The favourite household appliance of the North Korean elite

Monday 18th February, 2013

When a case of bribery and corruption arises in South Korea, as it often does, the term ‘apple crate’ is sometimes used to refer to the bribe. An apple crate stuffed with 50,000 won notes is supposed to hold one billion won (approximately US$900,000); and therefore the relevant meme here is ‘crate’ rather than ‘apple’. In North Korea too, bribery is rife. In fact, it is a part and parcel of North Korean society, and it is said that nothing bureaucratic can be accomplished without a bribe.

This is why every official or member of the North Korean elite has a special household appliance in their kitchen, which sits next to the fridge. This appliance looks like an industrial fridge, and looks similar to a South Korean kimchi fridge.

North Korean elite
Referred to as a ‘geukdonggi’ by North Koreans, this is a type of freezer that can hold goods in bulk. Although there is a freezer compartment in the fridge, North Korean officials also keep a geukdonggi because they need a place in which to keep the various meats and foodstuffs that are offered to them as bribes.

For a meat bribe to count as a bribe, one must offer the minimum of a piglet in the meat’s weight or value. This is why a separate freezer for meats are needed.

The geukdonggi is also referred to as a ‘rich man’s safe’ or a ‘bribe storage box’. Only the rich North Korean may afford a separate household appliance, let alone have enough meat for this to be a worthwhile purchase. Nevertheless, the freezer is viewed as a compulsory purchase for officials and powerful members of the North Korean elite.

This is one symptom of how bribery and corruption is deeply intertwined in the social fabric of North Korean society, which can be likened to a cancer in its final stage more than to a temporary viral infection. Until this tangled web of bribery and corruption in the upper ranks of the North Korean elite come a little undone, no amount of aid and economic co-operation – controlled by this elite – will trickle down in sufficient volume to change the lives of ordinary North Koreans for the better.

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