Friday, 1 August 2014

Choco-Pies And Phones A Revolution Make

Life in North Korea is about as tough as it gets on this planet outside of a conflict zone .... a mad dog regime, risk of arbitrary arrest, justice, even life and death at the whim of the elite. So every little comfort the citizens can glean is treasured, and not to be removed lightly, even by a regime as oblivious of its citizens well being, as that in North Korea.

So the workers at Kaesong, which is a joint North South venture, where North Koreans work for South Korean countries, but where the North Korean pockets the wages paid in the South Korean currency. Obviously while workers are paid by the North Korean state, in near worthless local money.

So what's the attraction to the North Korean workers? Well, apart from the fact that the wages are in local currency, they are still more than the equivalent work in local factories outside the economic zone. But the real bonus and incentive, is that the South Korean employers try to throw in a few perks (they can't give cash). The biggest of these, is that in a country often afflicted by regime induced famines or shortages, being fed a regular wholesome meal of South Korean imported foods once a day, is only to be dreamed of by the rest of the population, especially those who live near the southern UN demarcation line, which acts as a 'border' (technically, the two states of North and South Korea are still at war).

Included in the meals, more by chance than anything else, was a biscuit treat known as a 'Choco-Pie', which looks remarkably like two of the UK's 'Wagon Wheels' , just stuck together (US super sizing affects South Korea?), and these became incredibly popular, not to eat at Kaesong, but to take home and then 'trade' with North Koreans who had no access to such a wonder. So popular indeed, that the South Koreans started giving them out as 'bonuses', and the illegal trade in these treats soon flourished, with North Koreans willing to pay 3 or 4 times their 'face value', and the pies turned up all over the North.

A Regime Undermined By Choco-Pie

Or rather they did, for in one of those decisions that illustrate much about the regime, it banned them being served to the workers at Kaesong. After the ban, its reported that the price of a single pie rose to as much as $23, a day's pay for a North Korean. The regime said they could be given other 'food stuffs' as 'bonuses', such as sausage, noodles, coffee and other chocolate bars instead, but not the popular bars. The official line from Pyongyang's Unification Ministry on the Choco-Pie ban, is that workers are "fed up" with the snacks "and want something else", which is of course a lie as the ban appears to be an official attempt to clear them, along with other Western goods, from the 'open-air' (semi capitalist) markets across the country.

However, apart from reporting this latest vindictiveness in the North, there was something else that came to light in all this, and that is that the regime in the norths grip, is not quite as all powerful as they may wish us to think. For instance there are apparently 50,000 North Koreans crossing backwards and forwards to China to trade, with another 100,000 actually living in China doing business.They all have access to all the 'forbidden fruits' that the regime forbids, including telephones that make international calls (as long as the user is within range of the Chinese networks near the border).

New Technology Undermines Repressive Regimes

These phones are now widespread in the main North Korean population, along with smuggled DVDs of South Korean TV shows. Maybe, just maybe, the cult of the Kim's is on the wane .... which maybe explains why they are banning Choco-Pies.

In an interesting update to the story, in response to the ban, 200 South Korean activists and North Korean defectors, reportedly launched 50 large helium balloons carrying 10,000 Choco-Pies at North Korea this week, letting them drift over the border. The North Korean response was equally predictable ... they have threatened to shell the 'launch sites' if it happens again.  

Giant Condoms Launched At North Korea

Mind you, looking at the super prophylactic dimensions of the balloons the activists used, I can see why the North Koreans might think that was an aggressive act of penis intimidation. Ours are bigger than yours, so to speak. So watch this space to see if the condoms launch again with their provocative load .....


  1. Which came first?

    Wagon Wheels were first launched at the 1948 Olympia Food Fair in London.

    Tongyang Confectionery in South Korea began selling a similar product known as 'Orion Choco Pie' in 1974, but the orginal US variations, go back as far as 1917 in the US American deep South.

    1. Good use of Wiki LOL .... not a question that I had asked myself. Thanks for the comment.

  2. You were right to wonder what would happen next time the 'balloon went up', because they fired artillery at each other ...

    Mad as hatters the North is.

    1. I actually despair for the world. Only the Islamic world is more unstable than the North Korean regime ... Thanks for the update.


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