Pyongyang Becoming Rapidly Westernized

  • By Choi Jong-seok

    September 02, 2017 08:24

    The lifestyles of the North Korean elite in the capital Pyongyang are becoming westernized despite international sanctions, according to a researcher.

    Cho Jeong-ah at the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report, "Pyongyang and cities on the border have become much more westernized since Kim Jong-un came to power."

    Cho added that the pace of westernization "belies the fact that North Korea is the target of tough economic sanctions by the international community."

    North Korean students take pictures with their smartphones at an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Workers Party in Pyongyang in October 2015.

    Based on in-depth interviews with a dozen North Korean defectors from Pyongyang and the border cities, Cho learned that new mega shopping malls have opened in Pyongyang that house restaurants, swimming pools, coffee shops and skincare parlors, while the capital also has new ice and roller-skating rinks, a natural science museum and a zoo.

    High schools in the North now spend more time teaching English than Korean to students. Mobile phone ownership and solar panels at homes have spurred increased access to South Korean TV shows and music, and young people learn the latest dance moves and South Korean-style slang.

    Some 60 percent of Pyongyang residents between 20 to 50 use mobile phones and apparently enjoy watching South Korean soaps and music videos on tiny SD cards that come with their handsets.

    Starting in 2013, the regime has encouraged people to install solar panels in their homes to meet their own power needs amid a chronic power shortage.

    Cho attributed the changes to thriving open-air markets that began to crop up in 2000. "In spite of international sanctions, North Korea has nurtured its domestic economy through open-air markets that have created new wealthy class of people who can enjoy leisure activities," she said.

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