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PostNorth Korea; Some Old WAIS Posts (Bienvenido Macario, USA, 04/14/13 6:41 am)
North Korea is back in the news. First of all, my thanks to WAISer Marga Jann, whose old posts on North Korea are quite relevant today.
Marga wrote in 2008:
"North Korea is shutting down its borders again and I don't blame them. They are in desperate need of aid and yet receive little but condemnation on many fronts. Bridges are best built through kindness, communication, and 'courtship,' not through antagonism. It is very hard for people to change, even when they want to, because of pride. We need to find a way to allow N Korea to save face in 'giving up,' if they truly are to give up."
Marga wrote on 31 August 2009:
"North Korea (I was there about 2 weeks before the border was closed) was very much like the communist bloc countries I lived in and visited in the late 1970s (Poland, Czechoslovakia, USSR, Hungary), except it is now 2009 (then late 2008 as I recall), and everyone wore white tops and blue bottoms (hanbok-style), rode bikes, and had no laptops or cell phones (at least there were never any in sight)--very few cars, little electricity, and construction was slipshod at best. [Marga should know; she's an architect--JE.]
"But the countryside was beautiful as a result, teaming with wild flowers (though a statuesque soldier with a red flag was posted at every alley, thoroughfare, highway, foot path, bicycle path, etc.) off the road upon which our bus traveled (in a caravan of "tourists" with 3 other buses) in a very hot sun--there was never a trace of a car or bicycle or suggestion as to how the soldier might have arrived there. I felt sorry for them--but I suppose they were making sure none of us tried to defect."
Here are some highlights from a recent article: Here's How Lousy Life Is in North Korea
by Rick Newman, US News & World Report, Friday, April 12, 2013
Like other dictatorships, North Korea has an elite ruling class (Oligarchy) that enjoys some basic privileges of modern life, such as indoor plumbing, automobiles, meat, coffee, and a few luxury goods. There's a middle stratum that has sufficient food and, occasionally, new clothes, but not much else.
In general, however, North Korea is one of the most miserable places on earth. "The standard of living has deteriorated to extreme levels of deprivation in which the right to food security, health and other minimum needs for human survival are denied," according to a recent report by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a research group based in Seoul.
Here's a snapshot of life in North Korea:
--Annual GDP per capita is about $1,800, which ranks 197th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. GDP is 28 times higher in the United States and 18 times higher in South Korea.
--About half of North Korea's population of 24 million lives in "extreme poverty," according to the KUNI report. These people subsist on corn and kimchi and "are severely restricted in access to fuel for cooking and heating."
--One-third of children are stunted, due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program.
--The average life expectancy, 69, has fallen by five years since the early 1980s, according to the blog North Korea Economy Watch. The blog notes that those figures are based on official statistics, so the real numbers could be even lower.
--Inflation may be as high as 100 percent, due to mismanagement of the currency.
--Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month in pay from the government. Some work on the side or sell goods in local markets, earning an extra $10 per month or so.
--Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets.
--Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving just a few hours per day.
--Families that can afford them often have two TVs, according to New Focus International, a website that features dispatches from North Korean exiles; one TV is pre-set to state channels airing propaganda, while the second, illegal set is used to watch South Korean TV programs. Even so, fluctuating voltage in the electrical current often causes the screen to keep changing size, "going from big to small repeatedly," according to one exile report.
--Some of the most popular contraband items are DVDs of South Korean TV shows, which North Koreans often trade or sell among themselves.
--Parents who send their kids to schools are expected to provide desks, chairs, building materials and cash to pay for heating fuel. Some students are put to work producing goods for the government or gathering up discarded materials. Parents can bribe teachers to exempt their kids from labor or just keep them away from school, even though that violates official policy.
--North Korea has a "free" medical system, but hospital patients must pay for their own drugs, cover the cost of heat, and prepare all their own meals at home.
--Among the privileged class, cosmetics are considered "an ostentatious display of wealth," according to the KINU report. South Korean brands are preferred over inferior Chinese or North Korean products.
--There are about 1.5 million mobile phone users in North Korea, but service is spotty and no Internet is available. One popular use for mobile phones: as a "torch" to provide light when the power goes out at night.
--Kim Jong Un may be worth as much as $5 billion, according to the South Korean news organization Chosun Ilbo. The money comes from state-run enterprises as well as sales of narcotics, counterfeiting, and other types of criminality. It's believed to be held in hundreds of bank accounts--outside of North Korea.
The Philippines is in fact North Korea without nukes, except North Korea is better off. Here's why.
If we take away the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) and their billions of dollars remitted each year to the Philippines; IMF, World Bank and UN and other foreign loans and assistance, I wonder how close to the "Lousy Life in North Korea" living in the Philippines would be.
Speaking from experience, in the Philippines, no matter how smart you are, regardless of gender, no matter how hard you work and how piously you pray, like in North Korea, it will be the same group of families who will be on top of the food chain.
The big difference is North Korea is atheist and the Philippines is pre-dominantly Christian [sic]. And like North Korea threatening another nuclear test, the Philippines is threatening another rigged elections next month.
But North Korea is better off, because there is a chance that a rebellion could break out and overthrow Kim Jong Un, whereas Filipinos are resigned to their fate and the rest of the world is indifferent to their plight.
As Marga Jann mentioned in her 2009 post, another advantage North Korea has is the state of their environment compared to the environmental disaster that is the Philippines.
JE comments: If I had to choose a new homeland, I'd pick the Philippines over North Korea any day, if only for the warm climate. (I'd prefer to settle in any country before North Korea, although a stay in the Ryugyong "Death Star" Hotel is on my Bucket List.)
Nevertheless, Bienvenido Macario raises an important point: the N Koreans can harbor the remote hope that reunification will bring them instant prosperity, whereas the majority of Filipinos are caught in an endless cycle of poverty.
One can imagine the culture shock that will face the Koreas if and when they join; this will make German reunification in comparison look like a friendly corporate merger. The economic and political challenges must be enormously frightening to the S Koreans.
It's great to "hear" from Marga Jann, who hasn't written in several months. Marga, are you still in Cambridge? Please drop us a line when you get the chance.
North Korea: Refugees and Human Traficking
(Istvan Simon, USA
04/14/13 3:12 PM)
In response to Bienvenido Macario (14 April), I saw a documentary yesterday about North Korea and a little-known fact that was shown in it. The people that desperately try to leave North Korea are subject not only to the terrible persecution of the disgraceful Baby Kim government, but also victimized by neighboring countries. They cannot flee to South Korea--they would have to go through minefields, so obviously that route if cut off. So where can they go?
Many flee to China. But if the Chinese authorities seize them, to their shame, they return them to North Korea. This is perhaps the most shameful and inhumane thing that the Chinese are guilty of currently, and no one gives a damn. The UN must and should press and shame China into better behavior.
About 75% of the women that flee North Korea are exploited as sexual slaves by pimps in China. Since they cannot go to the authorities, who would return them to North Korea and perhaps even certain death under Baby Kim's horrendous regime, they have little else they can do, but to submit to this degrading life. Better a prostitute than dead I guess is the logic.
There are people who help these unfortunate human beings. They have safe houses for them in China. And then they smuggle them to Thailand, where finally freedom awaits if they make it. Thailand recognizes their refugee status, and will not deport them back to North Korea. The program I watched interviewed, on camera, but obscuring her face to protect her and her family still in North Korea, a 23 year-old farmer's daughter, who made it to Thailand and safety. There were many others in her situation at the shelter where she was interviewed.
The suffering of North Korean refugees, their exploitation, the human trafficking that goes on, especially of young women, is a little-known story that must be told. World opinion must be mobilized to help these unfortunate victims of heartless governments--both their own and China's.
Incidentally, China has started to deliver Baby Kim the message he cannot refuse. China held large-scale military maneuvers near the North Korean border, which is surely a message for the regime. Baby Kim might be the little dictator of an unhappy land, but I would not want to be in his shoes. I am fairly sure he is beginning to feel the heat, and it is not a comfortable place for him to be.
JE comments: Yes, the plight of North Korea's escapees must be publicized. I wonder if the documentary Istvan refers to is available on-line? If so, I hope he'll share the link.
Regarding Kim Jong Un, if he is indeed worth $5 billion, as we learned today from Bienvenido Macario, then I don't pity him. We're certainly a long way from this possibility, but if Kim really starts to feel the heat at home, is there any nation in the world that would take him in? A billion or two for "resettlement costs" might make him an attractive immigrant.
North Korean Generals
(Michael Sullivan, USA
04/15/13 2:22 AM)
Istvan Simon posted on 14 April that the Chinese were conducting military exercises near their border with North Korea, and this could be a sign letting the North Koreans know they aren't happy with their bellicose actions lately.
Do you really think the North Koreans are worried with all the warrior Generals they have? Appears even one General may have received a medal for being quite a ladies' man! Wish I could have posted this April 1st...
JE comments: Wow. After nukes and missiles, the biggest share of North Korea's GDP must go to the production of "precious medals." Imagine wearing them even on your trousers. A tactical suggestion for any nation at war with the North: just push the generals into the nearest body of water...glub glub. This is what the Aztecs did with the gold-laden Spanish conquistadores, to great effect.
North Korean Generals on Parade
(David Pike, France
04/17/13 7:53 AM)
Plaudits to Marine General Michael Sullivan (15 April) for obtaining this photo of his North Korean counterparts. I admire these generals' sense of humor. Keeping a straight face is very Anglo. But why should they feel embarrassed? They're not embarrassed when they dress like this in Petticoat Lane, London. I wish I could find a photo to send you of the two-hundred-button costume famous in East End folklore. I'm sure WAISer John Heelan could provide us with one.
And Michael is right. A medal on the right thigh is the equivalent of six on the left.
How do the Soviets feel about being the first into this pantomime?
JE comments: Didn't Tsarist officers (not to mention Latin American generalísimos) precede the Soviets with the Medal Count?
Until David Pike pointed it out, I hadn't noticed that the North Korean generals prefer to adorn their left leg. For walking, not to mention swimming, my recommendation would be to divide the ballast equally.
Pearly Kings and Sgt. Pepper
(John Heelan, UK
04/18/13 3:32 AM)
Presumably David Pike (17 April) is referring to "Pearly Kings" (see *) and not the uniforms worn by the Beatles in their Sergeant Pepper days (see **).
JE comments: Either way, it's a sharp, military-inspired look. The Pearly Kings may be more Elvis-inspired, however.
I never noticed until today that "Fashion" isn't included in our drop-down menu of existing WAIS topics. So I've filed this one under "War."
- Cannibalism in N Korea? (Bienvenido Macario, USA 04/16/13 5:08 AM)
Istvan Simon wrote on 14 April:
"About 75% of the women that flee North Korea are exploited as sexual slaves by pimps in China. Since they cannot go to the authorities, who would return them to North Korea and perhaps even certain death under Baby Kim's horrendous regime, they have little else they can do, but to submit to this degrading life. Better a prostitute than dead I guess is the logic."
This is what those young women are fleeing from: In famine-stricken regions of North and South Hwanghae, there have been disturbing reports of men killing their own children for food.
The most recent article on cannibalism in North Korea that I came across was in January. A man offered his wife "meat" after she returned from a business trip. Perhaps the mother's instinct prompted the wife to look for their daughter and son, and she found they out they were killed. She reported her husband to the Ministry of Public Security.
In the same article a Gu Gwang-ho grandfather was arrested for digging up his grandchild's remains and eating them.
The most disturbing are reports in 2003 from refugees about a "farmers market" where human meat are traded. The human meat are mostly body parts from children's corpses.
International aid organizations are frustrated that they could not verify or investigate further the refugees' accounts.
I don't see any reason why refugees would exaggerate or lie about these stories on cannibalism. In fact it answers Istvan Simon's question: How bad is it in North Korea that young women would rather be prostitutes than go back and be killed?
JE comments: The ultimate taboo; even more so if it's your own children. The article stresses that these reports are impossible to confirm and may be urban legends, but they convey two stories at once: the very real desperation of the North, as well as an eagerness to project our deepest anxieties on this pariah nation, the "Other" like no other.
Note the number of Yahoo! respondents who urge the North Koreans to focus their cannibalism on the plump, tender Kim Jong-un.
BBC Documentary on N Korea
(Nigel Jones, UK
04/16/13 8:49 AM)
A documentary on North Korea was screened on BBC TV last night that was eerily disturbing. Among other surreal manifestations the reporter, Jon Sweeney, visited a North Korean hospital that looked in apple pie order--except that there were no patients! He was told that they were all treated "in the morning" and presumably all discharged, cured, by the afternoon when he visited. One shudders to think what happens to anyone who really gets sick in NK--I guess that under "Kim Care" they might end up in pasties served to the NK army.
Sweeney too mentioned the famine, and interviewed defectors who claimed that possibly a million died at its height.
The circumstances of the documentary's making have caused a row over here, that may be of interest to WAISers who know the London School of Economics.
Sweeney and his wife are graduates of LSE and used the school's facilities to set up a student trip to NK as cover for making their film, posing as an LSE economics society. The students who signed up to accompany them were only gradually told the whole truth--viz that Sweeney was a journalist who would be accompanied by a crew filming undercover.
The LSE only found out about the deception after the students and the Sweeneys had safely returned, and volubly protested to the BBC, claiming that students' safety had been put at risk and the LSE's reputation for academic impartiality had been endangered.
The latter seems a thin argument, seeing that the LSE was happy to accept the largesse of the Gaddafi regime, gave Saif Gaddafi a Degree based on a bogus thesis and a platform for a propagandist rant, etc.
What seems clear is that Sweeney used LSE in an unscrupulous way, but that he brought back a valuable and revealing film from a country he persists in calling a "Nazi state." (The BBC's institutional Leftism presumably precludes him from correctly calling it a "Communist state").
I have no dog in the fight: both the BBC and LSE are institutionallly Leftist, and the nightmare society of NK is the logical culmination of the sort of society that they would both like to create.
JE comments: All ended well in this case, but think of what would have happened had the students been imprisoned for espionage. I can understand the LSE's anger. In the US there would be litigation.
Still, there's no doubt that a valuable documentary came out of the deception. I wonder if it's the same one Istvan Simon wrote about a couple of days ago? What's the title and how can the rest of us see it?
- Cannibalism in N Korea? (Bienvenido Macario, USA 04/16/13 5:08 AM)
- Pearly Kings and Sgt. Pepper (John Heelan, UK 04/18/13 3:32 AM)
- North Korean Generals on Parade (David Pike, France 04/17/13 7:53 AM)
- North Korean Generals (Michael Sullivan, USA 04/15/13 2:22 AM)