North Koreans prepare for the new year by planning purchases and making resolutions

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2017-12-11 11:40

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): Although it seems like just yesterday that we were all making our New Year's resolutions for 2017, December is upon us once again. Now we are all reflecting back on the year and our successes and disappointments. We are also curious about how our neighbors to the north are spending their time. Special correspondent Kang Mi Jin joins us again to discuss how North Koreans will spend the New Year and what kinds of resolutions they will be making.
Kang Mi Jin (Kang): As we know, people in South Korea mostly make resolutions to save money, go on a diet, or buy a new car, etc., and they hope for health and happiness. But how about North Koreans?
I spoke with a resident from the Kaeson district of Pyongyang at the beginning of this year who told me about her family's New Year's plans. She said that her family planned to install solar panels on their house and that despite her university expenses, they wanted to save for it. 
Families tend to plan their year like this according to how much money they expect to have. Wealthy families may plan to purchase a wall-mounted TV, a second refrigerator, or to move into a better home. On the other hand, a poor family may all decide to help save towards a particular item that the family needs. 
UMG: Although there is a growing wealth gap in North Korea, is there a similar difference in New Year's plans depending on status?
Well solar panels are actually one product that sees demand from rich and poor alike. This is natural considering the overall lack of electricity across the country since the famine of the 1990s, and even on holidays people wonder whether or not there will be electricity. 
But thanks to solar panels, these complaints are getting rarer. Almost everywhere, from major cities to inland villages, people have been able to access electricity to some extent through the use of solar panels. On top of this, coal plants have actually started producing more electricity for domestic consumption as international sanctions have prevented coal exports.
UMG: So you mean that sanctions have actually had a somewhat positive effect on people?
Kang: I have seen through pictures sent to me by residents of Pyongyang and Kaesong that solar panels are now common in apartment buildings. I have also seen similar evidence in Rason and the mountainous rural area of Myongchon. Shops and businesses on Ryomyong Street and Mirae Scientists Street in the capital now have brightly-lit signs to attract customers at night, and people coming from out of town are reacting quite positively, saying it helps them find places more easily. So yes, there are ways in which sanctions have hurt people, but the increase in electricity supply is one positive aspect at least.
UMG: Can you elaborate on the New Year's resolutions made by cadres and the elite?
Kang: I recently had a chance to speak with a Pyongyang resident who had traveled up to the border region. He told me that his wife wanted them to get a wall-mounted TV this year. They just moved into a new home last year, so they were apparently planning to start saving money again, but after coming into a bit more money, his wife pestered him into going ahead and buying the TV. He said that the very next day, his wife prepared some special meal for him. In North Korea, where it is typical for women to be housewives, the wife will often prepare some nice meat or other rare dish for her husband as a thank you in such situations. 
But then there is the other side of the story. There was a tragic case I was told about, where a woman inherited the debts of her husband who had suddenly died in an accident. She had planned all year to purchase a cell phone for her young daughter who just graduated from high school, but due to the circumstances, was not able to do so. She said that people just have to give up their plans when business fails or accidents happen. 

UMG: What kinds of items do people consider essential purchases around the New Year?
Kang: Depending again on a person's wealth, they may want to purchase a range of different things, so its difficult to detail exactly which items are most sought-after. But there are some common examples, like televisions, refrigerators, or bicycles. Wedding-related items are also very popular since there are many weddings around this time of year. Some families also focus on getting everyone warm jackets or winter undergarments. Although there may not be the same kinds of lifestyle resolutions like in the South, such as resolving to quit smoking or go on a diet, people on both sides of the border similarly think towards the future and set plans and goals they wish to achieve in the new year.
UMG: How expensive are the items that people have to save all year to purchase?
Kang: In Pyongyang and Pyongsong, refrigerators are going for around $300-450 USD, while televisions are going for $60-105. In Chongjin, electric bicycles are reportedly being sold for 540,000-610,000 KPW ($67-75). We found the price of ordinary bicycles in Hyesan to be 300,000-420,000 KPW ($37-52) on the low end, and around 840,000 ($105) on the high end. 
A padded winter jacket is one of the more easily attainable items. Cheaper jackets can be purchased for around 50,000 KPW ($6), while expensive jackets go for around 3.5 million KPW ($437). You can imagine how hard a person must work throughout the year to save enough to buy one of these jackets.
UMG: Thank you again for joining us today. 

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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