Having visited the DPRK for 3 times now, I must say the capital Pyongyang is developing quite impressively. The roads have improved, skyscrapers are rising, new restaurants and kiosks are everywhere and more traffic is seen in the streets. Luxurious European car brands such as Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes are more regularly seen (and these are not the older models). Comparing the city to my first visit in 2014. it has vastly improved for the benefit of the people. It is confirmed again; when you are allowed to live in Pyongyang and you abide to the rules of the regime, your life in the DPRK is quite reasonable. You have free education, employment, housing and if you are really in the upper echelons: access to foreign currency.
I especially experienced this when we went to the Pyongyang International Trade Fair 2017. This is basically a consumer fair for wealthy North Koreans to go shopping. We saw people buying flat screen tv's, stereo's, rice cookers and juicers. All paid in hard currency, especially US dollars. The people there looked healthy and well fed. At one point I thought to myself that this trade fair might have just been in South Korea.
So the contrast when going outside the city now even feels bigger than before. As much as Pyongyang is growing, the countryside is still a forgotten place. The highway from Pyongyang to Wonsan is still abysmal, the people suddenly do not look so healthy any longer and the busy traffic in Pyongyang is nowhere to be found.
When arriving in Wonsan, a city on the east coast, it is hard to realize this is a city as big as Rotterdam in terms of population. It rather feels like a small, poor fishermen s village. Also here the roads are of poor quality and the streets are much less crowded than in Pyongyang.
But here are also enclaves of the rich people in Pyongyang. A summer camp for children feels surreal and the orphanage is only serves to take care for the children of party members. Not far from Wonsan we are brought to the ski resort. An insanely luxurious resort which doesn't serve any purpose other than satisfying the regime's upper echelons.
The gap in terms of income in North Korea is visibly growing. While during the 1990's almost everyone in the country was poor and had to fight to survive, there is a certain class of people that have come out of these food crises stronger. They are the newly forming bourgeois in the country. They serve the political elites by providing them luxury goods, getting hard currency in return. And more people in the country are finding their creative ways in making money in a country where the standard socialist rations have stopped working for a long time. If only we in the West were able to support these entrepreneurs...
This is just a short overview of my third trip to the DPRK last month. I will write more in detail about my travels to the DPRK. Next post: The Rise and Fall of the Mount Kumgang Tourist Zone.