[Daily NK] As South Korean popular cultural content ‘Hallyu’ continues to permeate the lives of North Koreans, so have goods such as material used to adorn home interiors. With the growing popularity among donju [newly affluent middle class], South Korean materials are being masked as Chinese in origin and imported into the country.
“There has been an increase in demand for South Korean equipment and material for interior design in the real estate market these days, so donju in the market are ordering things directly from China,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a telephone conversation. “Since importing South Korean goods is illegal, they remove the labels and make them look like they’re Chinese products.”
This news was corroborated by additional sources in Pyongyang and South Pyongan Province.
Of the imported material, wallpaper takes up the largest portion and is typically used to decorate high-end apartments because of the superior quality and better colors. The wallpaper comes through Sinuiju’s customs office in a shipping container from China and is then distributed throughout Pyongyang, Sinuiju, and other large cities.
“Wallpaper from the South is very soft and the embossed texture is really fascinating to many, so donju call it ‘bubble’ wallpaper,” she said. “Boosting demand is the rumor that it’s impervious to stains and color fading even if the walls are damp, unlike Chinese and North Korean variants.”
Unlike state-constructed homes in the past, homes in big cities such as Pyongyang and Sinuiju now have a much closer resemblance to the layout of South Korean units with full glass windows near the veranda, large living rooms, no door thresholds, and similar kitchen layouts that require sink installations.
“Typically homes in these areas are built with material from China, but if the homeowner places an order for South Korean supplies, the price of the unit goes up,” the source said. “You generally see these homeowners picking out their own South Korean supplies and having them used for the decor inside.”
The penchant for products from below the border goes beyond just the interior design world, spilling over into daily goods. Urban homes showcasing ‘Cuckoo’ brand rice cookers are common, and particularly affluent households pride themselves on having spoons and chopsticks with unmistakable ‘Made in Korea’ labels, according to the source.
“The intercoms installed in apartments ‘gifted’ by the General (Kim Jong Un) and high-story apartment buildings break down frequently, so they’re being swapped out with South Korean devices, and all of these goods are coming through customs,” she noted.
Just until a few years ago, people used to joke that a running a household would be impossible without Chinese products. Now, the source said, the same joke still makes the rounds but references South Korean goods instead. “Others point out that Kim Jong Un should at least try to imitate South Korean technology and use it to develop the local economy,” she asserted.
“After all, that in itself would be a powerful countermeasure to the infiltration of Hallyu.”