2 Tons of Rice Distributed to Poor in Hamgyong

This report is by Kim Hong-son, one of LFNKR’s local staff members. He writes:

In February of this year, I passed through the Chinese customs office at Kosong and headed for North Korean customs. Passing through Chinese customs took a mere 30 minutes, but on the North Korean side it took over three hours. The reason for this is the North Korean customs inspection process, which begins with a verification of relatives living in North Korea, and involves a full-body search in addition to an inspection of the goods being brought into the country.

When that is completed, the North Korean customs officers demand anything else they feel they need. If that “inspection” is not completed, you cannot pass through customs. In order to “smooth” the customs inspection, it is necessary to bring along sufficient quantities of Chinese fruit such as apples, oranges, and bananas, as well as cigarettes and children’s candy.

By noon I still hadn’t finished moving through customs, and the truck headed for Yonsa left without me. With no other means of transportation and nowhere to stay, I had no choice but to go to the town of Yanshe, in the mountains. However, in Yanshe there is nowhere to stay, meaning that I had to ask for accommodation at a private home. The family was very poor, so I gave them 10 kilograms of rice as payment for my accommodation.

The next day, I got a ride with a car coming from Yonsa, but on the way we ran out of gas and had to burn wood to keep going, turning what is usually a two-and-a-half hour trip into a five-hour ordeal.

The market in Yonsa is quiet due to the drop in people’s purchasing power. According to people who had brought goods from China to sell, it takes two to three times longer to sell anything in the market than it did last year.

Current prices in Yonsa are as follows:
Rice 1,250-1,300 won / kg
Unprocessed corn (maize) 390 won / kg
Ground corn 390 won / kg
Corn noodles 390 won / kg
Soybeans 500 won / kg
Eggs 160 won each
Tofu (soybean curd) 160 won / block
Cooking oil 2,600 won / kg
Firewood for heating 1,500 won / load

These prices are quite high for the area. Most families subsist on potatoes they grow themselves or buy locally. Somewhat better-off families eat corn and potatoes, or rice.

There were a number of vagrants in the area, even with the cold weather. They live in shelters provided by the government, but are responsible for feeding themselves, and resort to begging to do so. I also saw one who was bloodied, more dead than alive, returning from an unsuccessful thieving expedition.

In order to help those in desperate need, I arrange a time and place to meet and distribute food. They must make sure that no one follows them afterwards. So as not to be found out, once they have received the food they melt away. It occurred to me that if I weren’t helping these people who need it, no one else would be. People sometimes tell me I must be crazy to do it.

North Koreans today cannot survive without doing some kind of business, whether large or small. Used clothes from China apparently are a popular item for sale; there are also stalls selling tofu, candy, alcohol, and Chinese and South Korean rice. Alcohol is made from potatoes; candy from sugar. Miso (fermented soybean paste) is made from potatoes and chestnuts. Soap is made from wood ash.

Kindergarteners bring lunch to school. In order to pay their school fees, students at state schools gather rabbit pelts, and dung for fertilizer during the winter vacation; they also go into the mountains every day in order to find grasses. Girls are often seen coming down the mountain with bundles of firewood strapped to their backs.

Adults are required to report to their workplaces every day, but they do not receive a single won for their efforts. Thus they are in fact poorer than those without employment, who can use the time to obtain food. On top of this, the workers must attend twice-weekly study meetings. It is difficult to imagine what they could possibly be studying under these conditions.

On February 16, Kim Jong Il’s birthday, families with children receive one bag of candy and one bag of sweets per child. Children festoon Kim Jong Il’s statue with flowers in the middle of the night for the occasion.

Day after day I quietly distributed to the truly needy the two tonnes of rice I had brought. The External Affairs branch of the county office has, it seems, no budget whatsoever; workers have to cover all expenses by themselves. On this trip, I was asked by the head of the External Affairs branch to bring wallpaper and fabric. I have no doubt that if I fail to bring wallpaper and fabric on my next trip, things will be made much more difficult for me.

A Letter of Gratitude

Recently, while I was in North Korea distributing rice and other goods, I met an old lady and her grandchild. I bought a meal for the two and gave them a bit of money.

On my next distribution trip, a letter was waiting for me. It had been quietly handed to someone who knew me, with the request to pass it along if I ever came that way again.

February 10, 2007

Today I came to Yonsa with my grandchild to get some food from our relatives. There, in the market, I met a Chinese man who must have felt sorry for us, sickly and wretched-looking as we were. He took us to a café in the market and bought us lunch. And when we parted, he gave us some money as well.

I was agape. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming, or if it had really happened. Were there really people like that in this world? I had never seen him before in my life. Neither was he a relative, but he helped us.

I thank him from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget his kindness as long as I live. Wherever he may be, I pray for his health and long life.

Cho Sun Bok
Oran County 

Distribution of Home Medical Kits* within North Korea
and to North Korean Defectors in China


Yanbian, Tumen (China)
Yanbian, Long Jin (China)
Yanbian, Yanji (China)
Musan, Hamgyong Province
(N. Korea)
Yonsa, Hamgyong Province
(N. Korea)
Aug. 2006
Sep. 2006
Oct. 2006
Nov. 2006
Dec. 2006
Jan. 2007
Feb. 2007
* Each medical kit contains 150 RMB (US$21) of cold medicine, medicine for
digestion, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, as well as nutritional supplements.