I’m always just a little bit freaked out by the classic nighttime image of the Korean peninsula [right] in which the south appears to have light and electricity while the north is just… dark. It is an apt visual metaphor for our scant knowledge of Kim Jung Il’s tightly policed totalitarian dystopia, an evil regime which remains a dark fascination to us, in which the very people have been shrunk by two generations of enforced scarcity.
So whenever a little detail of day-to-day life in North Korea makes its way to the outside world, we gobble it up. Take this LA Times piece about the recent disastrous attempt to reform the North Korean “economy” by basically just making up a new currency; it is full of satisfyingly terrible details:
Trying to deflect public anger, the government reportedly executed the senior bureaucrat who was the architect of the currency revaluation.
We were told that somebody decided he would burn the money instead of giving it to the government. The money had the picture of Kim Il Sung, and because he burned it he was shot to death for treason.
Food remains in such short supply that a single egg costs a full week’s salary for many. Rice [costs] the equivalent of more than two weeks’ salary.
Cooking oil is a luxury, so unaffordable that people buy only a few grams at a time in small plastic bags.
People are starving to death.