Photographer Captures the Luxurious Lives of North Korea’s Wealthy 1%

North Korea is changing, at least in the economic domain. Apparently, more and more citizens are becoming donju, or literally “masters of money”. They are, in essence, the country’s elite—middle class people who have private sources of income.

Christian Petersen-Clausen, a photographer based in China, learned of their existence during his 10-day visit to Pyongyang earlier this year. The increasing number of cellphone users was a glaring sight,  but there were other signs pointing to a collective improvement in lifestyle.

“Smartphones and cameras are much more ubiquitous than just one year ago and so are electric bikes and luxury cars,” Peterson-Clausen told NextShark.

These scenes deviate from the common picture many foreigners imagine about North Korean citizens. Petersen-Clausen was surprised to see donju who actually used two phones and other digital devices.

The photos were taken for news site NK News to turn into a 2017 North Korea wall calendar ($5 off for NextShark readers!).

Petersen-Clausen spotted electric bikes and luxury cars, including a surge in the number of taxis in Pyongyang. However, while some people now do have access to cars, the vast majority of people are still riding bicycles.

“Services have expanded over the past few years as well. Pyongyang now has significantly more taxis, although they still require western currency for payment. It is possible to get married at the zoo, fly in an ultralight airplane at the flying club or learn to ride horses under the guidance of expert trainers,” he said.

The donju reportedly spend time in “Pyonghattan,” a colloquial lingo among themselves that refer to an upscale area in Pyongyang that houses expensive establishments.

“Pyonghattan” is home to expensive department stories, restaurants, and 24-hour coffee shops, according to the Washington Post.

These elite citizens have an affinity for leather bags, as seen in the following images:

“Things seem to have improved to the point where some people even have leisure time in a country that famously has a six-day work week with plenty of extra work required on various occasions.”

“But this does not necessarily mean that North Korea has become a workers paradise where life for everyone is luxurious and comfortable. This is still a country under tight sanctions and one does not need to look far to see how tough going about daily activities can be. From waiting in endless lines for the ride on ancient busses home to hard work in the fields, the examples are everywhere.”

While these step-ups are enticing to look at, Kim Jong Un’s leadership remains to impose tight sanctions that may or may not spare donju.

Like these photos? Get $5 off the North Korea wall calendar, featuring all of these shots.


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