April 26, 2020

HMMMM: Panic-buying grips North Korea amid rumors of Kim Jong Un’s demise.

Residents in the North Korean capital have resorted to panic-buying amid reports that controversial leader Kim Jong Un is gravely ill or dead, according to a report.

Store shelves in Pyongyang were being cleaned out of everything from liquor to laundry detergent, canned fish to cigarettes in recent days — as conflicting reports continue to surface about the portly dictator’s possible demise, the Washington Post wrote Sunday.

I wonder what the sales trends are like in Pyongyang Department Store Number 1, which the good Dr. Theodore Dalrymple described thusly in 1991:

I also followed a few people around at random, as discreetly as I could. Some were occupied in ceaselessly going up and down the escalators; others wandered from counter to counter, spending a few minutes at each before moving on. They did not inspect the merchandise; they moved as listlessly as illiterates might, condemned to spend the day among the shelves of a library. I did not know whether to laugh or explode with anger or weep. But I knew I was seeing one of the most extraordinary sights of the twentieth century.

I decided to buy something – a fountain pen. I went to the counter where pens were displayed like the fan of a peacock’s tail. They were no more for sale than the Eiffel Tower. As I handed over my money, a crowd gathered round, for once showing signs of animation. I knew, of course, that I could not be refused: if I were, the game would be given away completely. And so the crowd watched goggle-eyed and disbelieving as this astonishing transaction took place: I gave the assistant a piece of paper and she gave me a pen.

The pen, as it transpired, was of the very worst quality. Its rubber for the ink was so thin that it would have perished immediately on contact with ink. The metal plunger was already rusted; the plastic casing was so brittle that the slightest pressure cracked it. And the box in which it came was of absorbent cardboard, through whose fibres the ink of the printing ran like capillaries on the cheeks of a drunk.

At just before four o’clock, on two occasions, I witnessed the payment of the shoppers. An enormous queue formed at the cosmetics and toiletries counter and there everyone, man and woman, received the same little palette of rouge, despite the great variety of goods on display. Many of them walked away somewhat bemused, examining the rouge uncomprehendingly. At another counter I saw a similar queue receiving a pair of socks, all brown like the plastic bowls. The socks, however, were for keeps. After payment, a new shift of Potemkin shoppers arrived.

If Orwell had come across the above passage, he would have said, “I can’t put this in 1984; no one would believe it!” If you’ve never read about Pyongyang Department Store Number 1, definitely read the whole thing.

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