It has been my contention for some time that societal and regime change in North Korea will be a result of the influence not of South Korean politicians, but of items of popular culture and lifestyle.
The Joong Ang backs up my contention today with an interesting report on the popularity of both Choco-Pies and Coffee Mix.
For the uninitiated the humble choco pie was invented in 1974 by Orion confectionary and consists of cream sandwiched between two sponges covered in Chocolate, and is, in this writers opinion, the best invention to come out of Korea. Ever.
Today in North Korea they say South Korean chocolate-covered cookies with marshmallow filling are essentially keeping the Kaesong Industrial Complex going. The innocuous treats, called Choco Pies, have become popular trading items among shrewd North Korean merchants.
It seems that after the recent currency devaluation, choco pies themselvs have become a medium of exchange.
Originally a snack for the North Korean workers at the Kaesong industrial complex the inocuous sweet treats apparently can now be found all over the DPRK - even on the Sino-Korean boarder:
But today, people are taking Choco Pies to the underground market.
“Choco Pie collectors have popped up [across North Korea],” said an official at the Unification Ministry in Seoul. “In Sinuiju, a northern city near the Chinese border, there is even a retail market.”
That's a long way from Kaesong! And this in the face of very tough controls at the Complex that sees workers searched before they leave for the day.
Which is not to say The North Koreans are above a bit of discount shopping. While I prefer the original Orion Choco Pie, North Korea opts for cheaper versions from rivals like Lotte to fill the bellies of under nourished Kaesong employees:
Kaesong Retailing Corp. is the exclusive distributor of Choco Pies in the North. In the South, Orion Confectionery is the creator of the snack, but the North chose less expensive versions made by Orion’s rivals, Lotte Confectionery and Crown Confectionery - which started making the pies years after Orion.
The pies cost 125 won (10 cents) per pack, or less than half the retail price in the South. Lee Jeong-goo, president of Kaesong Retailing, said the snack occupies a prominent place in the hearts of Kaesong employees.
“Given North Korean workers’ preferences, price and logistical convenience,” Lee said, “no single product could replace Choco Pies.”
Hilariously another (South) Korean staple is starting to turn up in Kaesong and quickly becoming a favourite amongst our Friends to the North™: The Ubiquitous Coffee Mix.
For the uninitiated Coffe Mix or Coffee sticks are coffee, creamer and sugar in a tube, traditionally added to a dixie cup half filled with boiling hot water so as to burn your hands through the thin paper cup. If you have ever been offered a coffee in Korea and thought of a hot steaming cup of Java, you are aware of the let down that is associated with coffee mix. Nevertheless they are also finding a place in the hearts of North Koreans.
Instant coffee mix sticks have also become a new favorite in the North. North Korean officials at a Kaesong office handling inter-Korean cooperation enjoy their cups of instant coffee as energy boosters. Drivers and workers also get their caffeine fix from coffee mix powder. A source at Kaesong said he replaced the mixes with instant coffee powder but soon had to bring back the mixes at the behest of his colleagues. Gone are the days when coffee, once viewed a dubious part of capitalism, was taboo in the North.
The article goes on to describe some of the issues South Koreans find while doing business in Kaesong, one dude was caught recently with a USB stick full of Porno (That'll get my hits up), while another chap was fined for watching porno (there we go again) at work.
Porno (three for the win) is a no-no in North Korea - something about corrupting the mind, lazy capitalists blah blah blah, and Northern authorities apparently went mental recently after finding a discarded bikini calendar amongst papers meant for recycling. Another issue - A South Korean lingerie manufacturer having it's trucks stopped at the boarder because of images of it's product on the side and having to have South Korean workers actually package the lingerie behind closed curtains because of the scantly clad model on the front of the packaging!
And least you think South Korean culture was only making piecemeal inroads into North Korea:
A massage parlor inside the complex that employed female ethnic Koreans from China closed its doors after Kim Yong-chol, head of the policy bureau at the National Defense Commission and an influential figure in the regime, said, “There’s no need for such a place.”
The article ends, rather sadly, with the fact that jobs at Kaesong are very much sought after with employees bribing their way in with amounts upward of a years salary, and that
After about three months, most of them put on an extra pound or two.
Either way, Dear Leader Comrade General™ Kim Jong Il, his heirs and Successors will have a shitstorm on their hands if thier countrymen get their hands on 잉어빵!