Heating fuel choice reflects economic stratification

first_img Hamhung man arrested for corruption while working at a state-run department store By Daily NK – 2015.12.04 10:11am News Facebook Twitter News SHARE North Korea tries to accelerate building of walls and fences along border with China RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHORcenter_img Heating fuel choice reflects economic stratification This is “NK Market Trends,” bringing younews about the North Korean economy every week, and today, we are accompaniedby reporter Kang Mi Jin. But first, let’s take a look at the market’sperformance over the past week. A kg of rice cost 4880 KPW in Pyongyang,4800 KPW in Sinuiju, and 4750 KPW in Hyesan. A kg of corn kernels cost 1800 KPWin Pyongyang and Sinuiju, and 1900 KPW in Hyesan. The exchange rate was 8500KPW to the dollar in Pyongyang, 8760 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8800 KPW in Hyesan.The exchange rate for the Chinese Renminbi was 1350 KPW per yuan in Pyongyang,1320 KPW per yuan in Sinuiju, and 1310 KPW per yuan in Hyesan. A kg of porkcost 11,000 KPW in Pyongyang, 11,500 KPW in Sinuiju, and 10,600 KPW in Hyesan.A kg of gasoline cost 7400 KPW in Pyongyang, 7300 KPW in Sinuiju and Hyesan. Akg of diesel cost 5350 KPW in Pyongyang, 5200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 5250 KPW inHyesan. This has been a rundown of the Weekly Marketplace Prices.1. We’ve heard that it’s snowing in certainparts of North Korea these days, which means that it’s time to find ways tobundle up and beat the winter cold. It also means that it’s time to turn on theheat at home. However, contrary to expectation, the price of wood and coal hasactually dropped recently. To find out why we’ll speak to reporter Kang Mi Jin,who first uncovered this story. Can you tell us a bit more about thisunexpected development? Certainly. As residents have busilyprepared for the winter season during the past two months, the price of wintergoods has decreased, according to an inside source. Just 40 days ago at thestart of October, firewood was selling for 185,000 KPW per cubic meter. Now,the same quantity sells for just 150,000 KPW. That’s a reduction of 35,000 insidea period of less than a month, which might be an unfortunate turn of events forthe merchants, but it’s definitely a boon for the consumers. The price of ricein Hyesan is about 4800 KPW/kg right now. That means, with the savingsresulting from the price reduction in wood, residents can purchase 7 kg ofrice. There are plenty of residents who work hard all day long just to earnenough for a single kg of rice. So this price reduction certainly comes as goodnews for them. 2. Wow, that is quite a steep drop. Butthat makes me wonder. Are the prices of other types of heating fuel – such ascoal and charcoal briquettes – also dropping?    In Yanggang Province, while the cost ofwood has dropped a staggering amount, the cost of coal has either dropped a bitor remained stable compared to the previous month. Last month, coal was sellingfor 336,000 KPW per ton in Hyesan. Now the price is 330,000 KPW. So this was avery marginal drop indeed. Similar to coal, charcoal briquettes experienced avery modest to non-existent price change. Yanggang Province has ample forestsbut no coal mines, which explains why there was no major change in coal pricethere. However, when there are changes to the price of coal in coal producingplaces, that change will absolutely be reflected in the price of coal inYanggang Province as well. The source explained that there aretransportation costs to haul the coal via truck from the production sites tocities like Hyesan which have no local coal mines. But these costs don’t changevery much. The result is that coal prices in Hyesan usually only fluctuate whenthere are changes to the production process. So the price of coal and charcoalhas remained pretty stable. The source also explained that in Yanggang Provincethe amount of families who heat their homes using charcoal briquettes is on therise.    3. That’s interesting. Seeing as YanggangProvince is a heavily forested region, it seems a bit unusual that people wouldtake to charcoal like that. What might account for this?   I’d be happy to explain. So, a little bitago we spoke with a resident in Yanggang Province who explained that people inthe area were starting to use coal. Although it can be a bit messy when cookingand ash can fly all over the place, charcoal is simply cheaper than tinder,which explains why residents are using it to heat their home. Although thesavings is meager, saving money in any way possible is extremely important forNorth Korean residents. When I lived in North Korea, I burned wood exclusively.But there were times when I went to relatives homes and they were usingcharcoal. If you don’t properly grab the burnt briquettes with a pair of tongs,the brittle chunks can flake off and turn into dust. I remember thinking what apain it was to clean up.   Firewood, on the other hand, doesn’t flakeup and turn into dust. It’s easier to tend to as well because it doesn’t needto be replaced as often as charcoal. Finally, it doesn’t make a mess in thekitchen. A relative  told me a funny observation about this. Her husbandwas a Party cadre, and he received bribes in the form of charcoal. Part of mewas jealous of my friend for getting this coal for free, but I also kind ofresented her for it. Blackmail is the thing that enables cadres to live fat andhappy while the rest of the population has to struggle to make a living inorder to earn enough to be able to bribe those cadres. When I remember timeslike this, my conviction that North Korea needs to become a more equitablesociety becomes even stronger.    4. I couldn’t agree more, especially when Ihear stories like this that reveal how cadres live the easy life while ordinaryfolks are living hand to mouth. When you compare coal with firewood, is it safeto say that coal is more cost effective to use? Yes, that’s right. As I said earlier, bylooking at whether residents elect to use coal or wood as their tinder, we canknow a lot about their lifestyle and socio-economic class. It’s also possibleto know about their work conditions. First of all, those with the means toafford it have a higher probability of selecting firewood to keep their housewarm. If you calculate the price of the total amount of wood needed for thewinter season, it comes out to about 5 cubic meters or 2 tons of coal. So thetotal cost of wood would be about 750,000 KPW (about US $90.70), and the totalcost of coal would be about 660,000 KPW (about US $79.90). When I break downthe prices like this, I think it becomes evident what kind of resident wouldbuy the more expensive option. Those who use wood pay90,000 KPW (~ US $10.90) more than those who pay for coal. This might not soundlike a big difference, but for many North Korean residents who are forced toscrimp and save, this is a significant amount. That is why our source hasalerted us that, as a generality, the well-off residents tend to use firewood.   Furthermore, with the pre-split firewood,all you have to do is grab a couple handfuls and bring them in from storage.It’s harder to use coal. First you need to cut the coal and then dry it out inthe sun. After a few days, you have to carefully put that in storage. Then,when it’s time to heat the house, it’s quite a nuisance because you have to goback and forth from the storage to the stove. Compared to wood, using coal is apain in the neck. 5. Last time you explained a bit about howwood enters the marketplace, but I’m curious how transportation networks bringcoal to Pyongyang Province, which has no coal mines of its own.   First of all, coal gets imported to NorthHamgyong’s Myongchon County. Then the merchants go to mines in Myongchon topurchase and load up with coal. Truckers rent out spots to merchants who ridealong and pay to use the trucks to transport the coal. They will sometimesbring Yanggang Province’s specialty potatoes to sell at high prices in areasaround the mine. They also use the potatoes to get a better deal on coal byincluding them in the exchange. Coal merchants typically gather together sothey can split costs. This includes truck rental, trip fees, gas money. Thesecosts are all reflected in the final price of the coal when the merchants bringit into Hyesan. Many of the coal merchants around the country engage inbusiness in a similar manner to this.   We’ve heard that both merchants who operatetheir own trucks and those who rent space on a truck earn a significant profit.In their luckiest days, they purchase the coal at low prices and make moneyhand over fist. However, once they get to Hyesan, they have to set prices atmarket-determined rates. Usually, the coal merchants don’t make the final saleto the consumers. Rather, they sell to middlemen who go around to villages andtowns selling large amounts at a single time. 6. It’s sometimes said that overall NorthKorean’s lives are improving, but there are still a good amount of people whostill have a tough life. I’m curious how people save up enough money to buycoal and firewood in bulk. Since coming to power, the Kim Jong Unregime has done very few market crackdowns. The result of this is thatresidents are able to make a much better living these days than they did inyears past. However, there are still families that struggle to financially planand save beyond the next meal. For these people, purchasing tinder in bulk israther difficult. In these instances, the poorer residentstend to purchase wood or coal in smaller amounts. It’s a bit less convenient,but they can get along well enough. At the market, there are vendors who sell woodfor small bundles of 8 or 12. There are also vendors who sell charcoal by thebrick, and our source indicates that there are indeed people who are so hard upfor money that they need to buy a day’s worth of heating fuel in a time. But these small amounts are only availablefor purchase in city markets. In the countryside, it’s more common to buy awhole season’s worth in a single purchase. When I was in North Korea, after thefall harvest, I would go up into the mountains for a few days and collect firewood.Upon my return, I would make enough kimchi for the whole year. That way, whenit was time to ring in the new year, I could rest at ease knowing that myfamily would be provided for during the frigid winter.   I know that our North Korean listeners areputting a lot of thought and effort into preparing for the winter season.Compared to South Korea, it’s really cold up there, so I hope that you all canbundle up and stay warm. Until next time, Goodbye! AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? Contact us at [email protected] News News Ordinary Pyongyang residents have not received government rations since mid-April last_img read more

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