Nightlife in Pyongyang, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner and Brain Trust member Kathi Zellweger were among former residents and frequent visitors to North Korea that were interviewed by a New York City based journalist Justin Rohrlich about nightlife in North Korea. The resulting article was published on 19 April 2013 in NKNews.org. The full text, with NKNews photo, follows. –CanKor]

North Korea’s Nightlife Scene: The Pyongyang Perspective

Justin Rohrlich speaks to former residents and regular visitors to learn more about nightlife in North Korea

Pyongyang-NightlifeThough it sounds like the start of a bad joke, North Korea does, indeed, have a nightlife.

“It’s not just going to rallies,” says Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based travel outfitter specializing in North Korea. “There is such a thing as leisure time, at least for people in Pyongyang and in certain other parts of the country. North Koreans are not the Taliban; they do things that most westerners can relate to: having too many drinks, having a singsong, having a night out — these types of things do occur.”

A night on the town wasn’t always so easy for Pyongyangites — or the 200 or so resident foreigners living there; diplomats, aid workers, and the odd European or Asian investor. Read the rest of this entry »

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My First Monitoring Trip

This is the third episode in a series by Erich Weingartner, recounting his days as the founding Head of the Food Aid Liason Unit (FALU), an independent section of the United Nations World Food Program, from 1997-1999. All photos are by Erich Weingartner. Previous episodes were “My Bumpy Road to Pyongyang” and “My Introduction to Nampo Port.”

DPRK Kindergarten

“It’s all a matter of perception, you know,” Naresh answered with a knowing smile. “Reality is just an illusion.”

I had asked my Bangladeshi colleague Naresh Talukder how we were going to verify that what we would see was real. We were in a WFP vehicle barreling at top speed along a paved, almost completely empty superhighway, heading south from Pyongyang. My eyes were glued to the road as I conversed with him. This was my first monitoring trip. My heart was still in a rush of excitement, trying to grasp the reality of exploring a hidden corner of our globe that few foreign eyes had seen.

“Sounds a bit too Hindu for my taste,” I quipped.

“Not all Bangladeshis are Muslims, you know.” He was looking for something in his briefcase. “You Westerners are far too concerned with facts and figures, imagining that this is the way to harness reality.” Read the rest of this entry »

My Introduction to Nampo Port

[This is the second episode in a series by Erich Weingartner, recounting his days as the founding Head of the Food Aid Liason Unit (FALU), an independent section of the United Nations World Food Program, from 1997-1999. The previous episode was “My Bumpy Road to Pyongyang”.]

“Do you have any plans for lunch?”

All I could see was my Bangladeshi colleague’s smiling face peeking at an angle through the door. I was seated on a kitchen chair, the only piece of furniture in the bedroom that was to serve as my office. I was glad for the interruption, because I had difficulty making sense of the file of “monitoring reports” balanced precariously on my knees.“I was going to ask you where you go for lunch around here,” I responded. The diplomatic compound where the UN offices were located seemed devoid of commercial establishments.

Nampo Port (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

“Normally I eat at home or at the diplomatic club,” said Mahbub,[i] “but today I am going to Nampo port. Do you have your passport with you?”

“Yes, always.”

“The blue one?”

“My Canadian passport.”

“Mmm, that might be a problem. I will check with FDRC.”

The FDRC[ii] was the unit in the Foreign Affairs Ministry that served as official DPRK counterpart to all humanitarian agencies following the 1995 floods. This was in the early days of the relationship, a time when the FDRC was still learning by trial and error how to navigate the precarious fissure between the requirements of foreign agencies and the constraints of domestic regimen. Read the rest of this entry »

My Bumpy Road to Pyongyang

[This is the first episode in a series by Erich Weingartner, recounting his days as the founding Head of the Food Aid Liason Unit (FALU), an independent section of the United Nations World Food Program, from 1997-1999.]

The Tower of Juche Idea, Pyongyang (Photo by Vincent Yu, AP)

Tower of the Juche Idea, Pyongyang (Photo by Vincent Yu, AP)

When I was summoned to the office of my new boss, the other staff looked at me as though I was about to enter a lion’s den. I paused at the door, took a deep breath, and entered. I wanted to make a good impression in my first meeting with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) DPRK Country Director. She was reading a file on her desk when I came in. Not certain if she had noticed me, I knocked on the open door.

“Close the door and sit down!” she snapped, without looking up.

I sat in the only chair I could see, across from her desk. I looked around as she continued reading in silence. Her spacious office used to be the master bedroom of the United Nations Resident Representative in Pyongyang. It was sparsely furnished with a desk and a large filing cabinet. When the WFP established its DPRK country office in 1996, it set up operations in the vacant residence of the UNDP compound.

At the time of my arrival there were only five international staff. The British deputy-director had greeted me that morning when I arrived jet lagged from the hotel. He showed me the empty downstairs bedroom that was to be my office and introduced me to the young North Korean assistant who said he would take care of my every need. I also met the two Bangladeshi monitors, the German office manager and two local staff in a living/dining room area that had been converted into an open-concept office on the ground floor. Read the rest of this entry »

Political Tours: Visit North Korea with Professor Rudiger Frank

[How will North Korea change after Kim Jong Il’s death and the rise of his son Kim Jong Un? Will changes become visible to the casual observer traveling to Pyongyang during celebration of the 100th anniversary of DPRK founder Kim Il Sung this coming April? The British organizers of  Political Tours will take a group of not-so-casual tourists to see for themselves. They will be accompanied by CanKor Brain Trust member and economist Rudiger Frank in what is sure to be a fascinating educational experience. Although exact details are still being worked out, CanKor encourages its readers to consider joining this unique opportunity at an especially critical period of North Korean history. To do so, please get in touch with us, or register through the Political Tours website. Make sure you let them know you heard about it from us. –CanKor]

Political Tours – North Korea Tour – April 2012

In the wake of Kim Jung Il’s death, and questions hanging over the country’s future direction, Political Tours is organizing a tour to North Korea this April. The visit is being led Professor Rudiger Frank, head of Korean studies at the University of Vienna, and one of the world’s leading experts on North Korea.

It also coincides with the 100th anniversary celebrations of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, an event that will have added importance following the death of his son at the end of December. Read the rest of this entry »

FAO/WFP Crop Assessment Report Published

(Photo by Erich Weingartner, December 2010)

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) visited DPRK at the request of the Government from 3 to 17 October to assess the 2011 main-crop harvest, forecast the 2012 production of winter and spring crops, estimate cereal import requirements for the 2011/12 marketing year (November 2011 to October 2012), to assess the household food security situation and estimate food assistance needs.

This is an annual assessment that calculates staple cereal availability and needs, on which is based the WFP food aid appeal for the following year. As in previous years, the DPRK is suffering from a net food deficit. The report notes the following:

The total cereal import requirement in 2011/12 is estimated at 739 000 tonnes. As indicated by various CFSAM reports in the past, since mid-1990s the cereal equivalent import requirement (i.e. the national food deficit), has hovered around 1 million tonnes, reaching over 2 million tonnes in 2000/01, the year of the worst harvest. Last year’s CFSAM estimated the cereal import requirements at 867 000 tonnes which was later revised upwards to 1.09 million tonnes due to losses of the early crops. The food gap has narrowed this year, but it still remains at a significantly high level. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Canada quietly feeding North Koreans? by Erich Weingartner

Without much fanfare, several countries have made modest donations to the WFP for food distribution in the DPRK. Surprisingly, one of these is Canada. Readers may remember that in response to a request by CanKor, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) last May indicated that “Canada has not made any further commitments to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance beyond those made between 2007 and 2009 through the World Food Programme.” (See: Will Canada Provide Humanitarian Aid to the DPRK?)

It turns out that isn’t quite accurate. The DPRK “Project Profile” on CIDA’s own website, dated 17 February 2011, indicates that Canada pledged $2,500,000 for food aid to the DPRK via the WFP. (See: Project profile for Food Assistance in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – WFP 2011) It also states that the grant is for 2011-2013.

Meanwhile, the WFP website indicates that Canada contributed $2,502,503 for the WFP’s current emergency operation in DPRK, designed to target the 3.5 million people most at risk of serious damage to their health as a result of the current food shortages. (See: WFP Operations page for DPRK)

Our request for clarification to CIDA has remained unanswered for the past two weeks. Meanwhile, Abdurrahim Siddiqui, the Deputy-Country Director for WFP Pyongyang offered this clarification in an email message to CanKor: Read the rest of this entry »

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