North Korean merchants get creative to keep money flowing in winter

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2018-02-14 15:29

"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): Its time for another edition of Market Trends, where we analyze the weeks latest economic updates. Were here today with reporter Kang Mi Jin

Kang Mi Jin (Kang): Last week, the people of North Korea were required to begin fulfilling compulsory orders to contribute manure to the state, a mobilization that typically runs through April. 

In order to procure humus soil - a replacement for manure - residents had no choice but to dig in hilly areas, causing damage to the environment. This has historically caused difficulties in progress towards the countrys reforestation goals.    

UMG: Interesting. What else has come to light recently?

Kang: I also have some sad news. As some of you may remember, there were devastating floods in North Koreas North Hamgyong Province in 2016. One resident whose home received extensive damage has become homeless and wanders around the marketplace. 

This individual lost four members of his family to the flood, including his wife, and wasnt even able to recover their bodies. Fortunately, he escaped the sudden floods because he had left the house at the time to guard the family garden. The man says he is unable to live in the same house where tragedy befell his family. So he wanders around the markets aimlessly.  
UMG: Thats very sad news indeed. 

Kang: But, switching tracks, according to recent communication with an inside source, packaged beverage products are selling well in North Korea. 

There are all manner of products available, including sweet drinks made with fruit or wild berries and other flavoring agents. In addition, packaged water has emerged as a top seller in both summer and winter.  

The availability of a wide array of beverages during different times of the year marks a departure from the past, where specific flavors were restricted to certain seasons. Marketization - the increased participation by private actors in the economy  - has brought a change here, and North Koreans now say that the seasons are irrelevant when it comes to selling things in the markets.

UMG: Can you explain what this means on a practical level for North Korean merchants? 

Kang: It means that the merchants no longer have to specialize in just one product depending on the season. For instance, an inside source with experience in the beverage industry said that merchants who sell North Korean-style ice cream and water in the summer are changing tack to match the season and selling boiling hot water in the winter. The hot water is used in a variety of ways by consumers. Merchants themselves will often buy the hot water, and put it in a water bag that rests against their body and warm themselves up by drinking it over the course of a few hours. 

In the afternoon, there are merchants who grind boiled soybeans to make heated soy milk. Others bring a lunch box from home and use the boiling water to pour over soy or dried radish greens for a quick bowl of soup in the morning. And there are merchants that sell seafood who need the hot water to thaw their fish.  

Unification Media Group (UMG): Are beverage sales in the summer more profitable? 

Kang: Yes the profits are not as great for boiled water, but this is also true for other sectors. Business is tough in the winter. But North Koreans are very determined to work to earn their living. They will use any method to produce a revenue stream. Some merchants engage in additional business practices during lean times to stay afloat.  

Daily NKs sources have reported that, facing a lack of customers in the market, some merchants are going directly to their customers in train stations and servicha [delivery vehicle] stops to sell hot water and soup. During lunch time, the merchants make good money by selling hot water because the demand is high.

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