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North Korean Restaurants Finding Hard to Draw Diners In

These restaurants are common all over East and Southeast Asia and were established to earn foreign cash for the North Korean regime

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“We don’t get paid, and we must work from 11 in the morning to midnight,” said the waitress. “We get dispatched overseas during our sophomore year, and the training period is three years.” Pixabay

North Korean-themed restaurants in Cambodia are struggling with financial difficulties due to UN sanctions and a dwindling customer base.

These restaurants are common all over East and Southeast Asia and were established to earn foreign cash for the North Korean regime.

They have been go-to destinations for dining in entertainment in places as far flung as Vladivostok and Shanghai. The main attraction is not necessarily the food; diners used to pack these establishments to catch a glimpse of the young dancing waitresses in colorful Korean dress.

Across the entire region, however, North Korean restaurants that once enjoyed a boom are now finding it hard to draw diners in. Many say that UN sanctions are to blame for the lack of customers.

Although a recent thawing in inter-Korean relations lifted restrictions on South Koreans visiting these restaurants, in the case of Cambodia, this has not helped to reverse the restaurants’ fortunes.

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Empty dining hall during lunch hour at Pyongyang Unhasu Restaurant in Phnom Penh on Feb. 10, 2019. RFA

“North Korean restaurants used to make money hand over fist here, until the UN started enforcing the sanctions against North Korea,” said a Korean expat from Phnom Penh.

“Most of them have closed down since then and some of [those still open] are experiencing business difficulties,” the resident said, adding, “It is because South Korean tourists and local South Koreans stopped coming in since the UN enforced sanctions.”

The sanctions, aimed at depriving North Korea of $500 million per year that could be funneled into its nuclear program, have caused companies in both the private and public sectors to shy away from any kind of association with North Korea, as they fear being blacklisted themselves.

One set of sanctions is specifically designed to curb North Korea’s practice of sending workers overseas to earn hard currency for the government in a system that leaves the workers with only a fraction of their actual earnings.

The Phnom Penh resident said three North Korean restaurants were still active in Phnom Penh.

“There’s the Pyongyang Naengmyon [Cold Buckwheat Noodle] restaurant, Pyongyang Unhasu [Galaxy] restaurant, and the Pyongyang Arirang restaurant,” said the resident.

The resident said that on typical days these restaurants can expect to draw about 10 customers after 7pm, but since performances only happen at night, there are no customers at lunchtime.

“I’ve heard that [South Korea] lifted restrictions against South Korean tourists coming to these restaurants as the North-South relationship has gotten better. I don’t know why, but South Korean tourists don’t [seem to want to] visit,” the resident said.

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“North Korean restaurants used to make money hand over fist here, until the UN started enforcing the sanctions against North Korea,” said a Korean expat from Phnom Penh. Pixabay

The source added that in recent years the lack of business has forced some of the restaurants to diversify.

“They’re now opening up new cafes that sell alcohol, coffee, tea, noodles, and dumplings, doing their best to [try to] attract customers,” the source said.

“Business is so slow that they can’t even pay the waitresses,” the source said, adding: “[they] wait all day at the door for customers to come in, never stopping for breaks. It’s just pitiful.”

Stolen Youth

A waitress at one of the Phnom Penh restaurants explained that she and every other North Korean waitress in Cambodia are students from Pyongyang University of Commerce. She said they were sent out of North Korea to go through a period of “unpaid training.”

“We don’t get paid, and we must work from 11 in the morning to midnight,” said the waitress. “We get dispatched overseas during our sophomore year, and the training period is three years.”

“College is supposed to last four years, but because we all have to do overseas training, nobody graduates in four years,” the waitress said.

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“I miss my parents in Pyongyang. I am so far away from them in Cambodia and I can’t even call them whenever I want,” she said. Pixabay

The waitress explained that even if they do return eventually, once they graduate finding any job related to their majors is difficult.

“Even though I majored in services, that doesn’t mean I get to do anything related to that when I get dispatched [for training.] I can only find that out when I get there,” she said.

ALSO READ: Chinese Hacking Group Targets US Universities in Search of Military Secrets: Reports

“I miss my parents in Pyongyang. I am so far away from them in Cambodia and I can’t even call them whenever I want,” she said.

“I’ve been working in Cambodia for years and I feel most sorry for myself because I won’t have a chance to date someone. (RFA)

Next Story

North Korea Hackers Target Think Tanks, Activists; Reveals Microsoft

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim's account password is updated

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FILE - A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 18, 2017. VOA

Microsoft has revealed that a North Korea-linked hacker group has stolen the sensitive personal information of government employees, think tanks, university staff members, members of organizations focused on world peace and human rights, as well as individuals who work on nuclear proliferation-related issues.

Microsoft has now gained control of 50 domains that the group uses to conduct its operations, the company said on Monday.

With this action, the sites can no longer be used to execute attacks.

A court case against the hacker group, called Thallium, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, resulted in a court order enabling Microsoft to take control of the web domains, Microsoft Customer Security and Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has been tracking and gathering information on Thallium, monitoring the group’s activities to establish and operate a network of websites, domains and Internet-connected computers.

This network was used to target victims and then compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information.

Most targets were based in the US, as well as Japan and South Korea, Burt said.

Like many cybercriminals and threat actors, Thallium typically attempts to trick victims through a technique known as spear phishing.

FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash.
FILE – Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. VOA

By gathering information about the targeted individuals from social media, public personnel directories from organizations the individual is involved with and other public sources, Thallium is able to craft a personalized spear-phishing email in a way that gives the email credibility to the target.

The link in the email redirects the user to a website requesting the user’s account credentials.

By tricking victims into clicking on the fraudulent links and providing their credentials, Thallium is then able to log into the victim’s account.

Upon successful compromise of a victim account, Thallium can review emails, contact lists, calendar appointments and anything else of interest in the compromised account.

The hackers often also creates a new mail forwarding rule in the victim’s account settings. This mail forwarding rule will forward all new emails received by the victim to Thallium-controlled accounts.

Also Read: Actor Pankaj Tripathi Likes to Put Work Before Vacay Plans

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim’s account password is updated.

“You can protect yourself from these types of attacks in at least three ways. We recommend, first, that you enable two-factor authentication on all business and personal email accounts,” Burt said.

“Second, learn how to spot phishing schemes and protect yourself from them. Third, enable security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites and carefully check your email forwarding rules for any suspicious activity,” he added. (IANS)