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DPRK waitress in China shares a day in her life
By Li Xiaokun and Wang Huazhong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-14 09:31

DANDONG: Decked out in traditional Korean dress, Choe greets diners at the entrance of the Korea Restaurant in Dandong, Liaoning province.

Elegant and light-skinned, Choe, 23, sports a luxury Gucci watch on her left wrist - and a Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) flag pin on her chest.

DPRK waitress in China shares a day in her life

Choe is no ordinary waitress and her workplace is no ordinary restaurant.

"Do you like our seafood pancake?" Choe, who only offered her first name, asked China Daily reporters during the weekend, as she placed another piece of the dish on the plate.

Choe says she came to Dandong four months ago. Her restaurant is one of Dandong's most luxurious and one of the few establishments in the Chinese city bordering the DPRK that is still seeing brisk business in the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear test in May and subsequent missile launches.

The Korea Restaurant, is located near the only bridge linking Dandong and the DPRK, through which the Chinese army reached the DPRK and joined the Korean War in 1950. All of about 20 tables were full on the Saturday afternoon we visited recently, despite prices that are double that of common restaurants in Dandong serving the same food.

Some men from the DPRK in dark yellow or blue suits, with pins of DPRK leader on their chests, also dined there.

Choe's colleagues, equally young and attractive, wait at tables in blue skirt suits and light makeup. They wear stylish, high-heeled shoes and watches, serving guests with smiles.

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"The main reason for the restaurant's good business is the DPRK waitresses. It's the easiest way to meet people from that country," said a taxi driver, surnamed Li.

"Though border trade has been slashed, more and more people are interested in the DPRK after the recent events. You can even see more Westerners here," Li said.

Shan Jie, board chairman of the Dandong Federal Business Corp which runs cross-border trade, said the waitresses "are by no means common DPRK citizens".

"They're all children of DPRK cadres and graduates of Kim Il-sung University. They can speak Chinese, and are very talented in singing and dancing," said Shan, who has conducted businesses with the DPRK for 16 years. Most of the DPRK cadres attend that university, he said.

The girls were sent to Dandong for training and will have "a promising future as civil servants" when going back home, Shan said.

"It's a good opportunity for them to practice Chinese and meet Chinese people of all levels. Besides, they earn money for their country," he said.

Pyongyang has many restaurants in Dandong, and many DPRK ministries such as the ministries of trade and security have their own restaurants there, Shan said.

Choe said the Korea Restaurant is of the same restaurant chain as Beijing Pyongyang Begonia Flower Restaurant, a famous luxury Korean restaurant said to be run by a DPRK merchant with a military background.

When asked whether she is the daughter of DPRK officials, Choe switched to speaking in Korean with a colleague before ending the conversation.

"The girls here mostly work for one and half years I'll stay for about three years," Choe said.

"Dandong is pretty and people here are quite nice. But I will go back to my country, Pyongyang is the most beautiful place in the world."