I'm fascinated by accounts of North Korea, probably because the Hermit Kingdom is so isolated from the sources of information that I usually access. That may be changing a bit as North Korea tries to ramp up its tourism industry by luring (primarily) the Chinese nouveau-riche above the 38th parallel. Usually portrayals of the DPRK are pretty grim, but these photos from a journalist who went on a cruise have some moments of light and contain a lot of beauty. However the economic news is not so good:
The rationing system, the backbone of the socialist planned economy, has nearly collapsed. Some 4 million people still live on rations — 2.6 million in Pyongyang and 1.2 million soldiers.
But a senior South Korean government official said 20 million North Koreans rely absolutely on the underground economy.
“A North Korean family needs 90,000-100,000 North Korean won for living costs per month, but workers at state-run factories or enterprises earn a mere 2,000-8,000 won,” the source said. “So North Koreans have no choice but to become market traders, cottage industrialists or transport entrepreneurs to make up for shortages.” ...
“Ordinary North Koreans have become so dependent on the private economy that they get 80-90 percent of daily necessities and 60-70 percent of food from the markets,” the security official said.Obviously the situation is not sustainable in the long term. It will be interesting to see if North Korea begins making gradual Cuba-like reforms after the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un.