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“In the past, our husbands would bring home rations, and we’d live off that,” says Mrs. “Now there are no rations, and the women support the families.
They make the payments in order to be classified in what are known as “August the third units,” who can trade privately. “I get paid 1,200 won a month,” complains another interviewee, Mr. Kim and who has an office job in a state-run company. North Korea’s government has become dependent on free labor from its citizens. Men have become mute.” That muteness has become a matter of survival. Kim describes what happens to friends whose wives have left them or died: “Men without wives become beggars. In recent years there has been official criticism of the fact that engagement ceremonies, wedding gift exchanges between families and even the table for ancestral rites have become occasions full of over-spending, empty formalities and vanity.
“If you don’t go to work, you go to prison,” one male interviewee tells NPR.