Pyongyang celebrates its congress with toothpaste

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Pyongyang celebrates its congress with toothpaste

To celebrate its seventh congress, Pyongyang distributed one tube of toothpaste, one toothbrush and one bottle of liquor per household, the Tokyo-based Asia Press reported on Wednesday, citing sources in North Korea. Not only were the gifts sets depressingly mean - they weren’t even free.

“Collective farms near where I live refused to take the gift sets because they cost about 1,500 (North Korean) won [$1.67],” a source was quoted as saying, “and I didn’t claim them, either.”

The anonymous source added that the toothpaste distributed by the government was unpopular among the public because of its much lower quality compared to products from China.

The quality of special gifts distributed to celebrate important holidays such as the birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, is often seen as an indicator of the state’s economic status.

Hit by natural disasters such as famine and floods in the mid-1990s, which aggravated its deepening economic isolation, the totalitarian country suffered up to 3 million deaths by starvation two decades ago and its economy has not fully recovered since.

In February, Asia Press reported that Pyongyang gave out 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of brown rice and 2 kilograms of corn per household to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-il.

For kids, two rice crackers, candies and seven packs of gum were distributed, according to its North Korean source, who added that they all tasted terrible.

The Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported in April that confectionery gifts were traded at street open markets in the North known as jangmadang, but they failed to generate much interest because they were of such poor quality.

Kim acknowledged his nation’s continued struggle to raise the standard of living for its people and reinvigorate the economy in his speech before the congress, saying that the international community’s sanctions and pressures had “blocked the country’s path for economic progress and survival,” which he said gave its people “suffering and hardship worse than that of war.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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