diet coke for breakfast

Monday, January 31, 2005

Posted by Jake
Times Online - Sunday Times
Rajin, a deepwater port that is open to foreign trade, is supposed to be a showpiece of the new economy in the potentially rich northeast next to China and Russia.

However, here we saw economic chaos that has led to unheard-of social disorder. At the central market child beggars chased us along alleys of shoddy Chinese goods, past stalls heaped with decaying fish. A group of dead-eyed teenagers kicked and shoved the younger boys to go after the foreigners. The guides hastily warned us against robbers.

To most North Koreans the prices must have seemed insane. A crab caught locally cost more than a driver’s monthly wages of £1.40. A Chinese cotton vest cost two weeks’ money.

Still hundreds of people jammed the officially sanctioned market and dozens of illegal vendors froze outside as they touted vegetables, clothes and hunks of rancid meat.

No official intervened to stop the illicit trade. Judging by the aggressive pushing and arguing over the goods, there might have been a riot if they had. A few North Koreans are clearly making money. Many more, though, are falling into penury.

Later we were taken for lunch to a state restaurant where lukewarm fish, vegetables and rice were produced from a chilly kitchen. There were iron bars on the windows and a heavy padlock on the door to prevent looting. Marxists, if there were any remaining in North Korea, might have described the situation as prerevolutionary.

Reminds me of what I have read about the Soviet Union right before it collapsed: economic dissarray and huge shortages, attempts on the leaders life, mass defections.

I feel for the North Korean people's plight, but this is good news. Hopefully whoever replaces the "Great Leader" will be open to reform.


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