Category Archives: North Korea

Teach Entrepreneurship in North Korea (yeah, really)

If the offer to teach English in Pyongyang from a couple of weeks ago didn’t tempt you, how about this one? The Choson Exchange (motto: “Building Trust through Academic Cooperation”) is looking for volunteers to lead workshops on economic issues this summer (outside Pyongyang) and fall (in Pyongyang). If you know (or can convince the NKs you know) anything about economic policy, banking (especially risk management …), or entrepreneurship, then you may have what it takes to spend four months in North Korea. Click the links above for more info. No word on whether the positions are open even to us evil Americans.

Aid for North Korea – No Longer Just for Bleeding Hearts?

Former President Carter’s recent trip to North Korea, and resultant call for a resumption of humanitarian (mainly food) aid to the North, once again brings attention to the controversial issue of sending aid to North Korea. Many people disagree strongly on this one, some blaming aid provision for prolonging the rule of the Kim clan, with resultant additional suffering of the populace, others blame a failure to provide aid for the sickness and death of untold numbers of North Koreans. Aside from food aid, what about medical aid? Further, what if disease outbreaks in the North sicken people in the South? Should the South provide aid if it protects Southerners? What if those affected include not only South Korean civilians, but also South Korean and U.S. troops stationed near the border? How would that change the debate?  

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Measuring North Korean GDP from Space?

Naver, the popular South Korean portal site, has an interesting article about using lights at night to measure economic growth. Three researchers at Brown University used imagery taken from 1992-2009 by U.S. Air Force weather satellites to develop a proxy for measuring GDP growth (or contraction) by measuring the amount of light visible at night from outer space. The idea being to get a better idea of GDP changes in countries, like North Korea, that don’t release or compile economic data. One of their images, contrasting brightly-lit South Korea with a dark North, was made famous by former Secretary of Defense McNamara Rumsfeld.

Contrasting lights and economic output on the Korean peninsula (Image courtesy Naver)


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Genocide in North Korea?

Check out today’s Washington Post for a column comparing genocide in North Korea to the Holocaust, by Robert Park, the jackass guy who thought it’d be a good idea to walk into North Korea to proselytize (background from BBC or Wikipedia). He closes the column with a call for action, “to save the North Korean people and stop the crimes against humanity.” His second proposal, though somewhat unclear, involves using North Korean defectors/refugees for communications in the North. A solid idea, recently discussed both here on the blog and by The Atlantic, that deserves more attention. Hopefully today’s spot in the Post will help.

North Sends Message to Recent Defectors

“There are family members of the four who have died or are still unconscious after waiting for their loved ones.” A quote from North Korea directed at the four people who chose to remain behind while their comrades, who were all on a boat that drifted into South Korean waters in February, were repatriated to the North. Of the 31 who were on the boat when it mistakenly entered South Korean waters and was captured by the South Korean Navy, 27 chose to return to the North and were sent back on 27 March. The remaining four apparently decided to defect, only to get the message above from the North on Monday (click here for a related story in English from the South’s JoongAng Daily, or here for the original North Korean story in English, or Korean). Interestingly, the English version of the North Korean report doesn’t contain the quote above, it’s only in the Korean version. Hmm, why is that? Why, a couple of weeks after the four defected, did the North suddenly send a message to the defectors that their family members had died or are unconscious? That’s always the saddest part of talking to defectors, or reading their accounts: the repercussions their actions have on family members left behind. The North doesn’t play games with those that embarrass it and this message is designed to remind those four of what is currently happening to the family members they left behind.  

Users, Revenue Grow for Koryolink, North Korea’s Cellphone Service

Update to previous posting on whether there are cellphones in North Korea. Orascom Telecom, the Egyptian company that runs Koryolink, North Korea’s only cellphone provider, reported yearly results for 2010 [.pdf from Orascom’s website] that showed nearly a quintupling of subscribers to 431,919 and a 156% increase in revenues to $66 million. Not bad numbers for a company operating in one of the world’s most restrictive countries. The service now reportedly covers 91% of the population, 15 cities (up from 10 in previous reports), and 22 highways. There is also plenty of room to grow, with less than 2% of the country’s population currently subscribing to the network, though, in one of Asia’s poorest countries, service costs may eventually limit expansion. For additional information, please see related articles on or  

NK: Forest Fires Are a ‘Gift from Heaven’

There have been reports over the past couple of weeks of forest fires in North Korea, including one fire that came across the border and into the South’s side of the DMZ. NASA has even detected the fires, mainly along the North’s east coast.

Forest Fires in North Korea

While forest fires might be expected to be bad news, especially in a country as hungry and agriculturally-deprived as North Korea, defector reporting from today’s Chosun Ilbo says exactly the opposite. According to the report, the fires are “heaven-sent gifts” that foster the growth of 고사리, a type of fern or bracken eaten by starving North Koreans. The fires also clear areas for future cultivation and reportedly create additional firewood [not exactly sure how that works, but I rarely wander burned-out forests in search of bracken and places to grow my crops]. The desperation runs so strong that people attempting to put out the fires are criticized or blocked. The government and party mainly focus fire prevention efforts on saving trees with writings praising Kim Il-sung, a concern reportedly ignored by most people. Not that putting out the fires is really an option – most firefighting equipment is reportedly so old and in such disrepair that it doesn’t work. So, forest fires are good, prevention efforts should focus on special Kim Il-sung trees rather than homes or people, and it doesn’t really matter anyway, because none of the firefighting equipment works. North Korea, helping keep the news weird since 1948 …  

Costs Rise for North Koreans Seeking Medical Treatment

A recent survey of 370 North Koreans reported by Radio Free Asia (and picked up by MBC News in South Korea) found that 90% of those surveyed had given gifts (of money, food, cigarettes, or alcohol) to a doctor in exchange for treatment. Though medical care in the North is supposed to be free, the country can no longer afford to provide enough medicine and pay salaries, leaving many doctors and nurses to demand bribes/gifts/payments in exchange for treatment. The cost to patients can be quite severe, worth 140% of a month’s income for farmers, 80% of a month’s income for office workers, and 60% for factory workers. A heavy burden given that the average monthly income for a worker in their 40s is $45, which leaves little to spare for emergencies. A side effect of the high costs has been tuberculosis (TB) patients not completing their full cycle of medication, instead selling some of their medicine on the black market once the disease appears to have passed. With TB medicine one of the most common items donated to the North by groups from the World Health Organization to the Eugene Bell Foundation, patients sometimes receive this medicine for free or at very low cost. Unfortunately, they often sell some on the black market rather than take the full course of treatment – giving a boost to much harder to treat drug-resistant forms of the disease. Drug-resistant TB is much more dangerous than earlier forms of the disease and, unfortunately, spells even worse trouble looming in North Korea’s already bleak future.  

Bored? Tired of the Internet? Try Teaching English in Pyongyang

According to a recent story from Radio Free Asia, English teachers, even American nationals, are needed in North Korea. Organizations including the Mennonite Central Committee (in the U.S. and Canada), the New Zealand-based NZ-DPRK Society, the British Council, Canada’s Trinity Western University, and Global Resource Services in the United States have all sent, or plan to send, English teachers to North Korea. Some positions are paid, others are voluntary. Anyone wishing to head North may first want to read this account of a British editor and sometime English teacher’s year in Pyongyang. Though a bit dated (he was there from 1987-88) it is still a great read. And, at free, you can’t beat the price. Keep in mind that if you go, 1.) you’ll forever win the pretentiousness game when it comes to North Korea (“Interesting opinion professor, but when I was living in the North, I actually learned that …”). 2.) You won’t be seeing much of the Internet (which many may consider a blessing). 3.) You should be able to get a book, or at least a decent series of blog postings, from the deal.  

NK Doctor: Problem with Radiation? Drink Beer!

North Korea announced on 7 April that it had discovered traces of radioactive materials from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, though at levels below that deemed dangerous. In response, the North’s state-run TV also reportedly ran a special on how to prevent radioactive contamination and flush it from your body, including advising people to wear raincoats in the rain, use face masks, and have, “seaweed, water and beer […] to prevent radioactive materials staying in the body.” If nothing else, the beer should at least make you feel better.

  • What’s the upside to blindsiding SK and Japan? - Looming war games suspension raises concern in Seoul - posted on 15/06/2018

  • North Korea Relies on American Technology for Internet Operations - posted on 07/06/2018

  • Alright, everybody chip in 20 points from Holiday Inn rewards ... - posted on 02/06/2018

  • Analysis: North Korea sees US economic handouts as threat - posted on 29/05/2018

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