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The Black Market in North Korea (1)
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Date :
2016-01-20 14:20:03
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The Black Market in North Korea (1)

 

Kim, Ey-jun

 

I was born as a daughter of a farmer in 1943 when Korea was under Japanese Regime. My hometown is North Ypong-an province where I graduated middle and high school. I worked in a farm, following his footstep and married a man, arranged by my ant in 1967. 
Come to think of it, we couldn’t expect such a glorified period when we didn’t suffer from food shortage. 

700g of rice for a husband and 300g for a wife, who devote herself in housekeeping just like me, were given to each family at that time. The monthly wage of a driver was 20 to 30 won and the shelves of every store were full of groceries. 1 kg of sugar cost 2 won, 1kg of pork cost 4 won and edible oil cost 4 won. We were well off in 60s and early 70s, without worrying about food. 

As economy plunged to the lowest level, we cannot find sugar anywhere else around us now except black market. Spiraling price hiking among daily commodities, 1kg per sugar costs 200 won. We can clearly come to know how expensive the cost is when we compare it with my husband’s salary, which is at least 120 won. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t be paid regularly. 

That’s mainly because, for my perspective, in 1960s, at the top of Cold War, we were supported by our allies, Soviet and China, for nothing to bolster our concrete relationship. Thanks to their grant aid, North Korea could avoid difficulties in recovering deteriorated social infrastructures after Korean War and providing facilities to its people. The government itself seemed to pay attention on its people, too. With the advent of 1970s, when Kim, Jong-il came to seize the power, citizen’s life would be disregarded and the distribution gradually slackened. 

In 1990s we faced terrible situation, which apparently caused by the disruption of Soviet. We could get aid from the government, however, until the last 1993 when we made an effort. 

The first effort was nothing but rushing toward the distribution office on the very day we can get some food provided by the government. Between 1992 and 1993, we were given food twice a month, though such provision was insufficient to meet everyone’s need. People would make a queue in order not to be excluded from their allocation. The second effort was helping transporting crops. We failed to deliver crops from the distribution office, which was 2 km away from our house, as we couldn’t secure gas to run our truck. 

When we arranged gas in needy to haul the crop, our neighbor gave us the privilege to get the distribution for the first time in return for our effort. 

From that moment, only foods such as rice and corn were provided to us. We couldn’t be provided any condiment, such as salt and soy sauce, which was allocated to us in the past. Among those grains were usually 30 % of rice and rest of corn, whose allotment changed to 50% to 50% immediately after the harvest. In winter, it became hard for us to expect any rice. As the situation got worse, we sometimes failed to benefit distribution. Since 1995 we no longer expected aid from the government. 

Going to the distribution office, we were told to wait, as grains had not arrived yet. As they promised to inform us any time soon, which we didn’t get any notice later, we went to the nearest farm to beg for some food. The last time, as I remember, we were provided food supply was September 1996 when we got some corn. We still received food stamp form the government, which was nothing but a fictitious bill, never to be used. North Korean government was stern, saying that ‘Hold still till the situation got better.” 

BLACK MARKET 
Even before the extermination of distribution, ingredients like soybean paste, salt, fish, pork, and clothes were bought in the black market. There were some grains and goods, though not abundant, in the black market. There was authorized market where farmers used to sell residual products beforehand, and some unauthorized markets were established here and there as we couldn’t enjoy the distribution from the government. 

As the number of farmers who hauled crops to earn money increased gradually, we could find crops in need only if we were afford to pay for that. 

When it comes to money, my mother in law who is now living in America, sent us some money and my husband and children earned money, which enabled our family to procure grains and vegetables sufficient for our daily meal. 

In the situation where all the supplies were nearly halted, authorities could not but look over the unauthorized market, because they couldn’t deal with the food shortage. Nevertheless, officials sometimes crack down on the illegal market and confiscated all the goods, which later would be snatched by them. Their bullying could be understood as that they had no choice but to abuse their power, for even the officers in the police and security department were also destitute of supply. 

We could find not only daily necessities but also medicines from everywhere only if we were loaded with money. We were running out of choice but to accept the expensive price estimated 25 won per one egg and 30 to 50 won per one Chinese tobacco.