While Chinese tourists could be
recognized by the large number of people in the groups, the Japanese are
recognizable in the same way the Americans are in Russia - loud talking,
A few words must be said about the food.
I should say that regular Koreans don't eat like this. Dishes like these
are cooked in their families only on big holydays.
Their regular rations include different kinds of rice (kasha, soup, rice
We tried to invite the tour guide girls to restaurants. But things are
quite tricky over there, in the sense that the travel agency seems to
understand what we need, and tries to help. For example, in some cases
it turned out that we didn't have to pay for the food at a restaurant.
At the moment when we have to ask for the check all of the service staff
seems to disappear, and there is no one to pay.
A scene in a restaurant, where all the waitresses sing and play
Of course tourists are fed like slaughter pigs. A couple of pictures
earlier you could see fresh meat, which is placed on a gas burner and
fried. In this picture a dish called "Sinsollo" is being prepared. It's
kind of a soup and a second dish in one. It consists of thirty or more
ingredients, which are added one after another. What's interesting is
that the girls were clearly aware of how this or that dish is cooked -
they actively cooperated with the waitresses on this.
As a rule, about half the food is very spicy. I.e. it burns so much
that it is impossible to eat. Especially prevalent are Kim-Chi - some
kind of vegetables with spices. Naturally everyone eats with chopsticks.
I used to think that wooden chopsticks were hard to eat with. Boy, was I
wrong! : The wooden ones at least catch onto the food, as opposed to the
metal ones. However, by the end of the trip I was able to use the metal
ones quite well. Although I wasn't holding them quite right (I couldn't
hold them the way the girls did). Then, forks are handed out as well.
The food hardest too eat is the local noodles. They are very long,
sticky, and cooked to form some type of a clot. Before you eat it, you
need to break up the clot with the chopsticks (which supposes being good
with them). Even after that, when you try to pick up some of the
noodles, the rest of them try to follow :)
A funny situation happened in Vonsan. On the left you can see a small
bowl of transparent liquid. Is it water? Yes, that's what we thought. I
first started to doubt it when I realized that there is also a glass of
water. However, Alexey wasn't bewildered by that, and took a sip out of
Right! It was alcohol :)
In addition to this dinner we were offered strawberries (for a fee).
They were 10 euros for a little dish.
And this is food to go.
We had somewhat of a picnic in a park. Here
you can see kimpab (rice formed in a ring, with dark center, wrapped in
sea cabbage), some fried sea food, eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers, and
some very exotic food (I just can't remember).
A quite common sight is a person or several people gathering seeds of
some weed on the lawn.
In the background - an ice cream sale.
An ice cream saleswoman at another site.
We tried it - it's tasty. It's different from ours, if only a little
like the 10 kopeck milk ice cream (childhood memories :)
There are more ice crystals close to the stick, so the ice cream
holds on pretty strong.
Now I will talk about something important - perestroika is ongoing in
North Korea. It's been about a couple years. It was initiated by Kim
Chen Ir. At least there is a feeling that it has to do with the change
of leadership after the death of Kim Ir Sen.
Though the North Korean
perestroika has much in common with ours, there are differences.
For example in our country everything started with so called
"glasnost" or "freedom of speech". I.e. all of the sudden we were
allowed to say anything about anyone. As a consequence, situation was
out of the government's control rather quickly, since (in addition to an
obviously bad economic situation) the government was no longer accepted
as legitimate power by the people.
In regards to North Korea, one can not talk about any freedom of speech.
Apparently there hasn't been any political change; the government is
still in control of the situation in the country.
However there have been economic changes. The foreign currency stores
(in the picture) are more widespread. That is to say that (by hearsay)
they existed here since the mid-70's, and locals were not denied access
The selection in the stores is wide, especially when it comes to
food. It's a little worse with the industrial goods. The modern
electronics are pretty expansive (for instance, a SD/MMC card costs
about twice as much as in St. Petersburg).
I saw some Koreans in the store (they were well to do of course),
there are no noticeable checks or restrictions at the entrance.
Now there are joint businesses with foreigners - restaurants. A
restaurant can only be owned by a foreigner - for example Japanese (see
a photo above, where a waitress is playing an instrument). The local
population can work for a foreign owner, but can not own the restaurant.
Not a bad way to keep the economy under control.
In the picture: The Koreans are shy of carrying their babies behind
their back sometimes. As I was told, the South Koreans do this also,
however this is "countryside style". Also, I heard that as a result of
being carried this way, children's legs can often get disfigured.
A few small streets in the central Pyongyang I would call the window of
Perestroika, because all the ground floors are either already renovated
in the "euro fix up" style with foreign currency stores or restaurants,
or are in the process of such renovation.
About computers in foreign
currency stores: interestingly, every single one of them has a monitor
filter. This seems to be a directive of the local health ministry
(rather strange, if so).
OS is something like Win 95-98 with a Korean local.
Also, there are cooperatives. In the North Korean version, a cooperative
is a team, which produces some articles (for instance, collects and
dries cochlea beer snack, or makes chewing gum), sells them, and splits
up the profit equally among all the members. The types of business and
products are limited, and a state license is required.
The result is
approximately the same as in our country in the late 1980's: the
selection in the cooperative stores is wider than in the state owned
stores, but the prices are considerably higher.
The cooperative products are usually of a lower quality than those in
the state owned stores (sometimes it's enough to look at the package to
Among other signs of Perestroika - expansive cars next to regular old
By the way, about cars: there are almost no private cars here.
So we were told. I think that makes sense considering the ratio of
prices to people's incomes. Among the citizens, only famous actors,
scientists and officials can own cars.
The good cars are often driven by military personal (though bad ones
Some trolleys have stars on them to mark the number of years
of driving without accidents. Numbers next to them are thousands of
As opposed to our Perestroika, here there is no such side effect as "new
It is possible to tell a working man from one with a big
salary. But I couldn't notice any extreme showing off one's status or
mutual dislike between the social groups.
In general, much about
the economy here is reminiscent of the 1987 USSR.
I'll take the freedom to assume that Kim Chen Ir is expecting to
implement the Chinese version of reforms.
Though, I suspect that soon he will face serious obstacles. The
problem is that next door is the capitalist South Korea. A transition to
capitalism by the Chinese method can be seen by the population as a
defeat in the war with South Korea. Moreover, such a transition will
remove obstacles for unification with the South, which can then swallow
the North simply because it has immeasurably more experience in free
market existence (remember the "unification" of DDR and FRG)
At the same time, a rapid return to an economy without any private
property ownership is hardly possible at this stage (the officials have
already realized what profit they can make of a free market).
I am not an Asian scholar. There might be some significant
characteristics of mentality, which would save the situation.