I’ve posted on this before and I guess it’s kind of old news, but check out Captain Japan’s gripping description of a recent visit:
Inside this 25-table eatery of hermit kingdom blandness, slim and fair-skinned North Korean waitresses sing, dance in teams, and play violin in between serving a mix of Asian fare to customers who are afforded a zoo-like peek inside the illicit dining room of Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.
“I enjoy this job so much,” said one of the attendants, who like her comrades speaks a bit of English and Chinese, about working in Cambodia’s capital.
As cigarette smoke fills the air above each table, Korean firewater like the grain alcohol Jinro soju and draft Tiger beer are standards for washing down such menu items as beef rib soup ($10), roasted pork ribs ($9), and roasted eel ($15) – selections that do not match the mushrooms and grasses of foreign-correspondent lore, and considering a typical monthly wage for a government worker in Phnom Penh might only be $50 a month, such prices are quite high.
The stage show, which is the main attraction, starts at 8 p.m. One waitress, who like her sisters has been trained at an arts college in North Korea, will run through a karaoke number into the reverb-challenged sound system mounted on a small platform pushed into a corner. A duet, perhaps a slightly hip-shaking version of “Let it Be,” might follow. Customers are then encouraged to take their best shot at any of the thousands of English titles or Communist classics in the library. Finishing the set is a rather rousing violin and synthesizer piece.
The dance numbers get the most applause from the customers, who will pack each table on Friday and Saturday nights. With a backdrop of gold drapes adorned in tassels, the gals line up, spin and flail their arms in near perfect military-like unison to synthesizer accompaniment over a brown tiled floor.
Such uniformity seems to be stressed: shoe heels have been trimmed, giving the appearance of identical height; narrow mirrors are mounted intermittently between the windows to ensure that hair bows can be slightly adjusted while out on the floor; and housing on the property of the restaurant ensure that the girls room together. But lighter moments are possible, such as before the shop’s 11 a.m. opening, when the ladies can be seen happily folding moist towels and exercising their vocal chords.
In the northern Cambodian city of Siem Reap, where the majestic temples of the Angkor Wat complex are found, a sister restaurant operates under the same business model. And like the Phnom Penh outlet, which is slightly smaller and a year older, profits are funneled back to North Korea’s coffers. Similar properties have sprouted across Asia, including outlets in China, Thailand, and a fast-food variation in Vietnam.
Is adjusting shoe height (as Kim Jong Il is notorious for doing) some kind of virtue in North Korea? Check out the rest for awesome photos.
Here’s some video footage: