Category Archive: Food

Jul 08

Kim Jong-Un alleged to have undergone 6 plastic surgery procedures to resemble granddad.

Kim Pyong-ilRumours of the future leader of North Korea’s supposed plastic surgeries were rampant from the moment he was revealed to the world last September. While there’s really no new evidence now, the speculation has been spreading through the media outlets lately. Why? According to the Chosun Ilbo, half brother and once a potential threat to Kim Jong-Il’s succession to leadership, Kim Pyong-Il (the guy in the hat) has been placed under house arrest as well. Purportedly, Pyong-Il has a closer resemblance to the deceased Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, a figure still well respected in North Korean hearts and minds despite a quiet resentment for his son, Kim Jong-Il. The idea behind the surgeries according to the president of Open Radio for North Korea:

"Half the procedures were designed to make his face resemble Kim Il-sung and half were intended to give him the same profile.”

There’s another thing that makes people resemble other people: genetics. However, former personal sushi chef to Kim Jong-Il, Kenji Fujimoto had stated that the Jong-Un revealed to the world last year does not resemble the precocious teenager he recalled from his time there. If true about the surgery, they did a pretty good job. Wonder if those surgeons are still around today?

Source: Open Radio for North Korea / Sydney Morning Herald

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Jul 04

The current food situation in North Korea–and why no one knows much about it.

Last week, a collection of smuggled clips of daily life in North Korea was released by Australian media outlet ABC. The footage was only available for 24 hours, but other mirrors exist such as the one embedded below.

From ABC:

Shot over several months by an undercover North Korean journalist, the harrowing footage shows images of filthy, homeless and orphaned children begging for food and soldiers demanding bribes.
The footage also shows North Koreans labouring on a private railway track for the dictator’s son and heir near the capital Pyongyang.
Strolling up to the site supervisor, the man with the hidden camera asks what is going on.
"This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-il to comrade Kim Jong-un," he is told.
The well-fed Kim Jong-un could soon be ruling over a nation of starving, impoverished serfs.
The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give.
"I am eight," says one boy. "My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors."

In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army.
"My business is not good," complains the stallholder.
"Shut up," replies the official. "Don’t offer excuses."
It is clear that the all-powerful army – once quarantined from food shortages and famine – is starting to go hungry.
"Everybody is weak," says one young North Korean soldier. "Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished," he said.

The source of these images is AsiaPress’ Rimjin-gang magazine. The project employs citizens journalists in North Korea who receive hardware like cellphones or digital cameras and training on how to use them, and smuggle the images captured back across the border.

The situation is perpetually bleak, but an international debate over how to, or even whether to, support North Korea with humanitarian food aid rages on.

The first place to look for humanitarian aid should be the United Nations’ World Food Program. Joshua Stanton on his blog One Free Korea hosts an interview with Marcus Pryor, the spokesman for WFP Asia. It’s hard to disagree with Stanton and his suspicion of WFP’s monitoring rigour. For more perspective from a World Food Program monitor in the late 90s towards the end of the ‘Arduous March’, read Erich Weingarten’s story of his first aid monitoring trip in North Korea on 38 North. It’s well worth the read on exposing the dilemma facing inspectors who are unable to interact with anyone or anything the government doesn’t present them with.

The Christian Science Monitor echoes the sentiment from the US and South Korean leadership, which both agree that North Korea cannot adequately guarantee that food is going to the right places, and therefore should not receive said food aid. The South Korean government has also maintained its stance that it will not be providing its rival brother with aid.

China has been importing grain in greatly increased numbers in the past year, not as aid, but presumably at a greatly discounted rate. Chinese-DPRK relations are at a high right now, following a highly publicized meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the establishment of many new economic ventures between the neighbour countries.

The European Union has announced a 10 million Euro ($14.5 million USD) aid package as well. From the Associated Press:

"The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food," Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

EU experts on a recent mission to the country determined that state-distributed rations, which provide food to two-thirds of North Koreans, have been cut by more than 60 percent, to about 400 calories, the EU said.

Even severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries are not getting any treatment and many citizens have grown so desperate that they are eating grass, the EU added.

A nice gesture, but the intention is for the aid to be “strictly monitored” by the existing unreliable methods employed by the WFP.

Can there ne any reasonable way to monitor the distribution of aid in North Korea? This is likely impossible with the current, long-standing regime, where anywhere and everywhere can be made to be off limits to foreign eyes. A destabilized North Korea is probably the first step required to see that the people most in need receive vital nutrition.

Source: ABC / One Free Korea / World Food Program /Yonhap (1) (2) / Associated Press / Christian Science Monitor

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May 30

Korean-American businessman “Eddie” Jun Yong-Su released from detention in North Korea.

US Human Rights Ambassador Robert King leaves Pyongyang with freed Korean-American prisoner Jun Yong-su.

Korean-American businessman “Eddie” Jun Yong-Su was taken prisoner in North Korea in November 2010. Though the charges against him were never formally announced, it is believed that while doing business in the North, he performed underground missionary work, a dire crime in the oppressive DPRK. His captivity was not publicized until March 2011, and many expected former US President Jimmy Carter (on a diplomacy mission on behalf of The Elders) to return to the US with Jun, but this did not happen.

Ambassador Robert King, the US human rights envoy for North Korea, was able to secure Jun’s release during a visit to Pyongyang to discuss chronic food shortages. State run media outlet KCNA released an image (pictured) and a statement that Jun was being released on “humanitarian grounds”. Jun parted ways in Beijing, heading home to Seoul while King returned to the US. From Korea JoongAng Daily:

Upon arrival in Beijing, King confirmed the release of Korean-American Jun Young-su by North Korea. Although the two were on the same flight out of North Korea, Jun was not seen at Beijing Airport’s arrival gate. Later, he showed up in Seoul. Jun’s release came a day after North Korea said it decided to set him free on “humanitarian grounds.” Jun was arrested in November for committing an “unspecified crime” against the North, according to North Korean media reports.

Jun was met at Incheon International Airport by U.S. Embassy and South Korean officials and headed to a hospital for a medical checkup. Dressed in a black jacket and casual trousers, he appeared relatively healthy.

“I have to go to hospital. Let me talk later,” Jun briefly told reporters.

Earlier in Beijing, King, the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, told reporters, “We are very happy to report that Mr. Jun, the American citizen being held in Pyongyang, has been released. We are also delighted that in a day or two he will be back with his wife and family.”

Jun is the fifth American taken prisoner and then released (often to a prolific American political figure) in 3 years. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured and held for nearly 5 months in 2009 for trespassing over the border while shooting a documentary about North Korean defectors in China. They were brought back to the US by former US President Bill Clinton. Robert Park crossed the frozen Yalu River border on Christmas Day 2009 on a mission to spread Christianity in the North, and was later sent back to America in February 2010. Before Park’s release, his colleague Aijalon Gomes also crossed the border and was arrested – he was brought back in August 2010 by former US President Jimmy Carter.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee both authored books about their experiences, and Laura Ling went on the talk show circuit to describe her experiences. The male prisoners, however, seem to return with great mental trauma and rarely speak publicly. Robert Park has done a few interviews in between stays at a mental hospital. Aijalon Gomes has been quiet since his return. Jun’s only quote refers to needing to go to the hospital though looking in good health otherwise, so it remains to be seen whether we will hear about his treatment in North Korea. And then there’s the story of Evan Hunziker, who in 1996 was arrested while swimming nude in Yalu River. Governor Bill Richardson was able to secure his release, but Hunziker commit suicide just one month after returning to the US.

Source: Korea JoongAng Daily

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May 10

Popular US evangelist Franklin Graham visiting North Korea.

Franklin Graham, the son of famous American evangelist Billy Graham, is in Pyongyang and meeting with foreign minister Pak Ui-Chun. AFP reports:

The preacher heads Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian aid organisation that was one of five US groups to send representatives on a visit to the isolated communist state in February.

Samaritan’s Purse said in April that parts of North Korea were expected to run out of food in less than two months due to a poor harvest even if foreign donors agreed to provide assistance.

It said that a harsh winter had reduced crop yield by up to half and that some people were already eating grass, leaves and tree bark.

The United States and South Korea have been cautious over reports of dire food shortages in the North, with some officials suspecting that the communist state is exaggerating the problem to win assistance.

North Korea must be loving all the humanitarian aid attention they’ve been receiving lately. Former president Carter last week, Graham this week… The UN’s World Food Programme has kicked off an emergency campaign to send aid, and probably many other NGOs are rushing to help as well. If only the aid could actually reach the starving masses it is intended for…

Source: AFP


Note: My break from updating is over and I’ve come back with a few ideas for running this blog a little more efficiently… which means more posts, better posts, more consistent formatting, as well as streamlining posts concurrently with Twitter (and I may just venture into Facebook territory as well). I also plan to spend some more time updating the Movies/Books pages as well as a Downloads page that I’ll be putting up soon (mmm… DPRK mp3s and Red Star Linux isos!)

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Apr 26

The Elders arrive in Pyongyang for discussions


Former US President Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday representing the humanitarian NGO of former world leaders known as The Elders.

The entourage was greeted by Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and children bearing flowers. The 3 day trip is planned for the Elders to sit with top North Korean brass to discuss the ongoing food crisis and nuclear issues that North Korea faces. Carter stated that he hoped they would meet with Kim Jong-Il and even son and leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un, but no official meetings have been formalized as of yet. Carter also remarked that they were not there to secure the release of imprisoned Korean-American Jun Young-Su, a Christian businessman from Orange Country who was arrested last November and allegedly confessed to an unknown crime (probably illegal missionary work). Carter’s previous visit to the DPRK in August 2010 secured the release of another missionary-turned-prisoner, Aijalon Gomes.

The group depart North Korea on Thursday, taking the rare route of flying directly from Pyongyang to Seoul (instead of stopping over in Beijing). It’s likely we won’t hear much more from these talks until their return.

Source: Yonhap News / Associated Press / CanKor

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Mar 24

North Korea donates $600k in aid to Japan

The government of North Korea chipped in $500,000 USD, while the Red Cross in North Korea tacked on another $100,000 donation to relief efforts in Japan (specifically ethnic North Koreans living in the country) after an 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the north east with tsunami waves. The government’s cash was to assist pro-Pyongyang Koreans, while the Red Cross money was delivered to it’s Japanese counterpart. North Korea and Japan have no formal diplomatic ties.

That is a lot of money these days for cash-strapped North Korea, so one wonders if there is a suggestive gesture in this donation to their Chongryon contemporaries in Japan that they are still a unified people (p.s., send money). Especially given the most recent United Nations report that 6 million of North Korea’s 24.1 million population are currently in urgent need for food assistance. Ethnic North Koreans living in Japan and sending money back to their mother country is a significant portion of North Korea’s income.

Source: Yonhap / North Korean Economy Watch

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