This review is not about an individual shop but about shopping, or really the lack of it, generally. It also provides some detail not included in my Walk in Pyongyang review – the attached pictures were taken in Sungri Street which was the first part of that walk.
The High Street of a three million person city anywhere else in the world would typically feature the likes of Hugo Boss, Tiffany’s, Cartier, Chanel, Country Road and such like. Not so Pyongyang.
Tourists do not come to ‘High Street’ Pyongyang to shop for two reasons. Firstly there is nothing that you would really want to buy and secondly even if there was you are forbidden from buying it as it is illegal for you to hold the local currency and credit cards are not accepted. Local shops are generally not permitted to accept foreign currencies.
As I have indicated in numerous other reviews and on North Korea commercialism is pretty much non existent in the country and as there is no advertising the concept of a shop window enticing buyers to part with their money is an anathema to how things are done here.
In the main, if you are not part of the elite, you buy what you need to survive not what you want or desire. While there are shopping centres aka supermarkets and very basic department stores which look like supermarkets and department stores inside – though with very limited choice – the shops in the city centre, High Street if you like, are much more basic and are very simply marked with a small sign above the door basically signifying what you might expect to find inside. And inside you will need to go to see what is on offer as there are no window displays, though some shops do have windows allowing you a peek in.
The shop in in main picture is a bakery. The posters in the windows are advertising the Pyongyang Marathon and events related to the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung and not the shop’s latest bread offering.
That in the picture above has something to do with footwear (perhaps a Korean speaker can translate for me?). Behind the window in the picture below was a very rudimentary restaurant but that is not why I took this picture.
I took it as an example of the ingenuity of the shop owner. The line on the top of the main branch of the tree, starting from the bottom right hand corner, is a large crack in the glass. On the assumption that the shop owner could not afford to replace the pane of glass he/she turned the whole pane into a pleasant looking piece of art.
A recent phenomena on the streets are small kiosks selling snacks.
These seemed to be reasonably popular with local people. Again, tourists are not permitted to purchase from these kiosks though, in the unlikely event that there was something in them that took your fancy, I imagine your guide may be able to get it for you. That said, an attempt to get our guides assistance in acquiring something from a street seller at another location was thwarted by the guide who said we much use the official tourist/hotel shops, for our own convenience.
In reality tourists are limited to hotel shops, gift shops at tourist attractions and the Foreign Language Bookshop. In all of these places purchases are made with hard currency.
The overseas guide who accompanied us said that occasionally tourists are permitted to visit local markets but when we asked the local guide if this was possible she indicated that it was not permitted. I suspect it being early spring there was nothing in the market and had it been harvest time our request may have been acquiesced to.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – A Walk in Pyongyang – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other