[VIEWPOINT]Wasted youth of North Korean girlsNot far from the South Korean Embassy in Beijing, there is a four-star hotel called the Daejong Hotel. It is said that a successful Korean-Chinese businessman owns it. Many South Koreans who are in Beijing for business stay there, as the room charges are relatively inexpensive and the employees there speak Korean.
On the second floor of this hotel, a North Korean restaurant called “Pyongyang Geumkangwon” opened early last month. North Korea invested in this restaurant to earn foreign currency. The customers this restaurant aims to attract are South Korean.
It even featured in a color advertisement in the Weekly Korean, a weekly free bulletin for Korean residents in Beijing. As implied by the advertisement, “The service and wonderful performances of the pretty waitresses from Pyongyang will make you feel like you are in Pyongyang.” North Korean waitresses are the competitive edge of this restaurant.
The restaurant aims to earn foreign currency by relying upon South Korean’s curiosity about North Korean girls.
When I got down to the second- floor restaurant, the cheerful performance from Pyongyang was at its height. They sang such North Korean pop songs as “Nice to Meet You” and “Whistle,” which were familiar even to me, as well as old-time South Korean pop songs, such as “Daltaryeong” and “Tears of Mokpo Port.” They sang quite well. Groups of tourists from South Korea in their 40s and 50s applauded and cheered them on loudly. Some people even rose and danced. Others were busy taking pictures with the North Korean girls, to whom they presented flower bouquets. The girls do no accept tips personally, instead the restaurant bill increases 100 yuan ($12.70) each time a bouquet is presented to one of them.
In Beijing, there are 15 North Korean restaurants. In Wangjing, where a large number of Korean residents live, even pubs run by North Korean girls are flourishing. They compete with South Korean bars next to them. It might be admirable for them to endeavor making money in competition with South Korean businesses in the midst of the socialist market economy.
However, their business strategy does not seem efficient. Frankly, the food at Pyongyang Geumkangwon was not good. The curiosity of seeing North Korean girls performing there cannot last beyond a couple of visits. A restaurant should compete with the quality of its cuisine.
In Dandang, a Chinese city at the estuary of Yalu River, there are as many as seven restaurants run by a North Korean authority. The strategy there is the same. North Korean waitresses serve drinks, even inside private rooms, and sing songs at the request of customers. They pleasantly respond to awkward jokes and even drink the boilermakers the customers offer.
North Korean girls sent to China for the purpose of earning foreign currency are on three-year term contracts.
By selling food, drinks, smiles and singing, it is said that they make 600 yuan a month. The money they save in three years amounts to quite a sum by North Korean standards. Accordingly, the competition to get a chance to come to China is hot and if one gets the chance to come, she does all she can to extend her contract.
These North Korean girls are told to actually live in custody. Except during the business hours of the restaurant, they must stay in a confined place. If any one of them creates a problem, all of them, including the manager, will be summoned back to North Korea. Therefore, a system of mutual watch is seriously intact.
Numerous North Korean girls in the blossoming of their 20s come to China to serve drinks and sing songs for customers.
The foreign currency they earn, even a penny, may be precious to Kim Jong-il, the chairman of the Military Commission of North Korea, but how can he compensate for their lost youth?
Isn’t the loss of their youth wasteful and pitiful, though they can blame their bad luck of having been born in the wrong country?
Chairman Kim must have a look at reality. And he must contemplate, with his hands on his heart, how he will contribute to the people and return the dreams and hopes to these innocent girls.
If he ruins the youth of North Korean girls under the cause of earning foreign currency, although he says in words that he works for the people, isn’t this an unforgivable hypocrisy and a crime?
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok