The holiday mood in North Korea is at a low ebb as higher prices for meat, rice and other foods make celebrating the Lunar New Year a costly affair, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.
The Lunar New Year, along with the fall harvest Chuseok festival, are the two most important holidays in Korean culture, on which extended families gather yesa ceremony and celebration in honor of ancestors.
“We have to prepare for the Lunar New Year holiday, but prices are rising sharply, so the hearts of the common residents are heavy,” a resident of northeastern North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Over the past month, rice prices rose by 27%, maize by 17% and pork, which was already very expensive and unaffordable for most people, by 11%. Other items such as cooking oil and chili powder also experienced significant price increases.
“Residents who went to the market to buy meat for the holiday are discouraged,” said the source. “They complain that prices always go up when the holidays come around, so they wish there were no holidays.”
Fruit for the elite
But while most ordinary people are struggling, the government is importing tons of Chinese fruits – lychees, pineapples and mangoes – to give to senior officials in the Pyongyang capital.
Attractive piles of fruit are an important part of the yes ceremony, but even more common fruit has become scarce and expensive in North Korea due to an import ban imposed three years ago since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Various fruits have been shipped to North Korea in huge quantities on the Dandong-Sinuiju freight train since yesterday,” a North Korea-related source in the Chinese border city of Dandong told RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity for security reasons on Tuesday.
The source said most shipments contain “southern fruits,” meaning the fruits are grown in southern China and are seen as exotic and special. In South Korea, the term is used to refer to fruits such as lychee, mangosteen, or durian, but in North Korea, bananas and pineapples are rare enough to be popular as well.
“This is the first time North Korean trading companies have imported southern fruits in such large quantities since the start of the coronavirus crisis,” said a source from Dandong. “The North Koreans have said that the southern fruits will be donated to officials in Pyongyang on Lunar New Year’s Day.”
The source said a 17-car freight train departed Dandong that day for Sinuiju on North Korea’s side of the Yalu River, and two of the cars were loaded to the brim with mandarins, bananas and pineapples. probably about 120 tons in total. fruit in total.
Police and bribes
Meanwhile, local officials are trying to enforce price controls on the streets to dampen inflation. But sources say traders can bribe the police if caught raising prices.
During the holiday season, the markets are usually busy with customers rushing to get all the food they need for a good meal yesbut not this year, a resident of the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
“The usual holiday atmosphere… is nowhere to be seen. When residents check the price of items they want to buy, they just seem hesitant,” she said. “Ordinary residents are in such a difficult situation. Their resentment towards the authorities… is growing day by day.”
Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.