GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 451 April 18, 2012

[“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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Hwanghae Province: “Cannot Speak about Death from Starvation”
Pyongyang Receives Power for 20 Hours a Day
Huichon Hydroelectric Power Station Ceremony
Wouldn’t the Kanto Emigrants Have Felt the Same?
The Double Burden of Debt for Travel Certificate and Bribes to Officials
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Hwanghae Province: “Cannot Speak about Death from Starvation”
On the heels of the news that people have starved to death in South Hwanghae Province, North Hwanghae and South Hamgyong Provinces have now also reported deaths from starvation. Officials of Hwanghae Provinces and South Hamgyong Province plead with the Central Party and Foreign Office for urgent help almost every day, saying, “Any food that people can eat is OK. Anything is acceptable as long as it doesn’t kill people.” Some officials even ask officers who travel to China for international business to bring back rice or seed corn secretly. However, they cannot speak openly about people starving to death. Instead they get around an explicit description by saying, “We have survived the Arduous March and the Extreme Arduous March, but now we seem to be experiencing the first step of economic collapse.” An official of South Hwanghae Province stated they cannot speak about the news of death from starvation because it would hurt the new government, which is emphasizing stability in North Korea and with foreign countries.


Pyongyang Receives Power for 20 Hours a Day
Recently Pyongyang celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Kim Il-Sung’s birthday and increased its electric power supply up to 20 hours a day. Compared to the fact that they got power only for 1 or 2 hours a day during the mourning period for this marks a dramatic increase. An official of the Department of Electricity said, “There was a top priority order that we provide Pyongyang with electricity by running all possible power plants to celebrate the Day of Sun,” referring the birth of Kim Il-Sung. The initial plan was to supply power for 24 hours a day by fully operating hydro and thermal power plants, but they could manage only 20 hours a day because it was difficult to run the plants at full capacity. Officers of Foreign Offices who came back to North Korea to celebrate the Day of Sun were surprised at the improved power supply. An officer was in a glad mood: “It is a kind of a miracle. It has something to do with power supply. I believe that everything will be fine since we have a good power supply now.” However, not everyone shared his optimism. It may look good now, but there is no telling how long it will last. 


Huichon Hydroelectric Power Station Ceremony
 After giving the Huichon, Jagang Province hydroelectric power station a test run and making it ready to go into full operation, the Central Party lavished medals and praise on workers. The ceremony was to recognize the completion of the construction well ahead of schedule. While construction of the power plant is a supposedly ten year long project, the Huichon power plant took only three years to complete. About 57,872 of those who have worked hard on the entire process of construction – from design to completion – were honored with a variety of awards, including Order of Kim Il Sung, Kim Il Sung Youth Honorary Award, Distinguished Services Recognition, National Colors Award, and Honorary Awards. About 100 workers were recognized as Heroes of Great Achievements. Another 78,399 construction workers received commemorative medals. When it comes to recognition and rewards, the completion of the Huichon power plant is unprecedented. It was much more lavish than the opening of the Vinalon factoryfor which Chairman Kim Jong-il made a special flattering announcement on its opening on March 5, 2010. He said that “It is equivalent to a nuclear rocket launch and a big victory for socialism.” Even so, only 74 people were recognized as Heroes of Great Achievements at that ribbon-cutting ceremony where 100,000 people rallied in Hamheung city for the celebration. The number of recipients of awards for the opening of the Vinalon factory, though considered unprecedented at that time, pales in comparison to the number of awards for the completion of the Huichon power plant. 

While the new leadership is excited to see the newly built power plant operating at full capacity, those involved in the construction feel anxiety and apprehension about potential responsibilities for its malfunctions. “It was initially anticipated that the Huichon power plant would be in operation by early January 2012. It was planned to produce enough electricity to transfer power to Pyongyang around the clock. Things are not going well, despite efforts of workers. Last year’s floods caused enormous damage to machines and equipment of the power plant. The total loss is believed to be more than $10 Million. Overseas workers managed to provide funds necessary to purchase construction materials for repair. But because the funds were not sufficient, replacemement materials available to workers did not meet the requirements. Though the construction was officially completed, voltage control is problematic and power production is not as much as it should be. When the power plant hits its limit, which happens often, there are power failures or voltage drops. Clearly aware of the likelihood that these problems will happen again, workers cannot come up with solutions due to the lack of funds to repair or replace current machines and equipment. Even assuming there are adequate funds, the replacement or repairs will take up additional time during which no power will be produced. “The smiles on our face conceal our anxiety and apprehension,” one worker who participated in the construction said.


Wouldn’t the Kanto Emigrants Have Felt the Same?
As Lim Chul stepped on to Chinese soil after crossing the bridge over the Tumen River, suddenly the numerous emigrants, who left Korea to go to the Kanto region during the Japanese colonial period, came into his mind. Even though a long time has passed, it seemed that there was not a big difference between what they felt back then and what he’s feeling now. One hundred years ago, after crossing the Tumen River, those past emigrants must have gone forward into the wind-whipping Manchuria Plains holding a glean of hope despite the desperation of losing their homeland. Of course, although Lim wasn’t exactly losing his nation, yet it was still the same to him since he had to leave his hometown because there was no longer hope. Accompanying Lim were 4 other people: a lady in her 50s who was heading to Helong; another lady in her 40s going to her relative in Tumen; a man in his 50s who had a cousin in Jangbakhyun; and another man in his 50s going to Yanji on business. The two people from Onsung and other two people from Hamju and Hamheung of South Hamgyong Province were identically carrying two rucksacks of dried octopus. All of them said that a fortune in money and patience had been consumed in the process of obtaining the travel pass. One person received the pass after 5 years, otherwise two people took 3 years and the last one took 2 years. Recently, the travel pass approval process became more demanding. The travel pass is no longer issued without a reference from a superior officer or a president of a company even when all the details are filled in correctly because previously many people using their personal travel passes did not return after going to China. Lim Chul took people's advice and told them he would return, but he is not intending to go back home. Even if he goes back to his hometown, there is no way to earn his livelihood and pay back the debt for the travel pass. He is still wondering if his old aunt in Yanji would welcome him. He just wishes that he can get a job soon anywhere, even farther away, since he will not be staying long in his relative’s house. He smiled bitterly and said, “Isn't my heart and the Kanto immigrants' the same, those who went over there holding their wives and children in their hands just to look for a patch of farming land during the Japanese colonial period?” 


The Double Burden of Debt for Travel Certificate and Bribes to Officials
Sung-kuk was overwhelmed by the list three pages long filled with goods to be purchased at Yanji for officials back home in North Korea. All of these goods can be purchased at the Soonam Market in Chungjin or from Chinese residents of North Korea, but the officials obstinately asked him to purchase them on his visit to Yanji. They would total at least 3,000 yuan. He already spent 3,000 yuan to go through the travel certificate procedure, but he will have to spend an additional 3,000 yuan to purchase the gifts for the officials. He carried two packages of dried squid, five packages of pollack, and a box of Korean ginseng tea in his bag, but he felt that the three pages of requests were heavier than the load on his back.

In order to successfully navigate through the travel certificate procedure, Sung-kuk had to borrow 3,000 yuan from Mr. Wang, a Chinese man living in North Korea, by sealing a document with his thumb three times. He is supposed to pay back 4,000 yuan in three months. Mr. Wang said that he would lend money to Sung-kuk because he trusted Sung-kuk’s cousin in Yanji could vouch for it. His cousin is working as a manager in a big public enterprise at Yanji, and he is said to be well off, including having a big house and an expensive car.

Sung-kuk was able to obtain the individual travel certificate because he had a good family history, there are no missing persons (defectors) among his relatives, and a relative of his in-laws’ family was working for the provincial party. For some people, it takes five or even ten years to obtain the certificate, but Sung-kuk worked the system diligently and was able to obtain the certificate in only one month. The certificate is valid for one month, but he was only able to obtain it on the fifth day of its validation. He also had to spend additional two days going through various preparations with officials such as a foreign-affairs directive officer in the Security Department, a security agent and a police officer. They all said basically the same things, for example, “Show others your pride as a proud citizen of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is the happiest country in the world. Let it be known that although we are temporarily placed in a difficult situation, the torchlight of Juche (self-reliance) will illuminate the whole world in the near future, and when the day comes, North Korea will stand high as the most powerful nation in the world. Do not engage in idle conversations, and never acquaint yourself with strangers, as there are South Korean spies all over at Yanji.”

The fact that he was able to obtain a travel certificate to cross the Tumen River was good, but thinking about the list of gifts to be offered to the officials gave him a headache. He needs at least 6,000 yuan in assistance, but Sung-kuk does not know whether his cousin will give him that much money, even though he is said to be well-off. He can only hope that his cousin is magnanimous.

North Korea Today No. 450 April 11, 2012

[“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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Kwangmyongsung 3, Likely to Be Launched on the 13th
“Replace imported goods with domestic products”
5,000 Residential Homes to be Built in Hoeryong by 2017
The Revival of the Food Alley of Hoeryong
“Give us food and we won’t flee” Claim Residents of Eunduk County
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Kwangmyongsung 3, Likely to Be Launched on the 13th
It has been reported that Kwangmyongsung 3, claimed by North Korea to be a satellite and others to be a missile, will be launched during the morning of the 13th of April. An official with the Central Party said that Kwangmyongsung 3 will be launched with the support of the whole nation to commemorate the appointment of Kim Jong-un, Vice Chairman of National Defense Commission to the General Secretary of the Workers Party. The 4th Workers Party Conference will take place on the 11th, and the 5th Supreme People’s Assembly will be held on the 13th. As these are the first political events driven by Vice Chairman Kim Jong-un after the death of Chairman Kim Jong-Il, it was planned to launch Kwangmyongsung 3 to highlight his presence and leadership to both domestic and overseas audiences. However, the final launch schedule is subject to change per weather conditions. On the 15th, it is expected that Pyongyang will host a large-scale military parade on the occasion of the centennial of Eternal President Kim Il-sung’s birth to show off its might.


“Replace imported goods with domestic products” 
The Central Party issued an order to “replace imported goods with domestic products. An official of the Central Party noted that, “since bringing stability to people’s lives is the national priority, we’ve ordered the normalization of the operation of light industry factories to focus on producing people’s consumer goods.” On January 5th, there was an initiative to improve the ratio of domestic to imported products, in Pyongyang’s Gwangbok Department Store, to 40 to 60 by selling the domestic products below market price although the prices may be slightly higher than in state-run stores. Because the department store opened recently, most products are imported from China and so the prices tend to reflect those of Chinese local prices. This modern department store has attracted quite a bit of enthusiasm from Pyongyang residents but, because the prices are too high, the customers are limited to government officials and wealthy people. One member of the Central Party said that, because China’s share of investment amounts to 65%, the majority of goods in the store may continue to be Chinese goods. However, the Party insists that, by normalizing the operation of light industry factories, it plans to concentrate domestic products in state-run stores. The Party claims that if cheap domestic products are supplied on a mass scale, the market for imported goods will gradually decline. While it would be difficult for the time being, due to the limited production of domestic goods, it is expected that the number of imported items that could be traded in domestic markets will be dramatically reduced within two to three years. The leadership calculates that, when the national supply system is completed, the market for imported goods eventually can be shutdown.


5,000 Residential Homes to be Built in Hoeryong by 2017
Following the plan to construct 100,000 households in Pyongyang, a residential home building project has been launched in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. The City Party of Hoeryong set up a plan to build 5,000 residential homes by 2017 in Hoeryong. On March 1st, members of Special Labor Brigade swore their allegiance to Kim Jong-un, the young leader of North Korea, and then started tearing down old houses. Although it would not be as large as the complex in Pyongyang where 100,000 households are to be built, constructing 5,000 households in the province would be still a large-scale project. A party official of Hoeryong said that acquiring of cement, lumber, and construction equipment would be the key to complete the project. Although there was substantial support from the Central Party, it was the lack of equipment and materials that delayed completion of food ally construction in Nammoondong, which was initially expected to be completed within 5 months from the beginning of the construction in May 2009. Even if the funding is obtained and the construction of 5,000 homes in Hoeryong can be fortunately completed, it remains to be seen how many of the new houses would be made available to people who actually need them as it is likely that party officials will take them first.


The Revival of the Food Alley of Hoeryong
The “food Alley” of Nammoondong, Hoeryong City is reviving from its doldrums. This alley features corn dishes, rabbit meat specialty restaurants, White apricot wine restaurants, bakeries, local specialty restaurants, and the likes. Each restaurant receives ingredients at the state assigned price and offers a portion of its profit from sales to the country. Most of the liquor sold here has been produced domestically with the rest coming from China. Sometimes domestic liquor is bottled in a Chinese-made bottle. For instance, the bottle is “Chung-do” beer bottle, but the label says “Daedonggang” or “Geumgang”. Operating a restaurant is still difficult after a year has passed since the alley opened due to deficiencies in the supply of ingredients. After the city party of North Hamgyong Province opened a restaurant at Liaoningsheng, China, the restaurants drew more business as food supply was improved since the end of last year. Confiscated game meats from illegal hunting activities are also sold at the food alley. One restaurant manager proudly said, “Heard everyone is occupied over the food crisis, yet we are provided with sufficient ingredients such as corn and flour from China. People [customers] are highly satisfied because the price is lower than at other general restaurants and the customer service is good as well”.


“Give us food and we won’t flee” Claim Residents of Eunduk County
Every resident in the near border area claimed in Unison that there would be no river-crossers if food becomes available. The residents of Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province raised an outcry saying this year is the worst while they have always been lacking in sufficient nourishment. Even in North Hamgyong Province, Eunduk County shows a higher defector rate because land is not tillable, thus the food self-sufficiency ratio is very low.

If to exaggerate a little, one can claim that there is one defector or a missing person for every two homes. There have been many families that fled to China during the Arduous March, and the numbers of defectors have kept growing since then.

The Safety Bureau heightened people’s ideological lecture every year, and administered public punishments of defectors as a warning, however none worked effectively. Besides, the City Party and People’s Committee of North Hamgyong Province even tried providing some months’ worth of food for the residents of Eunduk County. From 2009, crops produced in Eunduk County were favorably allocated to the county residents after supplying the troops and three border patrol companies stationed there first.

The residents somehow avoided a food crisis that year [2009], but currency reform at the end of 2009 deeply affected businesses. At the time, more people have been engaged in businesses than in farming due to the unsuitable land condition, and as a result the markets almost collapsed because people did not have enough money to purchase goods for their businesses. On top of that, traffic regulation heightened when a missile brigade moved into the town in 2010. The residents, needless to say, have to sacrifice more of their provisions for the military. Coming and going to procure food has become extremely difficult; moreover, the harvest from patch-field farming was poor due to bad weather conditions. The farm workers were provided with only two months’ worth of food to satisfy a whole year’s need. Only the military-affiliated companies and factories are supplied with sufficient provisions. The residents say that they have no choice but to leave their homes for good as living conditions become harsher than the Arduous March. They claim that providing the people with food is the first step to reducing the number of defectors.

North Korea Today No. 449 April 04, 2012

[“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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South Hwanghae Province in State of Emergency Due to Food Crisis
The Whole Nation Devoting All Energy to Buying Food
The Bureau of Overseas Representatives Are Heavily Burdened with Fundraising for Three Biggest National Holidays
Central Party Retracted Assignment for “The Day of the Sun”
Mourning Period Ends, But Border Is Still War-like
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South Hwanghae Province in State of Emergency Due to Food Crisis
The number of people dying of starvation is currently mounting across South Hwanghae Province. Damaged by the heavy rain last summer, the Province faced a substantial decrease in crop harvest. In addition, the 100 day-mourning period for the sudden death of Chairman Kim Jong-il temporarily halted main economic activities. As a consequence, cases of deaths of starvation emerged. The Leading Secretary of the South Hwanghae Provincial Party requested emergency relief from the Central Party, stating that “The food situation has become extremely serious. We request urgent assistance.”

One trade officer from Haeju City said, “The food situation in South Hwanghae Province is the worst in the history of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Even compared to the Arduous March period, the situation was better then. The economy of Hwanghae Province is on the brink of collapse.”

Every party unit of the province, cities, and counties of South Hwanghae has been trying to collect anything edible, while continuing to request food support from the Central Party. They are purchasing food from across the country, but the quantity is small compared to the need due to the difficult domestic economy. One official from the South Hwanghae Provincial Party reported the urgency of the situation, stating “We are asking overseas representatives to bring in food for us, anything as long as it is edible, and preferably something that can be obtained in a large amount and at a cheap price.” Officers at the Bureau of Overseas Representatives expressed their sympathy but said they were already stretched between fundraising for the Party and other assignments to fulfill.


The Whole Nation Devoting All Energy to Buying Food
As soon as the 100-day mourning period ended last March 25, Party units at provincial, city, and county levels as well as departmental and sectional levels sent their delegates to China to find trade partners. The delegates put all their effort to buying food by selling mineral and primary resources. This is because even the general work places are in food emergency due to the disruption in the economic activities during the mourning period.

An official from Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, told the seriousness of the situation, saying, “In winter times there tend to be some food, but it was not like that this time. People died of starvation. Now, many factories, companies, and organizations are buying up any kind of food available.” He expressed his worries that new grass in spring would ease the situation, but as soon as the lean period of spring started, there would be more deaths of starvation. The Central Party is collecting food crisis data by regions and analyzing the problem.


The Bureau of Overseas Representatives Are Heavily Burdened with Fundraising for Three Biggest National Holidays
Officers at the Bureau of Overseas Representatives are heavily burdened with fundraising for the sudden death of Chairman Kim Jong-il followed by three biggest national holidays. Even after they submitted the patriotic funds to finance the funeral of the late Chairman Kim in last December, they still had to submit more for the birthdays of the Vice Chairman Kim Jung-un on January 8th and of Chairman Kim Jong-il on February 16th. It was right after they had an extremely hard time sending 500,000 tons of food to North Korea by the end of last October at the request of the Central Party. On top of that, each officer had to fulfill an individual assignment of food provisions which cost 50,000 euro.

At that time the achievement rate was only 10%. About 70% of the officers just showed their effort, and the rest could not submit anything. Even in this hard situation, however, when the unexpected death of the Chairman was announced, the officers could not argue against any requests from the Central Party and had to submit patriotic funds to the Party. An officer residing in Beijing, China observed, “For the last year, I had to squeeze every drop of money to submit the patriotic funds to the Party for the birthday of the Chairman while also paying to fulfill my assignment of food provisions. For the coming commemoration of the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birthday on April 15th I have to collect more money, but I cannot focus on anything because requests for food provisions are coming from everywhere since there are many deaths from starvation in the nation. Not only me but all other officers are complaining about the situation now.


Central Party Retracted Assignment for “The Day of the Sun”
Officers at the Bureau of Overseas Representatives complain that they can hardly breathe due to the individual assignments as well as the food assignments imposed upon them during a time of low morale after they and the Trade Department faced a tough investigation last year. They say, “We wish to sincerely and loyally devote ourselves on the occasion of the Great Leader's 100th birthday. However, we are completely worn out from working so hard last year on all of our tasks, including the food assignment. We have nowhere to turn and no energy or money left to do any more assignments. We even dare to say the authorities want money instead of loyalty.”

Due to the repeated appeals from the Bureau of Overseas Representatives, the Central Party has withdrawn the latest assignment for the Day of the Sun. They are worried that the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung could be ruined if the Overseas Representatives’ negative attitude to their tasks influences the public opinion. An official of the Central Party said, “It was seriously considered that this situation may help form negative opinions against the new supreme leader Kim Jong-un and his leadership.” He said the assignment was retracted 10 days after being issued. An officer at the Bureau of Overseas Representatives said, “The new leadership seemed to decide not to upset the Bureau of Overseas Representatives which is in charge of earning most of the foreign currency that is the artery of the system. This is why they left us alone for a while. However, no one knows when a new assignment will be imposed. We are able to breathe for a while now, but we are still nervous.”


Mourning Period Ends, But Border Is Still War-like
March 25th marked the end of the 100-day mourning period for the passing of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il, which occurred on December 17th of last year. On March 25th an extravagant memorial took place in Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. Expatriates from around the world placed wreaths at the funeral from 9am until noon, when a short mourning began. Although there was no special work to be done since it was Sunday, even minor government affairs were put on hold for the mourning. After the mourning period ended, all workplaces, public enterprises, and other organizations resumed their normal operations. However, extreme control has continued in the border areas, and it has drawn backlash from citizens. Jung Taek-rim (alias) from Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province said that even after the mourning period, citizens were still being lectured that the use of cell phones would result in severe punishment. “If you are caught using a cell phone, you will be punished for three years in the Re-education Center. If caught using a ‘133 cell phone’, you are automatically subject to laws regarding criminal espionage. I have heard this so much that my ears are ringing”, he said.

‘133 cell phones’ have an area code starting with the number 133, which is a Chinese area code. Most of these phones are made in South Korea, shipped to China, and sent to North Korea. These days 3G cell-phones have become available in China, and various area codes besides 133 now exist (China Unicom 130, 131, 132, 133). However, up until a while ago, North Koreans were only able to get cell-phones with a number starting with 133. In North Korea, the ‘133 cell phones’ are known to be made in South Korea, thus the target of the strict crackdown. Those secretly still using ‘133 cell phones’ have realized that the crackdown on these phones will restart and are trying to quickly dispose of them.

North Korean authorities are cracking down on cell phones to prevent defectors as well as to guard against national secrets being leaked out of the country through the defectors’ families. At every lecture, security officers make sure to emphasize the threat that no one will be forgiven for betraying their country.

North Korea Today No. 450 Priority Release April 11, 2012

[“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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Kwangmyongsung 3 Likely to Be Launched on the 13th, Central Party Official Said
It has been reported that Kwangmyongsung 3, claimed by North Korea to be a satellite and others to be a missile, will be launched during the morning of the 13th of April. An official with the Central Party said that Kwangmyongsung 3 will be launched with the support of the whole nation to commemorate the appointment of Kim Jong Un, Vice Chairman of National Defense Commission to the General Secretary of the Workers Party. The 4th Workers Party Conference will take place on the 11th, and the 5th Supreme People’s Assembly will be held on the 13th. As these are the first political events driven by Vice Chairman Kim Jong Un after the death of Chairman Kim Jong Il, it was planned to launch Kwangmyongsung 3 to highlight his presence and leadership to both domestic and overseas audiences. However, the final launch schedule is subject to change per weather conditions. On the 15th, it is expected that Pyongyang will host a large-scale military parade on the occasion of the centennial of Eternal President Kim Il Sung’s birth to show off its might.

North Korea Today No. 448 March 28, 2012

[“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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[Intro] Education before Fertilizer
Students Unable to Attend School for Lack of Required School Supplies
Kids Waiting for Poop
The Time Even the Head Kkotjebi Goes Hungry
Waiting for Food Scraps – it’s your lucky day if you get some
Full of Worry, Already out of Kimchi
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[Intro] Education before Fertilizer
A number of school children are too busy to attend school because they are getting Heukbosan fertilizer, so-called dung fertilizer. Some of them are even said to be waiting around public restrooms just for someone to generate this “dung fertilizer.” It is no laughing matter. No matter how much agriculture is prioritized, every child has the right to an education and the government should strive toward the realization of this right. The future of a country is defined by its commitment to education. Elite education, on which North Korea government puts much weight, does not serve the national interest in a way that benefits people from every social class. Without improvement of public education North Korean society will not see the kind of development that affects every corner of the society. Government support for public education, in an effort to improve the education system targeting average people, is sadly lacking.

North Korean children have no less an intellectual capacity than those in other countries and parents have a keen desire to provide the best quality education to their children. Only with an adequate level of government investment can children, who can eventually make a difference in a variety of areas, become an asset to society. North Korea has a great advantage in improving public education with their well-established free education system which is generally made available to most parts of the country. The government needs to pay more attention to the complaints by parents concerning the heavy burden of extra student fees which is enough to stop them from sending their children to school. Without financial support, a mere dictate to reduce extra fees will not change anything. Schools should be relieved of the burden of using their educational budget to pay the salaries of teachers.


Students Unable to Attend School for Lack of Required School Supplies
The new semester has started but some children are unable to join their classmates because they cannot bring all of the required school supplies to school, including three buckets of night soil, or human excrement, used for fertilizer. If the school had asked only for the night soil, then the parents could possibly fulfill the requirement, but because of the never-ending list of required school supplies, many parents have given up. The school asks for everything, from pencils and notebooks that the students will use, to firewood, coal, brick, cement, gloves, socks, slippers, glass, nails, soap, brooms, and more. On their way home from school, the children are anxious about what to take to school next and how to acquire the goods. Wealthier families are able to get the resources somehow, but the average middle class child will have to resort to goods their father steals from his factory after work. Families in the poorer condition find themselves unable to afford to send their children to school at all.

Suh Jung-hee (alias), from Shinheung dong in Kangwon Province, has a son in 8th grade who excels in his studies as well as athletics, is popular with classmates and teachers, but has never been chosen as a class officer. Every year when Kang-gook (son’s alias) moved up a grade, teachers made comments such as, “If Kang-gook doesn’t become a class officer, who will?”, but he has never been chosen. This is due to the sad fact that he never presented his homeroom teacher with money, alcohol, cigarettes, and food rations, let alone brought all the required school supplies. Jung-hee used to make money selling used bicycles and then she was able to send the required school supplies, but that was before the currency reform. Becoming a class president gives a student an edge when entering high school, but despite knowing this fact, parents must focus on the mere act of survival and keeping their families alive, making them feel worse about not being able to contribute to their children’s academic success.

Chul-ryong (alias), a peer of Kang-gook’s, was unable to go to school when the new semester started. His attendance records last year show his absences greatly outnumbered his days in attendance. When his situation improved, he would go to school, but then miss school again when the teacher would bug him about missing assignments or when he was bullied by his classmates. His father suggested that instead of keeping up his lackluster performance at school, he might as well help his work on the fields, but his mother thought that it would be wise for Chul-ryong to stay in school and at least finish middle school. Thus, his attendance fluctuated and he was more often absent than present. This year, because he is unable to provide night soil for fertilizer as a part of the required school supplies, he may be forced to give up his studies. “Kang-gook was at least able to make a payment to the school, but my family of four could eat corn porridge for a whole week with the same amount of money,” said Chul-ryong.


Kids Waiting for Poop
Jung-hak comes to the Wonsan station today as usual. There is nobody using the public restrooms for “number 2" during his watch on the restrooms. Once in a while, a person went in to pee then left the restroom after spitting sputum. Like Jung-hak, there are many kids waiting for human feces around the train station. However, after patiently waiting, one or two people’s feces could be collected. There were already 3 kids waiting near the entrance of the public restrooms in the cold. A little after high noon, two soldiers, who looked as if they just had lunch, hurried to the public restrooms. The first two kids, who were waiting in the line, were getting ready for work with a small shovel and a chipped bowl. As soon as the soldiers came out from the restroom, the kids went in and came out from there a bit later. Jung-hak sent an envious stare to them. One of the kids had a string of dark poop in the bowl. The other kid cursed and sat down with a thudding sound; he was empty hands. One soldier pooped the string of dark poop but the other just peed. So there was nothing to collect for the kid. The kid, who got the string poop, left smiling after carefully covering the collected poop with a piece of ragged cloth. The other one waited for other people to show up in the public restroom. This scene was due to the order from School; kids needed to provide 3 buckets of manure. Kids who did not have manure bought a bucket of manure for 150won. So, Jung-hak wanted to earn 150won by selling manure, not because he needed to have manure for school. Sung-chan’s mom paid some money to Jung-hak when he delivered 2 buckets of manure every day to Sung-chan, who was the classroom president of Jung-hak. If it were not money, Jung-hak got candies, cookies, notebooks or pencils for manure from Sung-chan’s mom. So, it was a decent daily earning for Jung-hak. However, it was not only cold and boring to wait for people at the restroom but also it was easily tiresome because of the competition against other kids who were collecting feces. Jung-hak could not understand why among so many travelers using the train station had so few people used the public restroom for poop. He wondered if these travelers could not poop because they only drank water instead of eating food just like him.


The Time Even the Head Kkotjebi Goes Hungry
Cho Wung was the head of Wonsan market's kkotjebi (homeless people) until last fall. These days, however, he is not really getting much money or food since the beggars under him are not getting much from begging. His area was reduced with new kkotjebi coming from South Pyongan Province and South Hamgyong Province. He tries begging going back and forth between the station and market more than ten times the entire day, but it doesn’t work well. If the head cannot eat, needless to say the boys under him are starving. The boys might stay if the head can share the food that he got himself, but since there has been no food at all for longer than a month, they are all leaving one by one.

When we told him that he has a great name, he said whatever his name might be, he is so starved that he cannot even see straight. When he felt better after some food, he told us the story behind his name. His parents gave him, the third-generation only son, the name Cho Wung wishing that he would grow up to be the hero for the fatherland. He grew with nothing lacking with plenty of affection from his parents, but his father passed away towards the end of the Arduous March. His mother soon followed her husband's footstep. He became kkotjebi at the age of 11, not even having finished primary school. "Although I became kkotjebi, because of my destiny or for my abilities, I am still alive. It's been 12 years," he told us with pride in his voice.

Cho Wung, now 23 years old and 153 cm (5 ft) tall, is better known as "Goober," which is his nickname. He says that no one knows how strong he is despite his short stature. He also bragged that there were at least 20 boys under him, and when times were good, he could live on what he collected from his boys.

When asked what happened to his 20 boys, he again became depressed: "My area got smaller because I had to share my area with these kids who came out of nowhere. With more kkotjebi in Wonsan, there's not enough food for everyone, and it's hard to establish order. I've got to have some serious battles with these new kids and chase them far away from Wonsan, but I'm holding off from it for now since the country is still in the condolence period. However, he did show a bit of nervousness mentioning that there are some well-built guys among the new kkotjebi which gives him "creeps in even in dreams."


Waiting for Food Scraps – it’s your lucky day if you get some
It snowed all night. Minsok went to the house of a hwagyo (ethnic Chinese living oversaes) and shoveled the snow off of the front yard as well as clearing the driveway leading to the main street. The housewife paid him one yuan for his work and he then bought two slices of corn cake for breakfast. He wolfed down the two slices without even chewing. He said that even though his stomach was still empty and, that he was still hungry, he kept dozing off. However, he was very careful with where he would lie down to sleep. Although it was already March, the temperature was still relatively low. Minsok said that even “experienced” kkotjebi (homeless people) would end up getting sick if they slept at a spot where they would be exposed to the cold weather.

When I asked him if he had a place to sleep during the winter, he hesitated to answer my question. So I asked the question again. He finally answered and told me that he slept under the stairs of an apartment building. To quote Minsok, “A director for the Security Department lives in that apartment building. His house always has an abundance of food and they throw away a lot of the food scraps from their meals. If you are lucky, you will find some rice and bones to savor as there are still some meat flavors lingering on them. The wife of the director worries that her neighbors gossip about her family wasting food. To avoid such gossip, she hides the food scraps in her pocket, sneaks out of her house late at night and goes far away to throw away the food scraps. If you are the first to catch her when she comes out of her house and follow her, you will beat the other kkotjebi to the food scraps. There are days when the scraps are enough to feed myself for two days. I feel absolutely blessed on such days.” That is why Minsok cannot leave the stairs of the apartment building — you never know when she will come out with the food scraps.

Minsok also said, “I run after her when she comes out of her house with the bag of food scraps hidden under her arms. If it snows all night long, the next morning I can clean up the snow from the hwagyo’s house and get money for the work so I can buy some cake. The cake grows to the size of a cart’s wheel and then to the size of a train car wheel. It gets even bigger as it turns into the moon or the sun. This is my dream whenever I sleep at night. I run around all night long to get some reddish-tasting corn cake but I never get enough, even in my dream. I wish I could at least eat a lot in my dream. Nevertheless, when my country becomes a strong and prosperous nation, I will eat as much corn cake as I want, right? I hope it will happen soon.” Along with sharing his reoccurring dreams, he also told me that he has already been to the welfare institution six times but he prefers to live on the streets where he can at least find some food scraps.


Full of Worry, Already out of Kimchi
Ms. Soon-young, living in Wonsan City, is full of worry that she has already run out of Gimjang Kimchi, which is known as the six-month food. (Gimjang is a season of preparing a large amount of Kimchi for the winter consumption). She sold some Napa cabbage and radish in the market last year, harvested from a patch of field, to make up her poor sustenance. During the Gimjang season last year, she couldn’t even afford a basic ingredient, chili powder, due to the high price, in contrast to affluent households that prepared Kimchi with various seasonings and stuffing materials.

“I couldn’t believe the price of chili powder at the market last year. It was 14,000-16,000 won (KPW) per kilogram. I couldn’t even attempt to make Kimchi mixed with chili powder as my family lived on corn for 1,000 won, bought with the money that I sold Napa cabbage for 700 won and radish for 400 won,” she said.

She made ‘white’ Kimchi without chili powder instead. She was not sure if it was even enough for the winter. “Beside Kimchi, it’s very difficult for us to have basic staples needed daily, like cooking oil, salt, and seasoning. Those are very expensive. 500 grams of corn cooking oil for 3,000 won is extremely pricy to us that hardly can afford a pack of seasoning for 500 won. If we have oil, it’s like special treat on holidays”, she mentioned and complained of the shortage of basic foods.

She finally said, “I wish the government provided us with, at least, enough soybean paste, salt, and soy source, beside anything else, so that I would have had enough white Kimchi throughout spring.”

North Korea Today No. 447 March 21, 2012

[“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.]
___________________________________________________________________________
Sufficient Electric Power Supply, a Key Factor for Stabilizing North Korean People’s Lives
March 25, the End of National Mourning Period
New Policies to be Implemented after March 25
If National Defense is the First Priority, then What is the Second Priority of the New Policy?
Electricity is Supplied for Two Hours a Day in Pyongyang
The Farming Areas of Hoeryung are Supplied with Electricity from Backeum Hydraulic Power Plant in China ___________________________________________________________________________

Sufficient Electric Power Supply, a Key Factor for Stabilizing North Korean People’s Lives
The current issues that the new North Korea government focuses on are sustainable food supply and normalization of light industry. In order to solve these two issues, the government needs to take care of four important problems as a top priority: electricity, coal, metal and railway. Above all, electricity is the key to make things possible. Electricity was often understood simply as one of administrative projects that the North Korea government stressed on. However, truly speaking, the issue of electricity includes other complex problems such as coal, metal and railway issues. Last October when the new Organization and Guidance Department was launched, the electricity was regarded as the highest priority among many administrative issues. The Organization and Guidance Department announced confidently that normalization of food and 24-hour electricity supply would be accomplished by New Year’s. However, it was not as easy as the government boasted. There are no easy solutions. First of all, there is a widespread expectation that the Heechun power plant can play an important role in electricity shortages. Although completion of constructing Heechun power plant in Jakang-do could help to solve the lack of electricity supply, actually, the plant seems to have a lot less power capacity than people’s expectation because of frequent system operation failures derived from poor construction. Secondly, a thermoelectric power plant can be another option. However, most thermoelectric power plants in North Korea are not operated properly. Lack of coal and deterioration of facilities prevent the plants from performing to their full capacity. Only 20 to 30 percent of those plants are operated now. Regarding the lack of coal, the government can increase the amount of domestic coal supply by prohibiting coal export to China. However, it is not possible for the government to give up such an easy cash-cow item like coal, which brings money to North Korean economy. Lack of electricity means less coal mining creating. There is a vicious negative cycle between electricity and coal production. Reopening economic cooperation with South Korea can be a wonderful option to solve the issues; however, a firm political determination is necessary to make this possible.


March 25, the End of National Mourning Period
Government offices will return to normal on March 25th at the conclusion of the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il. During this mourning period, the government asserted more control over individual activities and movements, and asked civilians to be more prudent in their behaviors. Due to the increased restrictions imposed during the mourning period, people have tried to remain quiet despite suffering miserable living conditions. However, as the period of national mourning neared its conclusion, government control had become unbearable and people across the nation have started to file complaints. The public distribution of food and supplies on Kim Jong-il’s birthday, normally celebrated on February 16th, was unsatisfactory if not disappointing. The Pyongyang government was able to distribute rations for 15 days in February to Pyongyang residents only. With the exception of a few powerful or influential institutions, most of the local governments distributed almost nothing to their people during the month of February. Previously, during the Lunar New Year’s Day festival in January, the local government officials tried to comfort their people with a promise that the food distribution would be better on the holiday of Kim Jong-il’s birthday in February. Yet the officials have failed to keep this promise and are now feeling very uneasy because of having to postpone the distribution of rations until April, in order to calm the extremely disappointed population. Local officials concur that the national authorities should ease restrictions over the citizens at the end of the mourning period so that people can prepare for the farming season. The central government officials also expect the tighter restrictions to be relaxed after the mourning period and that government departments will resume normal operations. It should be noted that, due to the relationship with China, restrictions along the shared border are not expected to be relaxed in the near future.


New Policies to be Implemented after March 25
It is expected that new policies will be implemented in each government department after the mourning period ends on March 25. Normally, February 16th, Kim Jong-il’s birthday, serves as the turning point for a new fiscal year. Around this time, government offices close their books and announce new fiscal plans for the coming year. However, due to Kim Jong-il’s death, this accounting process has been delayed for a month. According to officials in the central government, they have been focused on maintaining the stability of national politics and international relations during the mourning period. They have also agreed that, while keeping the main policies and Juche policies constructed during Kim Jong-il era, they are engaged in the process of reformulating detailed regulations and bylaws.


If National Defense is the First Priority, then What is the Second Priority of the New Policy?
The most important issue for the Organization and Guidance Department is maintaining the stability of the regime, as one may have expected. They plan to prioritize strengthening national defense to promote the slogan of the Military First Policy. The following issues pertain to the people’s livelihood in the order of priority: to resolve the food shortage problem; generate more electric power; and allow for conditions for the full capacity operation of the factories. To justify listing national defense as its first priority, the Central Party has assessed that the “various problems that are currently breaking out in every part of the world, such as economic warfare and territorial encroachment by superpowers, may lead to regional or world war at any moment.” Since the establishment and reinforcement of national defense is the only way to defend the homeland and the people, the budget for military expenditures was increased this year.

Resolving the agricultural problems was placed as the second most important issue because they wanted to pacify the agitated public in the near term. In order to resolve the food shortage problem, the agricultural sector will be supported to the maximum extent this year so basic food can be produced while fish, chicken, and pig farms will be extensively constructed and additional food will be imported from abroad. The Central Party expresses its will to “succeed in meeting the basic food demands this year through food production and pig farms.”

Third, since generating electricity is the most basic issue for every sector to make the jump forward, they plan to resolve the electric power shortage issue. Finally, stabilizing the production of the factories (full operation) is on the priority list in the state affairs. Armaments factories aside, the priority is placed on the stabilization of light industry. The plan was to stabilize the factories which produce goods needed to sustain lives such as clothes, shoes, cosmetics, soybean pastes, soy sauce, salt, and soap by raising domestic production levels to fulfill 70% of the demand in three years. They also plan to reduce imports of daily necessities to less than 30% at most. The North Korean authorities had urged in the New Year’s Day joint editorial this year that “more quality-oriented light industry commodities which accommodate the public’s demands should be produced.” “Since October 10 of last year, the basic framework of the state affairs was launched and continues to be maintained unchanged, but some of the details will be changed in the process of executing the policy in the future,” says an officer from the Central Party. On the other hand, the Central Party is demanding that every sector work in solidarity and cooperate with each other to improve the quality of the people’s lives while strengthening the ideological framework of the party and encouraging the strict monitoring of the people’s status.


Electricity is Supplied for Two Hours a Day in Pyongyang
This year, electricity is provided for two hours a day in the city of Pyongyang. It was a cut-back from four hours of supply, from 6 to 10 p.m. which started in mid-November. One official of the Central Party says, “the supply of electricity was improved as coal was used in domestic power plants instead of being exported to China. But coal exports continued despite the ban, and electricity supply has become unstable as a result. The Central Party officials also feel troubled about this.” During the Party Foundation Day (October 10th) ceremony last year, the Central Party ordered the party of Pyongyang city to provide 24 hours of electricity. From year 2012, the first year of Strong and Prosperous Nation, 24 hours supply of electricity and normalization of food ration were promised to demonstrate the Vice Chairman Kim Jong-en’s leadership. The plan was to use coal domestically instead of exporting to China and to draw electricity from Jagang’s Heechun thermoelectric power plant to normalize the supply. But, Heechun facility is only in testing stages and coal continue to be exported as it is the easiest and most available material for trade. Therefore, nothing is being done as the Party planned.

During last year’s meeting, the decision to normalize electricity and food supply in Pyongyang was warmly welcomed by the party officials, but no one actually believed that it would be realized. Pyongyang residents did not expect 24 hours of supply, but just wished that it could at least be provided during mealtimes. From April 15th (Day of the Sun, the birthday of Kim Il Sung). Heechun power plants will be running, but it is unsure how much the plant would be able to contribute. Thirty thousand kilowatts of electricity is expected to be produced, but since the construction was done in hurry, taking only 3 years (out of expected period of 10 years), and low-quality machines were brought in due to lack of funds, it is expected that only 5,000 to 10,000 kw would be produced. Pyongyang, Dongpyong, and Bookchang power plants are old facilities and have to be renovated without delay. The new leadership defined recovery of electricity supply as one of four major national tasks, but there are still many hurdles to overcome.


The Farming Areas of Hoeryung are Supplied with Electricity from Backeum Hydraulic Power Plant in China
In North Korea, except from Pyongyang, it is generally hard to get electricity unless it is a national holiday. Even factories have to wait their turns to be provided with electricity for a few hours per day. People of higher status or wealth use their own generators, and some people collectively pay a bill of 2000 to 3000 won to the electricity distribution department to get electricity. However, people who have no electricity supply accept this reality by assuming that having electricity is just for holidays. However, residents close to the Chinese-Korean border can use some electricity from China. Hoeryung in North Hamgyung province uses electricity from Hwaryong Bakgeum hydroelectric power plant in China which is right across from the Tumen river. Bakguem power plant is the only hydroelectric power plant in the region and took 10 years during the 1960s to complete the construction. They were forced to build the electricity poles at the Kyesangli power distribution station in North Korea in order to connect wires from the power plant to Bakguem city due to the natural curve of the Tumen river. North Korea agreed to allow the electricity poles inside North Korea in exchange for a supply of electricity free of charge. Afterwards, areas of Hoeryong city such as Keysangri, Gyehari and Songhakri were provided with electricity. However, over time, the original relationship changed. Now, the Chinese officials oftentimes request cattle such as goats and lambs or produce in exchange for the electricity supply. One worker complained about the difficulty; “If we don't accept their requests, they cut off the electricity, so we have no choice but to give them what they want. I feel aggravated with the fact that we are now the more disadvantaged country. They forgot about the past when they needed us to cooperate with them and now they look down upon us for being poor. But, as we need it desperately, we have to just give them what they want.”

Invitation to a Talk by Ven. Pomnyun and Mr. Jedong Kim

Good Friends USA cordially invites you to a talk by Ven Pomnyun Sunim, Chairman of Good Friends USA and the Peace Foundation, and Mr. Jedong Kim, renowned media figure in South Korea, at George Washington University on April 6.
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