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The Global Restaurant Chain Run by North Korea

September 27, 2019 No Comments


This video was made possible by Curiosity
Stream. When you sign up at the link in the description
you’ll also get access to Nebula—the streaming video platform that HAI is a part of. Hello and welcome to Pyongyang Restaurant. Table for two? No problem—right this way. Might I interest you in a glass of ginseng
wine, or perhaps some of our famous kimchi? Wonderful, that’ll be coming right up. While you wait, please sit back and enjoy
the ambiance and décor, the live musical performances by your waitresses, and try to
forget that this entire restaurant is run but one of the most brutal, repressive, murderous
governmental regimes in the world. Oh whoops, did I say murderous government
regime? I meant to say the bathrooms are down the
half and to the left. My bad. What’s that you say? You want to know more about these restaurants? Well, alright—but only if you promise not
to tell anyone. If it gets back to the supreme leader that
I told you any of this, he’s not gonna be happy. This Pyongyang restaurant is one of over 130
Pyongyang restaurants all across Asia in countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam, and more. Now, as much as fish flavored ice cream and
medium rare chicken seems like a crime against humanity, the food at Pyongyang restaurant
actually does represent a threat for humanity’s future as this restaurant is owned by the
country whose nuclear arsenal is one of the world’s greatest geopolitical threats. But, the kimchi is really good, so it all
pretty much evens out. UN sanctions make essentially all of the restaurants
completely illegal under international law, but apparently it turns out that if you have
really good dumplings, the UN sort of looks the other way. When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re
greeted by a waitress that was hand-selected by the North Korean government—screened
three generations back for loyalty to the North Korean government, and chosen for their
beauty, height, and artistic ability—and when they aren’t serving you a bowl of Pyongyang
cold noodles, they’ll be onstage, wearing traditional Choson-ot dresses, singing, dancing,
and playing instruments. Now, if you’ve ever worked long shifts at
a restaurant, you might have thought to yourself, “man, this Applebee’s feels like a prison.” For the staff of Pyongyang Restaurants, that
feeling is a bit more literal—the waitresses actually have to live above the restaurant,
and aren’t allowed to wander the city freely. In 2016, 13 waitresses escaped a location
in Beijing and defected, much like I defected from Applebee’s—though technically they
didn’t call it defecting. They called it not showing up for work and
getting fired. The food is mainly upscale Korean cuisine—not
much different than what you’d find at most South Korean restaurants, but it does have
a few North Korea-specific dishes like Pyongyang cold noodles, Taedonggang beer, and the strange,
overwhelming feeling of censorship and oppression. Oh sorry did I say censorship and oppression? I meant spicier kimchi. You should really try the kimchi. Why is a government that’s known for its
nuclear arsenal and brutal concentration, I mean, reeducation camps building upscale
dining rooms that serve tofu soup? In part, the restaurants exist for cultural
diplomacy. By exposing foreigners to a version of North
Korean culture—a version with tasty food, upscale décor, and friendly women who sing
and dance—the restaurants aim to convince people that North Korea is a nice, prosperous,
normal place. After all, a country’s restaurant can say
a lot about that place—the Canadian chain Tim Hortons has donuts to show that Canadians
are sweet, the South African chain Nando’s has peri-peri sauce to show that South Africans
are spicy, and the American chain KFC has a sandwich with fried chicken instead of bread,
to show that Americans are complete maniacs. The other reason for the restaurants is the
same as the reason behind Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, and Ocean’s 13—cold hard cash. See, the North Korean government is in desperate
need of foreign currency—in particular, Chinese yuan and American dollars. Technically, they do have their own currency,
the won, but it’s highly unstable and poorly managed—kind of like my YouTube career. The won is essentially useless, like monopoly
money or YouTube comments criticizing my pronunciation. Nearly everyone in North Korea uses foreign
currency, like dollars or yuan—and that includes the government. The problem is, the government has a lot of
trouble getting that currency. After all, how does one country get money
from another country—the answer is, usually, through trade. If the US buys something, let’s say tea,
from the UK, now the US has more tea and the UK has more US dollars. If the UK buys from the US, say cheeseburgers,
now the US has more pounds, and the UK also has more pounds, but a different kind. With the extensive sanctions most of the world
enforces on North Korea, however, there’s very little trade between North Korea and
other countries and therefore, very little access to foreign currency. The one country North Korea does much trade
with, China, is selling a lot more to North Korea than they’re buying, and North Korea
needs a way to make up the difference. They can’t just print more won and give
them to China, because remember, nobody wants won; so instead, they’ve been using foreign
currency reserves—but they’re quickly running out and that’s why Pyongyang Restaurants
exist. The restaurants are each run by a middleman
who must send a fixed sum back to North Korea every month—between $10,000-$30,000 depending
on the size of the restaurant. If you don’t manage to send that money back,
North Korea will shut the restaurant down, and make all the employees return to the homeland,
and while we may not know everything about North Korea, we can pretty safely guess that
returning home to an angry North Korean government that feels you cheated it out of money isn’t,
you know, an amazing experience. Alright, that’s all I can say—and I’ve
probably said too much already so just go back to eating your kimchi and let’s pretend
like none of this ever happened. What I definitely haven’t said enough about,
though, is Curiosity Stream. A picture is worth a thousand words and Curiosity
Stream has 2,400 motion pictures about science, technology, history, and more so math tells
me I have lots of words left to fully describe it. The crazy part is, though, that those mad-lads
took their annual subscription, which was already an amazing deal, and made it even
better as it now includes a subscription to Nebula. Nebula is the streaming site that I and a
bunch of other creators started as a place to try new things on a platform purpose-built
for educational content. All new HAI and Wendover videos go up there
ad-free and there’s also a bunch of original, exclusive content from different creators. To get all that, all you need to do is sign
up for the annual plan, just $19.99 a year, at CuriosityStream.com/HAI and then you’ll
get an email with a link to get your free Nebula subscription. Also, you’ll be supporting all these independent
creators independently create which is, like, cool.

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