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The Black Market in North Korea (2)
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2016-01-20 14:23:44
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The Black Market in North Korea (2)


KIM Ey-jun


It’s been a long time since corn became the staple food. We call a corn, ground as small as rice, “rice” which we either made into porridge or steamed. 

When we make porridge we mix it with diced weed and add salt, which, as you may think, is tasteless. 

In winter, we mixed Kim-chi with the corn. We could not make much, as it cost 30 to 50 won. We were fortunate, if Kim-chi could last until April, but we usually ate it at all in either January or February. Those who could make Kim-chi were better off as there were many who couldn’t afford to buy cabbages. 

We could buy fish, 70 to 80 won per one codfish, and meat, 300 to 400 per 1kg of pork, only if we were so minded to pay that amount of money, which seemed to be pretty much steep for us. It was January 1997 when I ate pork for the last time when we made it into porridge. 

Although we are provided by food from the government, fuel remains to be another troublesome matter. It is unimaginable to use gas in cooking. Pyon-yong is the only region in North Korea where people are benefited from gas supply. People in Cheon-jin no longer expected coal supply. Cutting down forests by those who couldn’t get their hands on charcoal prompted number of mountains to be devastated harshly. Briquette, poor in quality, wouldn’t be heated but belch smoke. We depended on anthracite instead of electronic heater, which could be used only when electronic power was available. The electronic heater we used was nothing but a simple device made of nichrome wire. 

The electronic heater, wrapped with nichrome wire, was prohibited by the government but easily bought in the black market. We used it to cook porridge and soup. 

The electronic heater, sometimes made individually, was used not only in cooking but also in heating. It cost 500 to 600 won but there were many who made by themselves with some wire bought at a market. Eventually, the government stopped to provide electronic power in the evening to ban us from using this electronic heater, which caused every people to make lunch and dinner in the morning. It was possible for us, who could not make other dishes except corn soup, to cook all the meals at a time. 

Under this circumstance, any electronic device is useless, as you may come to understand. As we have nothing to do at all in the evening, all our family members hit the sack early after dinner. 

Water supply also dwindled due to the shortage of power supply, because when there was a power cut water pump didn’t work at all. Pumping water became one of the major works for house wives. I made it a rule to walk 1 km to the well in the early morning, with a carriage on my shoulder. Whenever I got there I never failed to see lots of people making a queue to get water from it. If I departed from home somewhat later than usual, I had to wait more than 30 minutes to have my bottle be filled with water, trickling from a faucet. I could manage it in summer, but not in winter, when I felt like my body was frozen in a deadly cold. 

In a nutshell, North Korea turned out to be a place where can’t provide daily necessity, essential for basic human life. How can we imagine people are able to survive in such a dilapidated area? 

We lived on the outskirt, not a downtown, of Shin-ey-juk, where we used to feed some pigs and seed vegetables in the yard once before. Nowadays there’s no one who farm in their yard in the fear of that all the crops end up to be stolen before harvesting. When it comes to pig, it is safe when young, but couldn’t avoid being stolen when it weighted more than 30 kg. There’s nothing that we can do to keep our pigs in safe at night. Life is hard in North Korea, which is mainly due to the fact that all the people in the north can’t afford to secure enough food. We all agree that the primary desire in our nature is nothing but appetite. 

The streets in South Shin-ey-ju is full of homeless. More than that, we sometimes find corpse rolling on the ground. The number of children who died of malnutrition unceasingly grows high. The government always makes an announcement, however, they were dead due to a dire illness. 

Actually, those who are suffer from malnutrition eventually come to face other several ailment, when their health gradually gets worse, unable to immune to other illnesses. In this regard, we cannot say the government is lying. 

With the cut of food distribution, every home is struggling to survive while house keepers are becoming hucksters. Though roaming around with a heavy back pack, estimated around 50 kg, enables them to eat at least three meals a day, they would consider it a life or death matter. 

We were lucky, for all the members of our family had a job to earn money, thought not much. We need not go out with heavy luggage, but we used to make beer under secrecy, which was not difficult for us. Buying corns at the marker, we grind them all at the mill. We add water and yeast later. Putting it into a bowl, after awhile, we can make beer. 

The whole process used to take 10 days in this way. The cost of corn we bought was 80 won while the final cost of beer was worth 180 won, letting us enjoy 100 won of profit at a time. When we don’t stop working to produce, we can make beer three times a month, from which we can get 300 won. 

This kind of illegal beer was favored by lots of people who had nothing to eat but many to worry about, as everything was going against their will in the North Korea. They would drink beer when they could get their hands on some money. 

As I mentioned above, we fed pigs with the remnants of beer, which was also used to feed chickens. We even fed chickens and ducks with grasshoppers. The eggs we got from them were sold at the black market, which was helpful to us. 

Even when we regularly got paid, we went though hardship. After paying insurance fee and enforced saving to the government, there left only 40 to 50 won. My husband, once promised not to smoke, would buy cigar whenever he faced difficulties, which worsen our financial situation. I worked my head off to earn money by making beer. 

In the past, we caught frogs to fed pigs, but now we catch frogs to feed our children.