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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Glimpses: Shan Lu in Pyongyang

by | August 17th, 2013 | 07:00 am

Scrolling through the DailyNK the other day, I came across a short unsigned travelogue with some pictures of food stalls in Pyongyang. The pictures took me to the author, Shan Lu, a Beijing-born San Francisco-based photographer (Flickr). She was kind enough to provide a link to the whole portfolio. Text is in Chinese, but among the highlights were some of the newer high-rise apartment buildings the government is building and a billboard advertising a surprisingly smart looking sports coupe; Shan Lu gets a picture of the showroom as well. Who in North Korea is buying sports coupes?

One other tidbit concerned the exchange rate. She found that not all stall operators were willing to take Chinese yuan, but those who were also spoke some rudimentary Chinese. There is hope yet. The reticence may have had to do with her ever-present North Korean guide, who said that the exchange rate between the RMB and North Korean won was 1 to 16. When Shan Lu later snuck out on her own and bought something with yuan–followed at a distance by a security agent in high heelsshe received change in won that suggested an exchange rate of about 1:12000.