A group of North Korean women work at an upmarket 72-storey hotel in the swanky Huaxi Village in China's eastern Jiangsu Province. They either play instruments or sing and dance.
Asked what kind of performance they usually put on, the woman who is directing them said, "We play anything the audience wishes." The Long Wish Hotel, where they perform, is famous for its 1-ton statue of a bull made out of pure gold at a cost of 300 million yuan. The executive suite will set you back 99,999 yuan a night. It is frequented by tourists and big corporate clients.
Huaxi Village may be posh, but it is only a rural town and far from North Korea. It is quite common to run into North Korean women in restaurants in big cities in China, but it is rare to see so many of them as far south as Jiangsu.
The women came to Huaxi in October last year, when the Long Wish Hotel opened. Asked how many of them are here, the group leader looks visibly nervous, saying, "Why do you want to know?" But a town official said there are around 34 of them.
Some press reports say the women are also learning hotel management, but this turns out to be false. "The North Korean women are merely performing in restaurants or working as waitresses. They're not learning how to run the business," said a hotel staffer.
One staffer, who gives his name as Liu, says, "Most of the women are daughters of high-ranking North Korean officials. The monthly salary is around 6,000 yuan (about W1 million), but they only get 150 (about W27,000). The rest goes to the North Korean regime."
The women stay in a cheap hotel in the village. Three of them share a single room without computer access and limited TV channels. They can be spotted buying soap and other products at a nearby store but rarely venture out, according to locals.