Signs of Things to Come?

private enterprise PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Nestle products

Having in mind that in November 2009, North Korea had devalued its old bank notes with virtually no advance notice by 100 to 1.  The old denomination of 1,000 won was replaced by the new 10 won. North Koreans were only allowed to exchange up to 100,000 won approximately US$25 to US$30 according to the then-market exchange rate of the old currency for the new bills. Many people saw their entire private savings wiped out overnight. North Korean Supreme Military Authority issued shoot-to-kill orders on the Chinese-DPRK border. Authorities were afraid of a massive exodus by middle class North Koreans with god.

I was looking for the old won and found prices in old won in Sariwon City at an ice cream seller.

Shell fishers refused to be photographed

I was also keen to find signs of private enterprise in this classic stalinist regime of KIM JONG IL. At the beach in Wonsan I met shell fishers selling their catch in small portions.

Apples from China

One day, traveling overland, our guides allowed us to make a toilet stop. We sat at the stairs of a closed down highway restaurant beside the road, bought a cup of tea, a brochure with the thoughts of “My Dear Leader“ and some apples (probably from China).

The dishes, tea and coffee they had brought in cardboard boxes. This stop was well organized and run by a group of women and men which must have had the support of the local bureaucrats (and our guides too) looking for Euros. It was the first and only time I saw Nestlé products in North Korea.

She was serving tea

Private traders selling their goods - Is this a sign of things to come?

Private enterprise dies last or as we say in German “Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt”. Are these traces of things to come?

When I look at the girl – she was quite a lady – who served us tea and coffee with Coffee Mate from Nestlé, I think these are indeed hidden signs of change, of “Big-Brother-influence” creeping up on North Korea from over the border, “brotherly touches” not even “My Dear Leader” KIM JONG IL, the last Gate-Keeper of Stalinism, can avoid…

But most astonishing to me were the North Koreans who sold and traded their goods in a remote area on the South coast 30km outside of Wonsan. I was able to take a snapshot while driving by at 08:30 in the morning after we had stayed overnight at an old Soviet-type sanatorium (with cold Fango) outside Wonsan .


NOSE-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

It costs one cent to put two on a horse

URSULA COMPLAINED to our guides (at all times, we had two “permanent” guides – one walking behind us and one upfront – and additional a local guide on site wherever we stopped) that the local female guide in Sariwon City made us look like foreign monsters when she interfered and finally stopped the two girls from dancing and their parents from singing and clapping.

Luckily, I was filming how official attitude was blocking my friendly encounter. As a result we pressed our guides for more contact to let us mingle with the crowd at the local fair.

We walked up and down the “Wedding Hill” passing by the fair attractions and the stands selling ice cream, engaging with the children and their parents or grandparents with gestures and a few words.

Sariwon offers real North Korean life of a small township.

For a minute, I was one of them.

Sariwon - we were all shooting...

I was as close to them as they were to each other, not even my camera got in our way. We were successful in making instant contact with the local people. We were not looked at as extra-terrestrial beings nor harassed as foreign aggressors even though fear is part of the official propaganda and often looks down from billboards.

Newlywed husband poses above Sariwon City

Kids at a wedding

Wedding in Sariwon