The North Korean government operates a chain of hard-currency restaurants throughout Asia, as a means of bringing cash into the country. The Pyongyang restaurants feature abundant food (unlike Pyongyang itself), as well as a floor-show.
Aside from small North Korean flags pinned to the waitresses' blouses, the restaurant is surprisingly free from overt propagandizing. Instead of paeans to the Great Leader and his revolutionary juche ideology, the walls are adorned with a series of monumental landscape paintings. One crashing seascape, rendered in an apocalyptic palette of blues, greens, and reds, recalls the painting used as a backdrop to the official photo of Kim Jong-il and Bill Clinton that was taken during Clinton's visit to Pyongyang in August. The cold flood-lighting and no-camera policy (often violated on the sly by curious Western expats) also lend an Orwellian tinge to an evening at Pyongyang, though the authoritarian mood is often broken by the sound of drunken South Korean businessmen warbling their way through the restaurant's thick karaoke catalog...
In 2006 and 2007, Daily NK reported several incidents in which waitresses from North Korean restaurants in China's Shandong and Jilin provinces tried to defect, forcing the closure of the operations. Kim Myung Ho added that two or three DPRK security agents live onsite at each restaurant to "regulate" the workers and that any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.
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When we visited Taipei, my wife and I made it our singular goal to eat at Modern Toilet, even though we knew the bathroom-themed restaurant had caught on and was a bit of a tourist trap. That same spirit has been reignited in me, and my next trip to Seoul cannot come soon enough. I […]
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