North Korea Today No. 388, February 2, 2011

[“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.]
Mortality Rate of the Elderly Rising in Pyongyang due to Cold Temperature

Chungjin Kkotjebies (Homeless Youths) Go to Steel Mill Ash Piles for Warmth

Merchants in Sariwon, "You need 1 million won for a round trip to Chungjin.”

Torture that Nobody Knows About Except Women Who Work as Household Maids

“I Will Gather Shellfish Rather Than Cultivate the Soil,” Say Farmers in Bongsan Collective Farm __________________________________________________________________________

Mortality Rate of the Elderly Rising in Pyongyang

According to an official, the morality rate of the elderly has been increasing noticeably since last December. Physicians at the People’s Hospital in Pyongyang have attributed this sudden rise to cold temperatures and hunger which have been exacerbating the elderly’s existing conditions, such as malnutrition, tuberculosis and heart disease. According to another government official, official death statistics note that “about 40 to 50 people die in Pyongyang on a normal day. Yet, since January 10, deaths have exceeded 150 per day. For example, January 14, 15 and 16 have resulted in 207, 196 and 231 deaths, respectively. Currently, the average mortality rate is 150 per day.”

Another official blames the power shortage for the spike. Since the elderly are expelled from subway terminals after 5:00 pm, where they shelter themselves from the harsh elements during the day, they are forced to go home where they cannot even boil water or cook. There are also times when there is no tap water and they are forced to collect water from frozen sources. The elderly are trying to survive by wearing multiple layers of clothing and covering themselves with blankets. Those who live in high rise buildings have given up the idea of seeking outside help because they cannot manage to exit through stair wells when elevators are not working. Unfortunately, there is little that the city government can do. The government asserts that there is not enough food to go around after distributing rations to high ranking officers. Ms. Kim, a Sunkyo District resident, demands better action. She argues, “Already more than 15 died in this area from dehydration and exposure. However, aisles are filled with all types of merchandise in the “First Department Store.” There is no need to give any more food to high ranking officers who already have enough. How can we sing the praise of the Mother Party when the poor and the elderly do not have anything to eat or wear?”

Chungjin Kkotjebies (Homeless Youths) Go to Steel Mill Ash Piles for Warmth
The situation of the homeless has deteriorated due to the cold and persisting winter. In Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, many, including vagrant youths commonly dubbed “kkotjebie[s]," have been gathering at the Gimchaek Steel Mill in order to combat the brutal weather with the warmth of left-over ashes. Kkotjebies usually lay sheets of vinyl on top of the ashes to use as beds, but this practice sometimes results in fires when the ashes come in contact with their clothes. Every day, children wait at the mill and struggle to take their share of the newly discarded ashes. The fresher the ash is, the hotter. Lately, kkotjebies have been roaming around in groups, resulting in gang fights over who gets first dibs at the ash. Some children say they prefer traveling with their groups instead of staying at welfare institutions, where food is scarce and life is strictly regimented. Homeless adults travel alone, while kkotjebie groups tend to be in their teens or twenties. These groups scavenge for food around the Soonam Market during the day and spend their nights at the Gimchaek Steel Mill.

Kkotjebies at the Soonam Market dress in rags and their faces are so dirty that the whites of their eyes are very pronounced. Due to their disheveled appearance, people question whether the kkotjebies are humans or animals. They eat off the dirt and snatch plates of food from unsuspecting customers in the market. Although people used to chase after them to retrieve their food, reactions have become more nonchalant; people see no merit in eating something that has been in a kkotjebie’s dirty hands. Complaints regarding the kkotjebies have increased, however; according to a Soonam Market security officer, their population has been becoming unusually large since 2009. Another guard pities them, saying that watching them travel in groups reminds him of the Arduous March. One Songpyong County Party official states that the kkotjebies might as well as keep warm at the mill since welfare institutions are not heated anyway. In other words, the Party does not have a solution to this problem.

Merchants in Sariwon, "You need to drop 1 million won for a round trip to Chungjin.”
Large-scale merchants in North Hwanghae Province say that it is difficult these days to do long-distance trading. On top of the high cost of traveling itself, the foreign currency exchange rate is soaring and it became more difficult to find gasoline and diesel oil. It costs at least 400000 to 500000 won to transport products in a 10-ton cargo vehicle to Sinuiju. The price doubles for gasoline vehicles. If they add food and lodging expenses for the driver and merchants, they need to spend over 1 million won for the transportation. Travel to Chungjin or Rasun in North Hamgyong Province costs even more. Ordinary merchants cannot afford long-distance trade. Those who trade gold or large amount of products would try it, but most merchants do their business in markets or engage in 'running' business model, transporting products from rural areas.

Pak Myung Hak (alias), selling sweet potatoes from Sariwon to Chungjin, said “In order to make a large profit after the cost for “servi” (transportation), we need to hit cities like Chungjin. In Sariwon City, there’s a large influx of sweet potatoes from Goksan and Shingye County. You can make a big profit by selling them to Jagang or North Hamgyong Province. Despite the bad flood damage last year, Sariwon has relatively abundant resources since it holds good regions for growing grain crop such as rice, corn, as well as sweet potato. The crop decreased due to the flood damage, but it’s better than nothing.”

The Torture that Nobody Knows About Except the Women Who Work as Household Maids
The lower class people in Sariwon, Hwanghae North Province live by working as household ‘servants’. The people labor for wages by fixing floor heating systems or kitchens and repairing shoes, and as maids for the affluent, such as businessmen and law enforcement officials. Under the guide of being a long-distance relative, middle-aged or old women move in with the host families to do housekeeping like cooking, laundry, and taking care of the young children while the parents are not home due to business trips.

30 year-old Myung-sun Lee (alias) is working as a maid because she had no place to stay after her husband passed away. She was hesitant at first, but after hearing that many people have started working as domestic servants, she soon poured out her pitiful life story and said that nobody would understand how weary the work of a servant is.
“I accidentally met the man who owns this house in a car. I told him that it was hard to start a business because I didn’t have enough money. Also, I couldn’t get a job and furthermore, there’s nobody around me I can ask for help. Then he offered me a job to work for his family. So, at first, I got paid with a small amount of money or rice for cooking, laundry and housekeeping. I endured all the rudeness and coarse language from the family because I could help my lonely mom with the money and rice when I visit her. This couple leaves the house turn by turn. For instance, the husband comes back home from a long business trip and then the wife takes a trip next. I took care of the 4th grade boy as if he were my son, but he disrespected and mistreated me like a slave. One day, the wife went away to Hamheung for a business trip. That night, I was called by the husband as I was doing laundry, and he asked me to find something. When I got in the room, he pretended to comfort me and grabbed my hand, then said, ‘Your life is too tough for such a young age. Why don’t you get married again?’, then pulled me into his bed. I ran from his grasp out of the room right away, and I felt that he treated me cheaply because I didn’t have a child or even a husband. The next morning, the husband came to me and still treated me like a toy and said that if I listen to him I can have an easier life. Later, the wife came back home and was distant to me because of the husband’s strange attitude. I was very nervous that I might get fired by her. I had no choice but to stand whatever vulgarity she directed at me. I felt like I was a criminal even though I didn’t do anything wrong. I had no one to confide in and was vexing myself. It is not fair being treated as a subhuman servant just because I didn’t have a place to live.”

Women who work as a maid often experience similar calamities. They are embarrassed at first, and sometimes there are cases where they accept the house owner’s advances because they feel they have no choice. Moreover, the social tendency has changed; people think that morality is a luxury and does not put food on the table. They used to point fingers and report these incidences to the authority in the past; however, now people pretend to not see anything.

“I Will Gather Shellfish Rather Than Cultivate the Soil,” Say Farmers in Bongsan Collective Farm
Using the word ‘servant’ is a prevalent trend these days in North Korea. Although the Central Party, which believes it has stamped out the vestige of a feudal society, may not want to admit it, people have used the words ‘servant’ and ‘feudal landlord’ for a long time in their everyday life. The word ‘servant’ is also frequently used in Bongsan Collective Farm in Bongsan County of North Hwanghae Province. When asked how the farmers were living, they responded that they live by ‘gathering shellfish as a servant’. Gathering shellfish and receiving some money as wage is called ‘gathering shellfish as a servant’.

Park Hae-sung (alias) says that farmers who gather shellfish as a servant are better off than the farmers who diligently show up at the Bongsan Collective Farm to work. Farmers who farmed diligently since the early spring could not receive proper distribution because the crops failed as a result of the flood damage last year. Since no grains were harvested in the farm, they have not been able to do the End of Year Distribution so far. Mr. Park says that even if the End of Year Distribution is done, the amount will be less than 1/5 of last year’s amount. That is why people say that those who rather went to the seashore to gather shellfish as a servant have food in their houses. Some savvy people also went to the city to engage in business; they saved at least 3 months’ worth of food and are even better off than the ‘people who gathered shellfish as a servant’. The naïve farmers who only cultivated the land last year are paying attention to these various cases and say that they will give up on farming and will go to the city to do business or go to the seashore to gather shellfish as a servant.

The Average Rate of Absentees Without Leave Amounted to 40% Last Year in Bongsan Collective Farm
An officer from Bongsan Collective Farm in Bongsan County of North Hwanghae Province revealed that the average attendance rate last year was approximately 60%. The attendance rate fluctuates depending on the season; usually there are most absentees from the spring lean months season until the end of August, then the attendance rate goes up somewhat during the harvest.

In July of last year, more than half of the farm members were absent as they went to work on individual patches of land or to sell agricultural products in downtown Sariwon. Upon receiving the report that there are absentees without leave, the City Party instructed the responsible police station to drag the absentees back even by using force. They threatened people by saying that they will arrest and discipline the long-term absentees or send the people who were absent for more than three months to Discipline Center, but it was not effective enough to raise the attendance rate. This goes back to the July 1 Economic Reform in 2000 when some of the farm members began to engage in business regularly. People used to miss work temporarily whenever a farmer’s market was open, but after the Economic Reform, some people began to miss work in order to engage in business. Kang Sun-jung (alias), who has worked in Bongsan Collective Farm for more than 17 years, says that the attendance rate plummeted since then and the average rate is now only 60%. “More people think that there is no point in working at the farm and that it is better to do business. People are seeking other sources of income because the food and cash distribution they receive are getting less and less each time even though they toil themselves without ever taking a break throughout the
year,” she says.