Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jung Il and North Korean Stats

The November issue of Groove Korea was rich in stories of North Korea. Such stories included "Arduous March of N.K. Tourism", "The Pyongyang Merry-go-round", "Flashback or Flash Forward?" and "My Memories of North Korea". The catching title to this month's Groove is "A Defector Tells Her Story" and the shadowy outline of a hip-curvy woman with the black effect of fencing and barb-wire lend surreal effect to another North Korean 'behind the forbidden lines' story. South Korea provides asylum for North Korean refugees; however, the refugees must make their way through other enemy territory (China), to Vietnam or other countries where they can run to a Korean embassy to request asylum. If caught in China, the Chinese government treats the refugees not as war refugees but as famine refugees and repatriates them to their country ... where it is believed that they are put in a gulag for daring to escape or they simply disappear.

In the magazine my eye caught some statistics of North Korean defectors from 1949 - 2009. I'm not sure why the numbers of defectors exploded in 2001-2005 - what perhaps provoked so many to dare attempt an escape? or perhaps more accurately, what military factor broke down enough to allow so many defectors the chance to actually escape? The numbers in 2006-2009 exploded even more and the same questions apply.

And then there was also a time-line of key events that took place in North Korea, and some small commentary on each event. I'd like to make further comment on two of the events below.

(1) According to the time line, in 1976 North Korea was passed by the South Korean economy. This was a big blow to the North Korean ego. Until that time, the GDP and other 'perks' were publicized internationally and they continually compared their economy to that of the fledgling South Korean economy. Once the South Korean economy, however, surpassed the North's, the previously publicized financial factors in North Korea were made secret, as were many other "developments" there also.

(2) This magazine reports 117 South Korean companies operating in the Gaesong Industrial Complex, and 42,560 North Koreans employed in those companies. I believe this is an inaccuracy. One of my friends went on one of the last Gaesong tours and came back with shocking insights. By the way, my friend speaks Chinese okay but lousy Korean, so when they were in the Gaesong complexes my friend tried to interact in Chinese with the sales girls. A few of them got very excited that my friend was speaking to them in Chinese, and answered all sorts of questions posed to them. One question was in regard to the pin that each worker wore, but there were some variations in the pins. The workers informed my friend that even though they wore the pin stating they were North Koreans, they were in fact Chinese. The actual North Koreans working there were fewer than the Chinese although the majority of workers wore North Korean pins. Also, they said, telling the North Korean workers apart is very easy (for them). The North Korean workers never interact with the foreigners but the Chinese workers, and yes, they speak (North) Korean, do interact to some extent. So this number of 42,560 North Korean workers being employed at Gaesong is rather questionable.

And since we're making comments about these "facts", here's a third difference. Since 1945 there have been only 2 leaders in North Korea. Well, that is true up until today only for today Kim Jung Il died and will be succeeded by one of his sons. (I write this in hindsight. Actually I don't know if the succession was clearly stated in North Korea but I do know there has been a lot of discussion and controversy or who would be eligible.)

So today, at the age of 70, Kim Jung Il who was born 16 February 1941 (Soviet records) or 1942 (North Korean records) died. Facts provided about him in the magazine are amusing. He had four children, had a 38 under par in golf (albeit that's his reported score), and had an annual budget of $800,000 for Hennessy cognac. That's a lot of cognac and that's a huge expenditure on a product for self pleasure when a package of noodles (I've heard) at a tiny mom-and-pop style cafe would be about 15 cents, a sum the majority cannot afford. There was no mention of the GDP in North Korea but the makeup of the North Korean economy is divided into three large sectors: industry at 43.1%, services at 33.6%, and agriculture at 23.3%.

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