According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: Except for a total of perhaps ten cities, vast areas of North Korea are rural—or even untouched. These are areas that are not just underdeveloped, but undeveloped. For example, in 1985 a mining town in the northeastern part of North Korea had houses with no running water, no electric or fuel heating system. The residents used communal facilities and lived in tiny two-room houses heated by coal. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Located throughout North Korea—in towns such as the above, in the remotest of the villages, and in the capital Pyongyang, are the ubiquitous slogans praising Kim Il Sung's leadership and mobilizing the citizens to the revolutionary struggle and the socialist cause. The capital's landscape is also marked by austere buildings, vast streets with almost no cars, children and pedestrians in orderly lines, no trace of trash—almost clinically beautiful, but somewhat lifeless. Behind the formal facades, though, the back streets are very different. There are muddy streets and alleyways, chaotic residential quarters, and the normal confusion and noise of everyday life.

“Apart from the capital and a very few cities that are comparable to it, the national landscape is divided into semi-urban, undeveloped, and agricultural areas. As visitors are not allowed, not much is known about the agricultural areas.”

A flurry of construction occurred before celebrations of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday, including the building of apartment complexes and the Reunification Expressway, a four-lane road connecting the capital and the Demilitarized Zone. According to a journalist writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the highway is "an impressive piece of engineering" that "cuts a straight path through mountainous terrain with 21 tunnels and 23 bridges on the 168 kilometers route to P'anmunjm." As in many other construction projects, the military provided the labor. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]


Pyongyang was almost totally destroyed in the Korean War and almost all the building have been built since the war ended in 1953. With a population of almost 2.8 million, the capital of North Korea was designed to be an urban workers paradise. The are large office buildings, high rise apartments towers, and grandiose "trophy" buildings and brightly-lit-up monuments that have been of little use to anyone other than being objects of cult of personality worship. These buildings and monuments are laid out on broad vertical lines along boulevards that are up to eight lanes wide and and interspersed by flower beds and topiary gardens Almost everything is named after Kim Il Sung or is a monument to him or his achievements.

Pyongyang is a surreal place filled with model schools and model hospitals. It doesn't have the things that most people associate with cities: noise, traffic, busy people and litter. The city is immaculately clean. Workers wash down the streets twice a week. There is hardly any traffic, not even bicycles. Most of the party elite live in a “forbidden city” with lots of trees and large, attractive houses.

Only the chosen people are allowed to live here — the political and military elite, loyal cadres and commissars and the people who serve them. Handicapped people, old people, the mentally retarded and, for a while, even pregnant women, were prohibited from walking the streets and spoiling the idealic scene. Some of them apparently were shipped off to the countryside. To deflect foreign criticism a few token old people with undying loyalty to the Great and Dear Leaders have ben allowed to return. Some visitors say there are more old and infirm an aged people on the streets than their used to. Sometimes the only sound is the footsteps of people walking. Their isn’t even the sound of people talking.

Singapore-based architect Calvin Chua, who has visited Pyongyang seven times, told Reuters: “Initially built as a Socialist showcase with imposing monuments and monolithic Soviet-era structure, Pyongyang has seen a dramatic transformation in its skyline that now features modern architectural trends and street scenes. [Source: Heekyong Yang, Seung-Woo Yeom, Reuters, September 2, 2017]

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Pyongyang is marked by a planned cityscape, clustered around Kim Il Sung-related monuments such as the 20-foot-high gold statue of Kim that looks down on the city. The capital is located on the Taedong, an extremely beautiful river with small islands and a riverbank covered with swinging willows and nicely kept flowerbeds. Everything in the center of the capital is carefully designed and built, including the People's Study Hall, Children's Palace, Mansudae Art Hall, Pyongyang Grand Theatre, the Parisien style arch, and recently built international hotels and restaurants. During the 1960s and 1970s, the peak of Pyongyang's reconstruction after the Korean War, the basic austere style and layout of the city was established. Some buildings, such as the Korean Revolutionary Museum and Kim Il Sung University, bear the features of European modernist architecture. These are mixed with the more tradition-inspired architecture of the 1980s, including the People's Study Hall and the city gate. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Chongjin, North Korea’s Third Largest City

Chongjin is a city of about 600,000 people on the Japan Sea in northeast North Korea. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Most of the factories in Chongjin, a former industrial port, are rusting into ruin. Those still operating can barely pay salaries; the average worker's wage amounts to US$1 per month at current exchange rates. Even with international aid, many people go to bed wondering whether they will eat the next day. Residents, along with officials of the United Nations World Food Program, say food shortages have grown worse again in the last year. "Maybe people are not dying today out in the streets like they were before," said a coal miner who lives in Chongjin, "but they are still dying — just quietly in their homes." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2005]

“At first glance, visitors say, Chongjin almost looks like a pleasant place to live. The coastline in this remote northeastern stretch of the country is as rugged as Maine's, the ocean waters a vivid aquamarine. Although Chongjin is only 275 miles from the capital as the crow flies, the journey takes three days by car, or about 27 hours by train. Most visitors arrive from the south on a treacherous dirt road that twists around the mountains girding the city. On the outskirts of Chongjin, the road widens into a boulevard lined with trees, a video taken by a visitor in 2001 shows.

“Nowadays, Chongjin is not the worst-off place in North Korea, because its proximity to the Chinese border, 50 miles away, offers access to consumer products. Its markets are believed to be the largest in the country outside of Pyongyang. But as an industrial city in an area with little arable land, it was particularly vulnerable to famine. Disaster struck in the early 1990s. Chongjin's outmoded and inefficient factories had limped along on spare parts and cheap oil from the Soviet Union. When the communist bloc collapsed, suddenly there was no fuel for the power plants. Factories stopped. Farms couldn't produce because they depended on chemical fertilizers and electric irrigation systems. Heavy rains and floods in the summer of 1995 exacerbated a famine already underway. Chongjin used to be a busy port, with Japanese and Soviet ships loading products from the factories. Now it is filled with flimsy squid-fishing boats; most of the larger vessels in port are bringing in humanitarian aid. The foreign sailors are not permitted to disembark.”

Books: “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia” by Andrei Lakov (Oxford University Press, 2013); “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2010); “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves — and Why It Matters” by B.R. Myers (Melville House, 2010).

Main Market and Square in Chongjin

Barbara Demick wrote: “The retail mecca is Sunam market, a wood-frame structure with a corrugated tin roof that is squeezed between two derelict factories. The aisles brim with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, scallions, watermelons and cabbage, as shown by rare video footage taken last year by the Osaka, Japan-based human rights group Rescue the North Korean People. Everything else comes from China: belts, shoes, umbrellas, notebooks, plates, aluminum pots, knives, shovels, toy cars, detergents, shampoos, lotions, hand creams and makeup. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2005]

“Each of Chongjin's seven administrative districts has a state-sanctioned market. Sunam, the city's largest, is expanding, and some say it has a wider variety of goods than the main market in Pyongyang. Many vendors wear their licenses pinned to their right breasts while the obligatory Kim Il Sung buttons remain over the heart. Although markets have been expanding for more than a decade, it was only in 2002 and '03 that the government enacted economic reforms that lifted some of the prohibitions against them. Most of the vendors are older women such as Kim Hui Suk, a tiny 60-year-old with short, permed hair and immaculate clothing. Much of Chongjin's commerce is still not officially sanctioned, so it has an impromptu quality. Money changes hands over wooden carts that can be rolled away in a hurry. Those who can't afford carts sell on tarpaulins laid out in the dirt.

“Fashion boutiques are slapped together with poles and clotheslines, enlivening the monochromatic landscape with garish pinks and paisleys. Some clothes have the labels ripped out and vendors whisper that these items came from araet dongne or the "village below," a euphemism for South Korea, whose products are illegal in the North. Shoppers can buy 88-pound sacks of rice emblazoned with U.S. flags, and biscuits and corn noodles produced by three factories in Chongjin run by the U.N. World Food Program — all intended to be humanitarian handouts.

“Some people cut hair or repair bicycles, though furtively because these jobs are supposed to be controlled by the government's Convenience Bureau. "They will bring a chair and mirror to the market to cut hair," Kim said. "The police can come at any moment, arrest them and confiscate their scissors." Another new business is a computer salon. It looks like an Internet cafe, but because there's no access to the Web in North Korea, it is used mostly by teenagers to play video games. More products are available, but inflation puts them out of reach for most people. The price of rice has increased nearly eightfold since the economic reforms of 2002 to 525 won per pound; an average worker earns 2,500 won a month — about US$1 at the unofficial exchange rate.

“If Chongjin's economic center is Sunam market, its political heart is Pohang Square, a vast plaza dominated by a 25-foot bronze statue of Kim Il Sung. The grass here is neatly mowed, the shrubbery pruned and the pavement in good repair. Even when the rest of the city is without electricity, the statue is bathed in light. Across the street, a tidy pink building houses a permanent exhibit of the national flower, a hybrid begonia called Kimjongilia, named for current leader Kim Jong Il.Since the practice of religion is barred, Pohang Square stands in as a spiritual center. Newlyweds in their best clothes pose for pictures, bowing to the statue so that their union is symbolically blessed. When Kim Il Sung died on July 8, 1994, half a million people came to Pohang Square to pay their respects in the pouring rain and stifling heat.

Rural Homes in North Korea

Most people outside of Pyongyang live in standard six-story concrete apartments or identical single-story houses with wooden chimneys and fences painted white and tan. Many people don’t have plumbing or running water but they do have private gardens with bean, peppers, cabbage they can raise for themselves and sell at local farmer markets.

Many rural homes are little more than shabby cottages. They have no heating and have plastic sheets for windows. Tile roofs are put on by local communities who receive little or no pay. Most of the houses in a 1985 mining town in the northeastern North Korea, according to “Countries and Their Cultures”, “had no running water, no electric or fuel heating system, no lavatories or bath, no washbasin, no kitchen, and almost no furnishings. The residents used communal facilities and lived in tiny two-room houses heated by coal. Houses were equipped with electricity for lights, but its use was strictly controlled.” [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Many people live in concrete houses. A typical rural home shown to foreign visitors in the mid-1990s consisted of two small rooms with a cavity in the floor for burning wood or coal for heating and cooking. It contained hard floors, some cabinets, a desk, a television and some portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the wall.

Urban Homes in North Korea

A majority of Pyongyang's residents live in apartments. Individual houses with their own electricity and heating systems are reserved for high-ranking party members and army officers. A typical apartment for a family of five has two bedrooms, electricity, cold running water but no heat in the winter. Many Western visitors say the quality of housing is often better than what they see in China or Central Asia.

The most striking of the high-rise apartment complexes and hotels in Pyongyang is the Ryugong Hotel, still unfinished, and noted by some observers to be clearly leaning and perhaps not able to be completed. Described as the world's tallest hotel at 105 stories, its triangular shape looms over north-central Pyongyang. The Kory Hotel is an ultramodern, twin-towered structure forty-five stories high. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

In the 1970s a two-bedroom workers home with a bathroom and kitchen was showed to American journalists. At that time city dwellers had stores within their apartment complexes and nurses and doctors that visited their homes. The rent was about US$1 a month in the summer and US$2 in winter. Living expense usually totaled US$25 to US$35—a third of their monthly income of US$75 to US$80." [Source: H. Edward Kim, National Geographic, August, 1974]

"Our basic expenses are low," an apartment dweller told National Geographic. "because the government has given priority to food, housing and clothing needs — and provides everyone with free school, free medical acre, and old-age and disability pensions." Couples paid for maintenance costs by performing chores assigned by the apartment captain. [Source: H. Edward Kim, National Geographic, August, 1974]

Middle-Class North Korean Home

A South Korean exhibition in 2017 featured a replica of a middle-class home in Pyongyang Heekyong Yang and Seung-Woo Yeom of Reuters wrote: “In the flat, with North Korean music playing in the background, a lace throw covered a dark beige velvet couch alongside functional custom-made furniture in front of a flat-screen TV. Large damask patterns on the wallpaper and vintage-looking lace curtains brought to mind the interior of a Seoul apartment in the 1980s. [Source: Heekyong Yang, Seung-Woo Yeom, Reuters, September 2, 2017] “At first sight, this looks very much like an apartment unit that belongs to a North Korean anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter family which loyally upholds the Juche ideology,” said Choi Seong-guk, a Pyongyang native, referring to the national goal of self-reliance. Choi worked as a cartoon artist in North Korea before defecting to the South in 2010.

“Exhibition curator Yim Dong-woo, assistant professor of Urban Engineering at Hongik University in Seoul, said the goal was to provide a glimpse into the life of a middle-class home in Pyongyang. New housing in high-rises is generally assigned by profession, often bringing scientists, professors and researchers under the same roof. “When Kim Jong Un took over in 2011, there was a significant focus on development of new infrastructure and housing estates for local Pyongyang residents,” said Singapore-based architect Chua. “I was able to see parallel development of apartment houses that were developed by a joint venture investment between North Korea’s local state company and foreign investors.”

“Although buying and selling of property is strictly banned, there has been a growing private trade in recent years, allowing those with money to move into better homes in more coveted locations, often by bribing officials, according to defectors and South Korean academics who study the North Korean society. “Affluent Pyongyang residents who manage to accumulate wealth by doing businesses often bribe military officials and party members to move into better homes,” said cartoonist Choi.

Home of a Miner in a Working Class Neighborhood in Chongjin

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In a working-class neighborhood in southern Chongjin, the 39-year-old coal miner lives in a squat, drab house. The homes in Ranam are organized in blocks, usually with five units on either side of an alley and an outhouse at one end shared by the 10 families. His only piece of furniture is a wooden table with folding legs. He has one cooking pot. One knife. A couple of bowls. A cutting board that he made himself. A large urn to store water he brings from the well. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2005]

“He has four pairs of chopsticks and four spoons — exactly enough for himself, his wife, 12-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. He traded away his extra utensils for food years ago. When there is electricity, he screws a bare lightbulb into a wall socket. His children have no toys or books. Each member of the family owns two sets of clothes — one for summer and one for winter — that they store on a homemade hanger suspended from a nail in the wall.On the opposite wall hang the obligatory framed portraits of Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, who seized power in the northern half of the Korean peninsula after World War II. The government forbids people to put family photos or other decorations on the same wall. Party cadres used to drop by almost daily to make sure residents kept portraits free of dust, but that stopped two years ago.

“Like everyone in his housing block, the miner and his family sleep on blankets on the vinyl-covered concrete floor. In a traditional style that vanished decades ago in South Korea, they cook on big pots over a fire whose hot air is directed under the floor to warm it.

“But the miner rarely has much firewood, so his wife often cooks outdoors on a neighbor's portable charcoal stove. The neighbors try to help one another. During Chongjin's bitter winter, when temperatures can plunge to 10 below zero, they pool their firewood to heat one unit where everybody sleeps. But people rarely have enough food to share. "We have a saying that a full heart comes with a full stomach," he said. "If you can't help your own child who is hungry, you won't help your neighbor's."

Housing Market in North Korea

In North Korea, private ownership of homes is illegal but sources have said it is no longer strange to hear about “sales” of government properties between individuals. North Korea only allows one house to be registered against one name, so people use the names of relatives if they want to buy more.

Radio Free Asia reported: “ Based on trading on the virtual housing market, the country’s most expensive homes are located in Sinuiju, with Hyesan city in northern Yanggang province next in cost and Pyongyang in third. A single family home or large apartment in what is deemed a good location in Sinuiju was known to fetch around US$30,000 as recently as May last year, while those in the suburbs of Pyongyang and other border cities are priced less. [Source: Radio Free Asia, January 9, 2014]

“While houses are being built every day in Pyongyang to supply a growing demand, it is difficult to find new homes in other cities, leading to a rise in the cost of real estate. Homes in cities near the border with China command the highest prices on the black market because they provide access to Chinese money and infrastructure, like mobile phone signals.

Sources told RFA that the North Korean government has warned that the practice of housing transactions is an “offense against the system of North Korea.” But attempts to stamp out the trend have repeatedly failed as those involved in the sales include untouchable high-ranking officials and because the practice is too far-reaching.

Real Estate Boom in North Korea

Ju-min Park of Reuters wrote: One of the world's fastest developing property markets is also in one of its least likely places - North Korea. Even though the buying and selling of houses and apartments is illegal, it is becoming more widespread and sophisticated, said defectors as well as experts who study the ruined economy. On paper, the socialist state owns all property. But the percentage of North Koreans who are buying their own home - as opposed to waiting for the government to assign one - is growing rapidly, surveys of defectors show. [Source: Ju-min Park, Reuters, March 25, 2014]

“Brokers can be found with lists of property for sale in private markets selling food and cheap consumer goods that are tolerated by the government in cities and towns around North Korea, the defectors and experts said. "You can find a house you want by asking brokers," said Kim Young-il, a defector and activist in Seoul.

“Deals are done in U.S. dollars in the capital Pyongyang and in Chinese yuan along the border with China, where most of the North's trade with the outside world takes place. The buyers and sellers then bribe housing officials to effectively approve the transaction by issuing or modifying residency documents, the defectors and experts said.

“It's another example of how the regime of leader Kim Jong Un is turning a blind eye to a black market that is offering North Koreans a chance to upgrade their living conditions, move from one location to another or to simply make some money, especially given that house prices have been rising steadily.

Money to Purchase Property in North Korea

Ju-min Park of Reuters wrote: “It is common for defectors to send money to the North so their families can buy better homes. Activist Kim and two other defectors say they have also heard of some people buying property as an investment ahead of what they hope will be the eventual reunification of their impoverished homeland and the wealthy South. Reuters could not confirm those accounts. [Source: Ju-min Park, Reuters, March 25, 2014]

“Defectors send an estimated US$10 million each year to help their families in the North, according to the Organization for One Korea, a South Korean support group for defectors. The money is routed through agents on China's side of the land border. "Money talks in North Korea. If you have money, send it to somebody you trust. You can buy a decent house in the border region with China," said Kim, the defector, who runs a non-governmental organisation called People for Successful Corean Reunification, which uses the ancient spelling of Korea.

“Kim told Reuters he had a friend who needed to raise money last winter to fund his escape to the South, so the friend sold his apartment in the North Korean border city of Hyesan for 40,000 Chinese yuan (US$6,600). He declined to identify his friend, who he said was at a re-settlement centre south of Seoul that helps defectors try to get to grips with life in South Korea.

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”“ “ In the late 1990s, individual dwellings became popular among postwar repatriates from Japan, who, through financial support from their families remaining in Japan, are able to purchase houses. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Buying a House is Illegal in North Korea But Possible with Bribes

Ju-min Park of Reuters wrote: Under the socialist system erected by Kim Il Sung, the young leader's grandfather, the government built and allocated housing to its citizens. Then famine killed an estimated one million people in the mid-1990s, causing the collapse of the state food distribution system. That opened the door to private markets selling food in the late 1990s. Trading in property soon followed, especially since the increasingly cash-starved state spent money on its 1.2-million strong military instead of public housing. [Source: Ju-min Park, Reuters, March 25, 2014]

“Under North Korean law, anyone who sells, buys or rents a house can be sentenced to hard labour. But a survey last year of 133 defectors by the Seoul National University's (SNU) Institute for Peace and Unification Studies found 67 percent of them had bought their own homes, compared to 14 percent who had been given accommodation. The defectors left North Korea in 2012. A similar survey of 126 defectors who left in 2011 showed 46 percent bought their own home. "With market forces spreading, North Koreans are becoming able to dream of moving into a better house," said Jeong Eun-mee, an SNU research professor involved in the survey. "Homes, one of the few resources North Koreans have, are now extensively traded unofficially. The regime has no option but to tolerate this ... because officials are involved as well."

“In a 2013 report, the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean state-run think tank, said housing officials were usually bribed with cigarettes or food to approve a property transaction in one of the world's most corrupt countries. While it is impossible to independently confirm anything in North Korea, similar studies support the suggestion of growing property ownership. “There is no hard data, but apartment prices have risen in the last decade in Pyongyang and small cities on the Chinese border, defectors said.

“Housing now acts as a store of value for North Koreans looking for ways to earn money outside the poorly paid government sector, they added. Lee Yun-keol, a biologist who came to Seoul in 2005, said he had heard that an apartment he used to own in Pyongyang was worth US$100,000, nearly 15 times what he paid more than a decade ago.

“Properties close to statues of Kim Il Sung or his son Kim Jong Il in the centre of Pyongyang command a higher price thanks to constant water and electricity supplies, defectors said. They added that the property market revolved around the brokers, who keep a low profile in private markets but can be found by asking around. Once a buyer and seller agree the price, they bribe housing authorities to alter names on mandatory residence permits that give an address.

Private Contractors and the State Property Trade in North Korea

Ju-min Park of Reuters wrote: Outside Pyongyang, where there is more scope for private commerce because state scrutiny is less intense, the property market has also created a new class of businessmen who employ workers outside the broken state system and raise funds to buy building materials, defectors and experts said.Kim Joo-sung, a North Korean scientific researcher who defected in 2008, said he had a friend in his home city who became a construction contractor as far back as 2002. [Source: Ju-min Park, Reuters, March 25, 2014]

“The friend worked with brokers who promoted unit sales by phone before they were even built, the researcher said, adding he paid off officials by giving them new homes. "He became one of the richest men in my community," said Kim, who declined to name his home city for fear of reprisals against his family in North Korea. He also declined to reveal his friend's identity, saying he had lost contact with him when he fled North Korea.

“The North Korean state has also been getting in on the property trade. Since taking office more than two years ago, Kim Jong Un has presided over a construction boom with the aid of funds from China, the North's major backer, and Russia, a former Cold War ally. The state-run KCNA news agency, for example, reported in January 2014 that the government had built apartments for 1,000 families of scientists in Pyongyang. For some newly built flats in Pyongyang, government firms sell the units, keeping the money as profit to stay viable, experts and defectors said. "With the government's knowledge, state agencies and institutions are selling houses they have built," said an ex-senior intelligence official, who came to Seoul in 2008 but declined to be identified because of concerns for his safety.

Collapse of Housing Prices on North Korean Black Market

In January 2014,Radio Free Asia reported: “Prices of houses traded on North Korea’s black market are dropping precariously, causing panic among dwellers, according to sources inside the country. Houses in impoverished North Korea are fully owned by the government and trading on them is forbidden. But some dwellers “sell” their homes illegally with the approval of corrupt officials to cash in on the acute shortage of homes. [Source: Radio Free Asia, January 9, 2014]

“Sources in provinces along North Korea’s border with China told RFA’s Korean Service that the value of their home transactions had fallen by as high as 85 percent from last summer. “Housing prices in Gilju-gun, North Hamgyong province, dropped to around US$500 from what was US$3,300 last summer,” a source from the province told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity. He said that in North Hamgyong’s Cheongjin city, the trading price for a two-bedroom home had plummeted to around US$3,300 from US$8,300 in the summer last year, and yet no buyers were showing any interest.

“Another source from Yanggang said housing prices in his province had been similarly affected in the last several months. “I was barely able to afford my house near the Yalu River [separating North Korea from China] at around US$3,300 early last year,” he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “The trading price of my house, which was still US$3,300 in August last year, has now dropped to about US$990.”

“The Yanggang source said the housing crash began in the fall in the capital Pyongyang and had led to widespread unease because the cause of the depreciation remained unknown. Other sources said that the market crash had led to increased tension in the affected areas. “A person who bought a home in Hyesan city, Yanggang province, was involved in a dispute with the seller as he wanted to cancel his contract [when the home began to lose value] and suffered a bad head injury during a fight,” a second Yanggang-based source said. “He was hospitalized at the Hyesan University Hospital for two weeks, but remains in a coma.”

“A second source in North Hamgyong province said that housing prices appeared to be linked to North Korea’s local unofficial marketplaces, or “jangmadang.” “The overall cost of products at the jangmadang also declined around the middle of last month while house prices were falling,” the source said, adding that “a recent brouhaha was linked to merchants complaining about the severe losses they had incurred.”“In recent years, the housing prices and prices at the jangmadang had [simultaneously] skyrocketed … I think the increasing prices of houses slowed demand for housing and led to the housing price collapse.”

Possessions in North Korea

The majority of North Korean citizens do not own a car. A typical house has books, a radio, a small refrigerator, a sewing machine, a television set, and fresh flowers. Heat is often supplied by small charcoal burners. Some people still have black-and-white televisions.Many people keep rabbits and chickens on their balconies for meat and eggs. Some homes are void of possessions. The occupants have bartered everything the own for food.

According to U.S. News and World Report: “Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets. Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving just a few hours per day. [Source: Rick Newman, U.S. News and World Report, April 12, 2013]

“Families that can afford them often have two TVs, according to New Focus International, a website that features dispatches from North Korean exiles; one TV is pre-set to state channels airing propaganda, while the second, illegal set is used to watch South Korean TV programs. Even so, fluctuating voltage in the electrical current often causes the screen to keep changing size, "going from big to small repeatedly," according to one exile report.

“Some of the most popular contraband items are DVDs of South Korean TV shows, which North Koreans often trade or sell among themselves. About 3 million North Koreans, out of a population of 25 million, have cellphones, including Arirang smartphones. Mobile phone service is spotty and no Internet is available. One popular use for mobile phones: as a "torch" to provide light when the power goes out at night. [Source: Rick Newman, U.S. News and World Report, April 12, 2013]

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Hong Son Suk, a former primary school teacher in her 50s, was asked to open her home at Jangchon” — a Model Farm outside Pyongyang — “to foreign reporters to show them how well off she was. A whitewashed one-story structure with a blue roof and a dog on the front stoop, it featured amenities including bamboo floors, two chest-style freezers, a washing machine, a stereo, a flat-screen TV and DVD player, telephone and an electric fan. As is required in all North Korean homes, portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were hung on the wall. [Source: Julie Makinen Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2016]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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