Varied receptions at North Korean restaurants in China

Restaurant employees at the "Pyongyang Koryo Pavilion," a North Korean restaurant in Dandong, China, enthusiastically welcomed the Unification Media Group (UMG) reporting team, following a guide who is an ethnic Korean, when the group first entered the establishment. However, the atmosphere turned cold once the team's South Korean status was revealed. 

While the UMG group was ordering food, the employee sensed something was odd and kept asking, "Are you from South Korea?" The employee repeatedly asked the same question and eventually asked the team to leave the restaurant, saying, "I do not serve South Korean customers." 

Looking back at the restaurant, the employee glanced at the report team once more before firmly closing the door, and the stern expressions across her colleagues' faces betrayed their wariness of South Korean nationals. The incident reflected the levels of tension between the two Koreas after the group defection of North Korean restaurant workers in China last April. 

"Previously, they received anyone as customers, but after the 13 restaurant workers defected to South Korea, South Koreans became unwelcome guests," our local guide later told UMG.

However, the atmosphere was different in North Korean restaurants located in Yanji Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province. The report team behaved with more caution after the incident in Dandong, but the employees did not express any specific caution toward South Koreans.

Even the three performers who entered the room to sing approached the team members without hesitation. In addition, they even called some of the report team members to the stage during the performance and handed them the microphones to sing together.


A North Korean worker at a restaurant in Yanji Korean Autonomous Prefecture, offering the 
reporting team the chance to come on stage and sing together. Image: Unification Media Group

After noticing that the atmosphere was quite different to that in Dandong, the reporting team was able to relax. The attendants who were serving food began to talk after their colleague finished the performance. One of them said, "My grandfather also came from the South," mentioning some episodes related to South Korea while making lighthearted small talk with the team.

Why was the atmosphere different? "The North Korean authorities have forbidden contact with South Koreans but they cannot control and monitor everywhere," UMG's guide surmised.

"The North Korean workers come to China to earn money, so it is not helpful for them to screen paying customers. The atmosphere will generally loosen up if they are paid well," the guide added.