Karaoke bars catering to foreign businessmen in the North Korean capital Pyongyang have become new sources of revenue for the sanctions-hit regime, with patrons being charged high for the personal attentions of female employees, sources in the capital say.
“These employees are pretty and in their early 20s, and they keep their guests company by dancing and singing with them,” a Chinese businessman and frequent visitor to the city told RFA’s Korean Service.
“No physical contact beyond hand-holding is allowed, though,” the businessman said.
Karaoke bars set up in Pyongyang to attract foreign customers are “clean and tidy” and well-equipped with a sound system, and can be favorably compared with similar establishments in China, the source said.
“And the employees who greet customers when they arrive are friendly and polite, so that one may doubt whether they are actually in North Korea.”
Female employees will often pose for photos with their guests, another businessman told RFA.
“However, the pleasure of these joyful moments shared together is momentary, since good humor vanishes as soon as one receives the bill,” he said.
Though beer is inexpensively priced at about 10 Chinese yuan (U.S.$1.45) per bottle, with hard liquor charged at higher rates, guests also find themselves charged a “service fee” of about U.S.$100 for each female employee attending them.
“We felt like we had been hit with a bomb,” RFA’s source said.
“We thought that the service fee for three of us going to a karaoke bar in Pyongyang would be about the same as one charged in a Chinese bar,” he said.
“We couldn’t fight over the fee, though, and ended up having to pay in order to keep our reputation.”
The money from these higher fees is never shared with the female employees, though, the source added. “The whole amount goes to the government.”
“The government is making young women serve drinks to foreigners to earn foreign currency,” he said.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.