It seems North Korea has also fallen victim to the catchy song from its neighbors to the south titled “Gangnam Style.” The song, for those who have not heard it, is about Gangnam, a wealthy area in Seoul, South Korea. To say you have Gangnam style means that you are wealthy. However, North Korea’s style seems to be more superficial than substantial.
Pyongyang, North Korea has undergone many changes including new high-rise apartments, a new airport terminal, an up-scale Singapore-funded restaurant and department store, and the appearance of cell phones. Yet daily life remains difficult.
The price of rice has doubled since the start of the year because of declining foreign aid, a weak harvest and hording by speculators. One man was even quoted saying, “[m]aybe 1 out of 10,000 North Koreans can afford to eat white rice every day….” Part of the problem is the low wages from state-owned factories. The pay, which is usually less than $1 per month, is so low people actually pay not to go to work so they can use their time finding food or goods to sell in the market. One such example is Kim Kyung Ok, a resident of Pyongyang. Her day begins at 5 a.m., when she hikes out into the mountains to look for food to feed her pigs. During the day she makes alcohol from corn and acorns. At night, she and her two sons guard their pigs from bandits.
However, there have been some positive changes. Since Kim Jong Un has taken over he has removed some of his senior military officials; he has also begun working with his uncle, Jang Song Taek, a strong advocate for the liberalization of North Korea. Economic restrictions such as the limit on the sale of staples and rules forbidding men and younger women from the market place have also been lifted. Yet, not everyone is sold on Kim Jung Il. Jerrold Green, president of the Los Angeles-based Pacific Council on International Policy, compared the situation in North Korea to Syria in 2000, when Bashar Assad came into power after his father. He said, “[w]e heard almost exactly the same. ‘He speaks English, he went to school abroad, his wife dresses beautifully, so this must mean change.’ And you can see what happened.”
So, do these changes mark the start of a new North Korea? Or will it be more of the same? Also, are these changes enough for the U.S. to reconsider its embargo and other restrictions on North Korea or is it too soon to tell?
Sources: Los Angeles Times