes from other farm members.

However, they sustained a severe loss because they could not receive potatoes from other farm members in lieu of the meat even though they had already given over a pig. As the plan to stock up on their share of potatoes shattered, the affected farmers vented their rage to their supervisors saying, “We lost a pig. Compensate us for the price of a pig quickly.” Some farmers in Sahmbong Farm who had also suffered a similar loss assaulted their supervisors in anger.




North Korea Today No. 380, December 8, 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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Three Drug Trafficking Rings Busted in North Hamgyong Province

Three Reasons Why Drug Dealing Couldn’t Be Stopped

“Drugs are like alcohol or tobacco.”

First Phase of Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant Construction Completed

Theft Problems Involving Special Labor Brigade Members of Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant

The Story of a Laborer and His Wife at Chungjin Port

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Three Drug Trafficking Rings Busted in North Hamgyong Province

Back in September and October 2010, the North Hamgyong Province National Security Agency had busted three drug trafficking rings after extensive two-month long investigations into patterns of drug production and trafficking. In early September a major transit route was tracked down first. Agents intercepted a car transporting drugs from Chungjin to Musan at the Gomoo mountain checkpoint. They seized 3 Kilograms of drugs and arrested the driver and carriers. The police raided two locations, a drug manufacturing place in Chungjin and a trafficking location in Musan using the information obtained from the interrogation of the driver and carriers. The other drug trafficking ring was arrested in Onsung County. They were smuggling 1 Kilogram of drugs into China by bribing a border security guard. In the beginning of October, a woman in her 40’s from Chungjin was arrested at the Namyang Customs office by an enforcement agent who noticed her awkward walking as she was trying to smuggle 400g of drugs hidden in her body. Her arrest was led to arrest of drug producers as well as the people who sold the drugs to her. Since the majority of the drugs produced in North Korea are smuggled into China, the North Korean government is facing strong reactions from China. While China is cracking down on drug smuggling into their own country it is asking North Korea to exercise strong drug enforcement. North Korea has agreed to do so to lessen the chance of causing diplomatic friction between the two countries.

Three Reasons Why Drug Dealing Couldn’t Be Stopped

Although the North Korean government has been undertaking serious actions to deal with the widespread drug dealing as a serious criminal offense, drug addiction problem is rapidly rising. A National Security agent in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong province, mentioned three reasons for the rising drug addiction. First, people don’t know how dangerous these drugs can be. The use of narcotics is higher among men than women and geographically higher in the countryside than in urban areas. They consider “Ice” (methamphetamine) as a means to treat sickness. A number of myths surround the use of ‘ice’. Some say that it cures headaches, colitis, stomach ulcers, and digestion problems that could not be treated by any other medicines. Others say that it makes them feel happy and gets rid of fatigue from economic burdens. Doctors warn that a small amount of this drug as medicine can become addictive as bigger doses are necessary to feel the effect. Although it gives temporary pain relief, it can cause serious mental illnesses in the long run. However North Koreans can’t afford to think about the long term consequences. They need to have the drugs as a substitute for the significant shortages of medicines. Secondly, drug trafficking, although risky, has a high profit margin. To drug dealers, there is no reason to give up such a highly profitable business. As long as they don’t get caught, they can make a significant amount of money. Even if they get caught and arrested, they can be bailed out by paying bribes unless it’s a “making an example” arrest. Thirdly, drug traffickers are protected by local party officials, national security agents and police officers and not easily get caught because the profit is split with them.
The increase in the number of patients in mental hospitals also confirms the fact that the enforcement on drug trafficking is not effective at all. In Hamheung city, known as the drug production capital, the number of mentally ill patients caused by drug use has increased by an average of 100 patients per month in 2010, compared to an average of 40-50 per month in 2007, 50-60 per month in 2008, and 80-90 per month in 2009. The ever-increasing levels of punishment for drug crime ranging from re-education, life imprisonment, to capital punishment is an indication of difficulties of drug enforcement activities.

“Drugs are like alcohol or tobacco.”

Drug usage among North Korean youths is becoming increasingly common. Chul Lim, a student at Chungjin College of Mining in North Hamgyong Province said that “youths are abusing drugs so much that it is becoming almost as frequent as drinking or smoking.” His dorm buddies, for instance, use drugs to relieve homesick and stress. When asked how students afforded drugs when they could hardly afford food, he answered that many of them become drug dealers. Not only do they sell drugs to their peers, but keep some of the drugs for themselves. They also lie to their families that they need additional money for living expenses and ask them to send some. One parent even reported to the school because his son’s demands for additional money were becoming unusually frequent. Some parents even withdraw their children from the schools. The School and the Security Departments have noted this problem and have been educating students about the dangers of drug abuse, but such efforts have not proven to be effective.

First Phase of Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant Construction Completed

On September 30th, First Phase construction of the Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant, located in the Chunsoo Labor District in Baekam County, Ryanggang Province, was completed. There was a celebration for the successful completion of the first phase, but the dam construction did not receive a good evaluation. The Seodoosoo River was contained with a dam, but due to some leakage, it was suggested that the gate be repaired. The Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant is one of the major construction projects, so its progress is directly reported to Chairman Kim Jong-Il. The Central Party had issued the directive saying, "In order to promote economic development and resolve the electricity problems, each province must dispatch a special labor brigade to the construction site to carry out the job." Accordingly, each province mobilized a special labor brigade Unit and provided labor forces. Although it was one of the national projects that received nationwide support, the workers suffered a great deal due to lack of materials and supplies. In March, the food supply was suspended, wreaking havoc. Even after the food supply was resumed, a shortage persisted. To tackle the problem, the provinces of South Hwanghae, South Pyongan, and South Hamgyong reduced the amount of food for each meal, and for the month of June, they distributed only two meals a day.
As the situation worsened, officials in charge of construction convened an emergency meeting of the Support Bureau of the provinces and reported the situation to the Central Party. The Central Party, in turn, summoned the General Secretaries and Chiefs of the People's Committee of each city and province and strongly encouraged them to fully commit to the guaranteed food supply to the special labor brigade units at the Sungoon Power Plant. Nevertheless, due to prevailing serious food shortage, there were few local parties that could provide food for the brigade. They could only show meager support to avoid reprimands. As the food shortage continued, the regiment of commando units issued a clandestine instruction to their relative battalion to “illegally organize Support Bureaus and secure food supply," which was viewed as authorization to steal from the neighborhood farms. Stealing had been going on for some time, and farms had filed complaints even to the regiment level, but this instruction was deemed equivalent to an approval of action by the battalions. In this way, the unit was able to live through the summer.

Theft Problems Involving Special Labor Brigade Members of Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant

The Backam County, Ryangang Province is having difficult times due to problems caused by special labor brigade unit members at Sungoon Chungnyun power plant construction site in Baekdu Mountain. As the food shortage worsened, the members organized themselves into groups of 5-6 men and stole from vacant houses in nearby villages. The thieves were extremely active this past May and June, but the situation has somewhat improved by this harvest season. The First Battalion of the North Hwanghae Regiment sent their commando unit members to periodically supply food to the Yupyung Labor District. Several members wore masks and stole as a group. The district’s residents knew who the group members were, but could not protest strongly. The residents had no recourse even when they filed reports at the Police Station, for the Regiment denied them, saying "What evidence do you have that the masked thieves are members of our commando unit?" Some commando unit members went further to Yeonsa County, and got caught. Six members stole from vacant houses in the Shinyang Labor District in Yeonsa County, but got caught while they were selling the stolen items in the Yeonsa-eup market. They were transported to the Yeonsa County Police department and tried at the County court, and received re-education sentences.

The Story of a Laborer and His Wife at Chungjin Port

Jang ,Kyu-man is a resident of Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, and a worker at Port Chungjin. His two daughters have been wedded off, and now it is just him and his wife, trying to make a living together. “There is not much work available at the port. Nearly half of the port has ceased to run,” said Jang. This means that there is neither fixed wage nor fixed ration. Whereas the government vests a lot of importance on the Gimchaek Steel Mill, and its workers receive regular rations, the Port is for the most part neglected. Its workers eventually turn to paddling and roam about the city with a bagful of squids and seaweeds for sale. They ride bicycles to places farther away. Jang smiled brightly as he said that their second hand bike is their most prized possession. “During squid seasons I can earn money by drying, wrapping, and transporting squids. In the spring we go to the mountains and look for vegetables to eat. In the fall, we go around collecting tree branches and weeds to be used for firewood since we can’t afford coal.
We are too poor to start a business of our own, so we are trying to find any paying job,” he said. “Sometimes our daughters send us money,” Jang continued, “and we are so grateful and proud of them for thinking of our welfare when they must also be having a hard time. He added, “We grow worried that we might become ill as we age and not be able to work. But for now, my wife and I are healthy, and that is all I can ask for.”

North Korea Today No. 379, December 1, 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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Party’s Decision to Settle 1,000 Retired Soldiers in Paekam County

Unsuccessful Mass Housing Program for Retired Soldiers in Daehongdan County

Residents of Daehongdan County Demand Permission for Small Land Patch Farming

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Director Praised as a Hero Engaged Exploiting Child Labor

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Need Support from the Government

“Kim Jong-Eun’s Birthday—A Holiday to be Widely Celebrated”

“What is the Use of having a Strong Military When People are Starving?”

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Party’s Decision to Settle 1,000 Retired Soldiers in Paekam County

The Paekam County Local Party, which will accommodate 1,000 newly retired soldiers, is busy constructing new residential developments. The edict came from the Central Party, and Ryangkang Province officials have assigned each local party with the responsibility of constructing a minimum of 10 to 20 buildings. While Province officials have not explicitly voiced their concerns, there is a growing unease concerning how the project will be funded.

This situation is comparable to the 1999 measure that ordered the Daehongdan County Local Party to accommodate 1,200 retired soldiers. It began in 1998, when Kim Jong Il, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, mandated that Daehongdan County officials enlist a group of retired soldiers for potato farming. Under Chairman Kim’s command as well as the instruction of the Ryangkang Province Party Commission, each administrative district, including that of Hyesan City, Paekam County, Samjiyon County, and Samsu County, built 10 to 20 residential buildings. The total number of buildings constructed amounted to 190 for 350 households, with each complex designed for one or two families.
In addition to housing, each retired soldier was also provided with food rations, a television, medical supplies, a dishware set, two blankets, bedclothes, formal suits and confectionary products. Other goods, generally unavailable to average citizens, were allocated to the retired soldiers in state-run stores. The Party even ordered that retired soldiers be given priority considerations for managerial and administrative positions. Moreover, officials took the initiative to depict retired soldiers as heroes and promote their eligibility for marriage with urban bachelorettes. Accordingly, in April and May of 1999, two groups of wedding ceremonies were supported and arranged by officials.

However, support for these retired soldiers eventually ceased. Although there were announcements that food rationing would resume in the latter half of 2005, the national situation became worse over the next year. Ryangkang Province’s circumstances were particularly severe since citizens of the region relied on potatoes for their main form of sustenance. As a result, the standard of living for these retired soldiers and their families dropped and those who had the ability to leave Daehongdan County did so.

The retired soldiers were also afflicted with high divorce rates. One factor explaining the situation was the lifestyle incompatibility between the spouses. Yet, the more critical reason placed blame on the difficulties retired soldiers and their families had to face due to the cessation of food rationing. This issue led to many women pleading with their husbands to agree to divorces. However, their requests were both largely rejected by the husbands and forbidden by the Party. As a consequence, many wives ran away and left their husbands alone to raise two or three children. In light of this failure, local residents are skeptical about the success of the Party’s decision to again relocate a group of retired soldiers in Paekam County.

Unsuccessful Mass Housing Program for Retired Soldiers in Daehongdan County

In Daehongdan County, residents are worried about the news of a mass housing plan to send more than 1,000 retired soldiers to Paekam County in April next year because they had previously experienced a very hard time from a similar plan. Although it was hard for the retired soldiers who were forced to relocate to Deahongdan County in 1999, the residents in the neighboring areas also suffered from the resettlement.

Since the government favored the retired soldiers and treated them much better, residents of Daehongdan County used to say, “We are not human beings. Only those 1,200 retired soldiers are deemed to be human.” Farmers in the collective farms also expressed their frustration, saying, “The government gives food ration only to those 1,200 people. We must not be needed here, so we will not work.” The government’s favoritism paved the road for a conflict between the residents and the retired soldiers.

However, the good times for the retired soldiers did not last long. When the country was hit by the food crisis in 2006, and the government’s food rations dwindled, the family of the soldiers had to sell everything they received from the government including dining ware, bed linen and comforters, various household items, and TV sets. As their livelihoods severely deteriorated, many began to steal agricultural crops, pesticides, fertilizers, and other agricultural supplies from the collective farms to sell in the market. If caught, ordinary farmers would be severely punished, but retired soldiers only received light punishments or warnings, which aggravated farmers even more. A collective farm member Kim Haeseong (alias) said, “The retired soldiers are always pardoned by the special order of the Dear Leader. They only get very light punishments or are put in an educational session and that is it. They couldn’t be treated more differently from us.” Although the solders suffered through hard times in those days, residents who had it even worse felt bitter. The mass housing of retired soldiers is remembered as a nightmare to the soldiers as well as the residents.

Residents of Daehongdan County Demand Permission for Small Land Patch Farming

Small Land Patch Farming is not allowed in Daehongdan Country, Ryanggang Province. The Party prohibits it because of the geographical peculiarity of the region with its high mountains and the high possibility of fire on the hillsides. Another reason for the prohibition is that it can promote selfishness and encourage the farmers to neglect the work for the nation. Residents disagree: “The government is not providing us with food and prohibits us from farming too. Do they want us to just die?” The residents’ discontent grew even greater when they received news from traders who travel between Musan and Hyesan that farming is allowed in those places. Shin Hyundeok (alias), who lives in Sambong labor district, has a relative in Onseong. He heard that Onseong County allowed private farming by the County Party’s own measure last year even when it was prohibited nationally.

At first, the Party prohibited farming as in everywhere else, but it withdrew the measure when it faced an intense opposition from residents and the worsening food crisis. As a result, Onseong County didn’t have anyone starve to death even while the rest of the nation was suffering from severe food crisis after the currency reform last year. Shin told this story to his colleagues, and the news spread to everyone. Some residents started criticizing their County Party for not taking measures like the Party of Onseong County. Petitions to “allow small land patch farming to old people and chronic patients who cannot work in their designated work areas” were only met with a firm “no.”

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Director Praised as a Hero Engaged in Exploiting Child Labor

Hee Sun Lee, an orphanage director in Poongseo-ri, Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province was recently honored by the government as a maternal hero. Lee and her husband have raised orphans since 1994, when their son died while serving in the national army.

At the time, which was during the Arduous March, the number of orphans significantly increased due to the ongoing famine. Lee subsequently met her first orphan at a train station who she claimed reminded her of her deceased son. Since taking this child in, the number of children under her care has reached 170, but has decreased to 150 in 2008, and currently remains at 100.

Due to the softening of North-South relations at the time, as well as the publicity Lee and her husband accumulated through Chosun Central Television and other written sources, the Poongseo-ri Orphanage received major support from South Korean organizations as well as international aid associations. When World Food Program (WFP) workers came to evaluate aid distribution in Onsung County at the end of July in 2008, the county proudly introduced the orphanage as the location to check on the status of its children’s health and living conditions.

Despite their praise from the media, the Lee’s reputation among local citizens is troubling. Locals, who are aware of the internal state of the orphanage, claim that orphans are often forced into labor, ill-treated and sexually abused. They also claim that orphanage workers siphon off donated items.

“The children are treated cruelly and not as humans. They are almost treated like how the slaves were treated by their owners in the old days. Everyone here knows of the couples’ behavior and their sexual abuse of the orphans,” assert villagers who live in the vicinity of the orphanage. Their criticisms continue, “With the country honoring such a couple, there is not one person who is not laughing at the irony and hypocrisy of the situation. The government is doing nothing to stop the praise of the orphanage’s work because it is recognized as part of our national pride. Some Party leaders must have been heavily bribed by the Lee couple to stay quiet. But ultimately, the primary concern of the state should to be to secure proper treatment of the children.”

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Need Support from the government

In the midst of the notorious doings by the director couple of the childcare center at Poongseo-ri Onsung-gun, Geumsun Cho supports Director Lee saying, “Without any support from the government, anyone will end up being like that. I have seen her for a long time and she is a nice person. They started bringing a few kids without parents with a warm heart, but then the government pushed them to raise more kids and the number of the children increased up to 170. This uncontrollable condition made them go through hardships. The government supported them with nothing but a small farmland for their self-support.

However, without any farm managers, there was no one who takes care of the land. The couple could not find a way to cultivate it so that they couldn’t help but to make the children work on it for the survival of all. So that’s how the criticism of abuses got started. International organizations have aided them but it is still hard to care a large group of children only with the aids. Supposedly they have siphoned off some of the aid supplies, and that is certainly not a desirable thing but everyone does the same thing in this country, starting with the officials. The orphanage directors are not inherently bad; it’s the system that should be blamed. Cho also added that part of Lees’ conducts appeared to be bad, but that was only because of the burden that overwhelmed what they were able to do. He also claims that “if they ended up with 3 or 4 children, it would be totally fine. But having more than 100 children is not easy at all. Constant interest and support from the government is necessary for it to be successful. Otherwise, the problems that Lees have faced will be raised again, no matter who takes the job.”

“Kim Jong-Eun’s Birthday—A Holiday to be Widely Celebrated”

Since mid-October, the Department of Propaganda of Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, has held lectures for party secretaries at each factory, workplace and public institution for the sake of implementing policies created at the Fourth Party Representative Conference. The lectures mainly emphasized abiding to the teachings of the late Great Leader by honoring the Party Central Committee with a resolute spirit and endeavoring to create a strong and prosperous nation in 2012 at all costs. The lectures also mentioned the accomplishments of the “Young General” Kim Jong-Eun as well as the honor and pride the people will have to serve another great man.

During the lecture, the Director of the City Party Propaganda Department surprised a public enterprise secretary sitting in the front row by asking him to list the national holidays. Although flustered, the secretary managed to list 2.16 (Kim Jong Il’s birthday), 4.15 (Day of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s birthday), 10.10 (the Party Foundation Day), New Year’s Day, Cheongmyong (a seasonal subdivision) and Chuseok (Thanksgiving Day). In response, the Director sighed and said, “You still have a lot to learn. January 8th, the birthday of the ‘Young General (Kim Jong Eun),’ is also one of our biggest holidays. You should not forget this.” Other Party secretaries who did not know the birthday of Kim Jong Eun, the Vice-Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission, took out notepads and wrote this information down. Watching this, one official clicked his tongue and called them slow-witted for not knowing about it already.

“What is the use of having a strong military when people are starving?”

The residents of Hamheung city in South Hamgyong Province are complaining about not being able to sleep because of the bone-chilling cold temperature as cold weather continues as falling temperatures plummet below freezing point. Although officials and the wealthy can stock up plenty of coal and firewood at home, the ordinary citizens can only obtain them as needed. They try to get firewood when they are unable to obtain coal and collect leaves and twigs when firewood is not available. On the days when none of those are available they cannot even dream of heating, so they use fuel only for cooking rice only for a minute. The children who are not mature enough to understand the situation whine about being cold, and old people groan in pain instead of complaining verbally. It is so cold that frost and water droplets can be seen along the inner walls of the house, and white steam out of your breath is visible even inside a room as you wake in the morning and talk. People sleep with their clothes on because of the cold temperature. For that reason many people keep the same clothes on throughout the day and night. They keep the outdoor clothing while living in the house during the day and then go to bed wearing the same clothes because the temperature inside and outside is not that much different. People would be able to stand the cold weather if they can fill their stomach a little bit, but the days of cold and hunger are continuing because there is not enough food. As such, the Party’s propaganda of being world’s strongest military power with the development of long-range missiles, launching satellites, and having nuclear weapons are likely to fall on a deaf ear. Many people cry in resentment, “What is the use of being a military superpower? People's lives over nearly 20 years remain the same without the slightest improvement. Only the officials are being treated like human beings while the ordinary people are dying with hunger. If this is what a powerful, strong and prosperous nation is all about, we don’t need it.”

North Korea Today No.378 November 24, 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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Reps of Overseas Worry over Extra Costs on Heecheon Power Plant Construction

Residents Grow Hostile to New Manager of Cattle Ranch in Daehongdan County

“80% of the Officials in Daehongdan County are Incompetent”

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Resident’s Opinion;
“The Policy Feeds Only the Rich”

“Still Do Not Know Why the Currency Exchange Ratio is 100:1”

Even the Rice Traders could not Predict the Soaring Prices

“The Central Party was Flustered as People’s Complaints Soared”
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North Korean Representatives Overseas Worry about Request for Extra Contribution toward Heecheon Power Plant Construction
After the 65th celebration of the Party Foundation, the Central Party pushed representatives of North Korea in foreign countries and trade companies for extra contributions in speeding up construction of the Heecheon power plant. The Party requested support through material goods or cash for a sum total of $10 million before the end of the year. The representatives were opposed to this request due to their past assistance in both cash and materials. An official from one of the trade companies expressed his discomfort, saying, “How are we to survive giving this additional support? We are obliged to provide assigned contributions and send a great sum to the party every year, but business is currently not at all good. I don’t know what to do in this situation.” He continued, “Because they did not specifically calculate the cost of construction at the onset, there resulted an unexpected extra cost. They assumed that 1 million would be enough, so they asked a company in Dandong to contribute $100,000, and some other companies the rest. But it is not enough, so they are asking for additional contributions. The situation doesn’t seem like it will change before the construction is complete.” Some officials overseas also lamented this order, yet hoping for an improved situation, said, “We expected the young general to develop the economy as a successor of the great Kim Jong-Il, and we could not have imagined increased financial burdens on the overseas representatives. We wish he would build up economic cooperation with China to stabilize the country’s economic situation.”

Residents Grow Hostile toward the Newly Appointed Manager of the Cattle Ranch in Daehongdan County

Animosity against Young-Il Kim, the newly appointed manager of a cattle ranch in Daehongdan County, Pyongyang Province, has been growing among the residents. Kim did not receive a proper education as a child due to financial difficulties and grew up to become a hoodlum.

By a stroke of luck, he made a lot of money in the agriculture business. Not content with his wealth, he bribed political appointees and became the manager of the ranch. Kim began to abuse his newly gained power. Chun Myung Lee was his first victim. Lee complained to Kim that the waste from Kim’s ranch was flowing into a ditch next to his house, and demanded that the sewer releasing the waste be relocated. Kim, irritated by the constant complaints, ordered assailants to break into Lee’s house, destroy his property and beat him up. When Lee retaliated by reporting this to the Party, Kim was able to avoid punishment by bribing the leading secretary.

However, the residents did not cease their complaining. His relationships with several women, wrecking livelihoods and families, hoarding funds, constant cursing, and his use of violence were enough to create a commotion. The employees of the ranch reminisced about their former manager, whom they claim had a good reputation and skills but was ousted from his position because he was honest and refused to brown nose his superiors. “The ranch is becoming a laughing stock because some uneducated hoodlum with no skills became manager of it by using cajolery and bribes. This is proof of how corrupt our supposedly socialist society really has become inside and out,” voiced the people. Eight large cows, ten calves, and fifteen sheep have died this year due to unsanitary conditions and poor management.

“80% of the Officials in Daehongdan are Incompetent”

In addition to the people who get into trouble because they notably do something wrong like Yong-Il Kim, the distrust of the officials was profound among the residents in Daehongdan County. One officer in Daehongdan County expressed his worries that he heard a lot of words that he could not dare to include in the report. “The ignorant people wield money, seize the power and only brag regardless of whether the ordinary people are alive or dead. 80% of the officials in Daehongdan are incompetent and they cannot accomplish any work assigned but only talk big thereby injuring the authority of the Party,” he says words such as these are coming out indiscriminately. He also says that it seems like the people’s dissatisfaction towards Kim Yong-Il spreads into the entire officials.

This was a change after the currency exchange; people used to keep their tongue under a bridle and tried to watch out the officials in the past, but they blame the officials without reserve these days, according to him. He further stated that the voices that concern the future of the country are heard loud and these people worry about how the society can be maintained when the ignorant people pose as the intelligent or the officials.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Resident’s Opinion, “The Policy Feeds Only the Rich”

It has been almost a year since the currency reform. When residents were interviewed about the reform, they described it as a nightmare that they can never forget. Young-man Kim (alias), living in Pyongsung City, criticized it as “a bad policy where the rich get more money than the poor.” With the currency reform at the end of last year, officials dispatched from each city, and district officials, officials at the Secretary Department, and police officers became the new rich, or cumulated many assets.

Each household was restricted to exchanging only one hundred thousand won in old currency with the new currency, so many traders and the wealthy in rural areas directly traded with officials from the cities by using their personal connections. Bankers and officials of the party or legal affair units received more than 20% as commission of the illegal exchange. Traders without enough assets became victims, proverbial ants falling down on the burning pot, forced to ask poor residents to exchange their money with new currency, and paying these residents 30 ~ 50% as commission. Mr. Kim expressed his dissatisfaction and resentment once again by stating, “Under this bad policy, those with money can evade it, but those without must endure it to death.”

[One Year of the Currency Reform] “Still Do Not Know Why the Currency Exchange Ratio is 100:1”

As Pyongsung Market, which used to be the biggest wholesale market in North Korea, was suddenly closed, the people who received the severe damages say that they still have a lot of doubts about this currency exchange. Kang Ji-Young (alias), who lives in Pyongsungdong, says, “Before and after the currency exchange, the government did not provide a specific and detailed explanation about this. There was just a sudden overnight notice that 100,000 old NK won will be changed into 1,000 new NK won per household. I asked why the exchange ratio was not the same but was 100:1, but no explicit response was given.”

“The currency exchange worker only said that the new currency will be exchanged at the ratio to 100:1 from now on because the price of the entire commodities including food will be arranged at the 1/100th of the original price. I was not able to understand at all what that meant when I heard it. Everyone who heard the explanation together was puzzled and half in doubt, and they said they did not know the reason. Moreover, people had various opinions when it was said that the market will be closed, every commodity will be dealt in the stores only and food will be sold at the Local Grain Policy Enterprises only. I could not do anything for a while as the immediate way of making a living was blocked,” says Jang Il-Hak (alias), who lives in Eundukdong. It has been a while since then, but the reality is that people still cannot properly purchase commodities or food in the state-run stores or the Local Grain Policy Enterprises.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Even the Rice Traders could not Predict the Soaring Prices

The food situation has become worse for the people in Pyongseong city who had been able to reserve 3 to 6 months worth of food in the past, but find it now difficult to obtain even a week’s worth of food.

A number of families have difficulties securing food for day to day living. It is an especially bad condition for them as they lived so well next to people in Pyongyang thanks to the Pyongseong market. To survive, they have resorted to trading food in secret. Kyongok Kim (alias), a rice trader in the Jurye village reported that “soon after the enactment of the currency exchange act, we traded food ourselves and converted the old currencies to new currencies, because the government did not set the food price.

After some time, the new market price was established by the market regulators. At that time, very few traders sold food at the new market price. The rice price went up over time. Regulators said not to sell rice in the markets so the rice was hard to sell. Moreover, people withheld rice from the market hoping that they could sell at higher prices later. Rice prices kept soaring. I was anxious every day because it was so uncertain even for me when to sell the rice to obtain the maximum profit.” Consumers suffered even more because they could not obtain food during these times. Even rice traders could not predict the outcome.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] “The Central Party was Flustered as People’s Complaints Soared

An executive of the Central Party reported that people were much more upset than outside people thought. Even Pyongyang citizens conceded, saying that “people were all stunned facing such gloomy and miserable situations. Everyone was confused. People who have lived the painful life became even more enraged and cursed the situation.”

A trade officer who commutes between Hamheung and Wonsan city reported that “it was scary that other regions could explode at any time.” Wherever you go, people concluded that “the currency exchange act made their lives worse.” They even said that “it was an act to kill people because it closed the market without providing an alternative supply system.” “What kind of a rascal ordered such an act?” People strongly complained to the Central Party.

The wealthy merchants who lost almost all of their assets overnight went to the administrative committee of the City Party and complained “why are the prices not at levels you originally promised?” They complained not as individuals but as a group, demanding that “if you cannot drop prices, exchange the money back to the original rate at a one-to-one exchange ratio.” Shaken by the group protest, the County Party reported to the City Party; and the City Party reported to the Provincial Party; and the Provincial Party reported to the Central Party. This has been happening repeatedly.

An executive of the Central Party said that they have continuously received reports about similar disturbances that took place in major cities such as Hamheung, Chungjin, Pyongseong and Wonsan city. He has interpreted that “one of the reasons that former Prime Minister Kim Yong Il apologized at the cabinet and the 5.26 executive order was not only because of the major problems such as increasing the number of people who starved to death and the collapse of the national economy as a whole, but also because they could no longer ignore continuous protests from these beleaguered people.”

That means the Central Party had to abandon the strong measures against the market because the people’s complaints were higher than expected amidst social and economic turmoil, unrest and the increasing number of people who died of starvation.

North Korea Today No. 377 November 17, 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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N. Hamgyong Residents Complain, “Are We the Only Ones Supplying Military Provisions?”

Speaking on China’s Advancements: Is It A Crime?

Travel Hindered by Identification Card System Change Delay

Military Ordered to Adopt CNC System

Collectors Unwilling to Sell Pine Mushrooms to the 39th Chamber

China Visiting Passes Being Issued Immediately

Motorcycle Craze Among Security Institution Agents

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North Hamgyong Province Residents Complain, “Are We the Only Ones Supplying Military Provisions?”

Despite the news that the responsibility for citizens to supply military provisions will be annulled nationwide, North Hamgyong Province residents are still waiting for this proclamation to come into effect. Due to the abnormal climate and minimal flood damage in the North Hamgyong Province, both Hoeryong City and Onsong Village have had bountiful harvests this year, with the latter distributing its surplus to residents. Accordingly, the government has focused on exclusively collecting provisions from the North Hamgyong Province, since the Ryangkang, Kangwon, North Pyongan as well as the North and South Hwanghae Provinces were projected to have significant harvest decreases. Actual declines in these provinces, however, were minimal. Citizens have voiced their concerns over the matter, including an Onsong village manager, who stated that “if the government continues to impose this task solely on the North Hamgyong Province, residents will suffer from starvation next year.”

Speaking on China’s Advancements: Is It A Crime?

Young-Gwang Kim, a retired professor at Mine University in Eun-Duk, North Hamkyong was a well-liked and respected faculty member by co-workers and students. Professor Kim had recently returned from a visit to relatives in China whom he had not seen in 10 years. Upon his return, he expressed to friends of his surprise at China’s vast economic growth:

“After China ended their public distribution system and opened up their markets, the lives of the people started improving every year. They are receiving funds and importing skills from advanced nations and are rising to the same level as them in many aspects. People are allowed to earn money overseas or at home at their will. I was surprised at how self sufficient the people have become, no longer solely relying on the State. Additionally, everyone was free to express their thoughts and refer them directly to the Central Party. There was no need for a certificate of travel to go anywhere nor security checks; China wasn’t the same.”

It was no surprise to many because they have already made frequent trips to China for various reasons, but the people still listened intently to what Professor Kim had to say for he was an honest and faithful person to the Party and focused on his studies. Professor Kim’s accounts spread through the town and Professor Kim was called in by the Security Department to be questioned on the validity of his statements. Others would have panicked, but Professor Kim answered calmly:

“China is also a socialist country and an ally of our nation so I told the truth. Is it a crime to objectively express what I have seen and heard? I have never gone against the Party’s word to this day. I even fixed the signal for my radio and TV to view only our nations programs. What I have said about China is what I have experienced. What is wrong with that? Didn’t our Leader highly rate the advancement of China and was happy about it? After going to China, I realized that our Leader was right. It is as if I have seen, heard, and memorized the words of the Leader but why am I being questioned?”

The guards were at a loss for words, and after ordering him never to speak on the subject again said they would send him home after he signed an oath. Despite the concerns of those around him, he came out unscathed; however, Professor Kim continued to question how commenting on the well-being of another country can be the same as complaining about [North] Korea’s state of affairs?

The Security Department is concerned that if the people continue discussing and learning about China’s advancements that they would naturally question their current state with respect to China and engender calls for reforms to open their own country. The Security Department is countering through propaganda asserting that China’s advancement is attributed to its abundant resources and large workforce rather than to changes in their socioeconomic policies. Moreover, they seem to suggest that China only appears to have changed by claiming that visitors have only been to the wealthy parts of China.

Travel Hindered by Identification Card System Change Delay

The national initiative to change the identification card system, which started in the beginning of the year, is still in the works. Many, including Kim, a resident of Baekam County, Ryanggang Province who often journeys to Hyesan City on business, are discontent over the issue because sufficient identification is required for citizens to pass through safety agencies when traveling domestically. Nevertheless, the largest complaint concerning the change is that new regulations are stricter than ever before. Hyesan resident Young Guk Chang claims that people are discontent with having to constantly present identification cards to authorities in order to prove their citizenship. He further notes that, since the livelihood of security guards is contingent upon the amount of transgressors they apprehend, guards randomly question anyone walking in the streets, particularly when the new residential developments in the Yu Pyong Labor District of Baekam town, Baekam County were under construction. Identification cards in North Korea are comparable to social security cards in South Korea. People receive them when they turn 17 years old. While this system has been under constant reform for the past 10 to 15 years, the previous attempt for change, which was halted due to a lack of funding, occurred in 2004.

Military Ordered to Adopt CNC System

There was a recent movement in North Korea to adopt the computerized numerical control system (CNC), primarily driven by the regime’s order for the CNC system to be used in all economic construction fields. Orders have even reached military bases to adopt the CNC system. A Central Party official said the goal of this initiative is not to modernize the army by creating state-of-art equipment; it is to enhance and improve the ideology and policies of each base by 10%. This indicates that CNC is more than a simple machinery operation method. The regime promotes CNC to be embedded in the regime's system to represent change and development.

Collectors Unwilling to Sell Pine Mushrooms to the 39th Chamber

Last September was the season for collecting pine mushrooms. Since the pine mushroom business is particularly profitable, the government maintains a monopoly on purchases and requires that all collectors sell to the Fifth Management Department under the 39th Chamber. Collectors, however, prefer to sell on the black market where they can receive 2,000 won per kilogram of mushrooms. This issue came to the attention of the Fifth Management Department who responded by dispatching agents to collecting regions. Agents go directly to people’s residences and even patrol streets to ensure that mushrooms are not black marketed. Their methods are almost forceful, so when people return home from collecting, they typically do so late at night or through mountain path detours. Mushrooms are then sold as soon as possible. Jeonghak Jang, who has collected pine mushrooms for over 10 years, states that “if the party sets proper prices, I would not go this far [to sell on the black market].” He further notes that “mushrooms of the best quality are purchased [by the government] for only 1,000 won per kilogram. Everyone knows their actual value nowadays, so who would give their mushrooms to them? Although [collectors] do not expect black market prices, the government needs to evaluate the situation and pay us properly.”

China Visiting Passes Being Issued Immediately

The anticipated “Residents’ Border Pass” will be issued immediately this year. In the past, travel over the northern border first required approval from job officials and district agents for workers and non-working civilians, respectively. Applicants then visited police stations for background checks and, afterwards, had to receive final approval from city and county secretaries as well as the heads of their particular provincial security departments. Accordingly, receiving authorization typically entailed a wait of at least three months, and in some cases, several years. However, the process will be dramatically shortened by the new issuance of visiting passes. Residents to be issued passes have been attending a series of lectures over three days where they have been encouraged to bring back whatever new items, rice and money they can obtain with no restriction. Although the process involves offering expensive bribes to police officers, security agents and other related officials, the number of people submitting applications is on the rise.

Motorcycle Craze Among Security Institution Agents

With the ongoing shortage of gasoline, fuel efficient motorcycles are now the preferred mode of travel over other types of vehicles. Accordingly, the number of motorcycles in Baikam County, Ryanggang Province has been increasing. In the Hyesan Department Store in Hyesan City, an employee attests that motorcycles are difficult to buy because of a supply shortage. Nevertheless, their main customers are police officers and security guards coming from Nampo City, South Pyongan Province and as far as Wonsan City, Kangwon Province, who purchase several motorcycles at a time. The employee hinted that these purchases are “for business purposes” as it is a growing practice to resell motorcycles for profit in areas of demand.

The most popular brand is the “Haoz,” also known as the Haoz Suzuki Bella. In Hyesan City, a 125cc Haoz sells for 6,000 Chinese yuan, which can be resold for 1,800 U.S. dollars in cities like Nampo or Wonsan. Hyesan City exchange rates are typically 250 and 1,800 won to the yuan and dollar, respectively. One who purchases a Haoz for the equivalent of 1.50 million won can thus resell it for 3.24 million won and more than double one’s initial investment. Despite these exorbitant price markups, sales are growing as demands are also increasing in the lower provinces (e.g. Hwanghae, South Pyongan and Kangwon Provinces).

Motorcycle wholesale businesses are generally controlled by security institution agents (e.g. police officers and security guards) who are relatively unhindered by regulations. This was found to be the case on the 30th of October, when Cheolryong Cho (alias), a Hyesan train station employee, reported seeing more than 10 motorcycles in a Pyongyang bound train, all of which turned out to belong to security institution agents. One can also commonly hear calls for motorcycle orders in the Hyesan City post office, according to a worker, who recently heard one officer ordering 125cc Haozs for 2,000 U.S. dollars each. Not long ago in Hyesan City’s Kanggu district, a security officer head was caught by the border patrol for conspiring with smugglers who attempted to bring 6 motorcycles (2 for him and 4 for the smugglers) in from China. After losing his job, the former officer was expelled from the Party.

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