Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Aug 15 2015, Page 81

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - August 15, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE D6 WONG MAYE- E / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Well- off young women are dropping dowdy outfits for accessories and high heels in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. y our world gps 2 SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 2015 D6 v S TART typing the sentence “ Vegemite tastes like...” into Google and the search engine quickly gives you three suggestions for completing the thought. The first option is “ soy sauce,” an apt description of the salty brown sludge so popular in Australia. The second is “ beer,” which also makes sense considering Vegemite is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract. The third suggestion, however, is less than obvious. According to Google, at least, Vegemite tastes like “ sadness.” Why a breakfast spread would be associated with sadness is a peculiarly Australian tale of poverty and addiction. And the answer lies somewhere in the overlap between the search engine’s three suggestions. Vegemite is a cousin, so to speak, of Marmite, the yeast- based spread invented at the beginning of the 20th century in England. The British B- vitamin spread was wildly popular Down Under until its supply was interrupted by the First World War. Conflict offered local food manufacturer Fred Walker Co. — which would later become Kraft — a window of opportunity. The company hired a young chemist named Cyril P. Callister to develop Australia’s own version of Marmite, according to the Vegemite website. For nearly a century, Vegemite has been a barometer of Australia’s culture and economy. From the contest to come up with its name to its iconic advertisements, memorable radio limericks and nostalgia- inducing “ Happy Little Vegemites” commercials, the product charts changes in Australian society during the 20th century. In 1981, the Australian rock band Men at Work memorialized the spread in their song Down Under , which contains a line about a Vegemite sandwich. “ Vegemite started as a wartime substitute for Marmite, but it’s now as symbolic of Australia as Sydney Harbour Bridge and the koala,” the BBC reported in 2012. During the past week, the beloved breakfast spread has been pulled into a much more serious and particularly Australian debate over alcoholism and the rights of the indigenous. Last Sunday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion warned Vegemite was being used to make bootleg booze in indigenous communities where there is a ban on selling alcohol. Calling the condiment “ a precursor to misery,” Scullion told Brisbane’s Courier- Mail some indigenous Australians were using Vegemite to brew bathtubs full of moonshine. “ Adults and even young children are getting drunk on the home brew, which at times is mixed with orange juice,” the newspaper reported. “ Senator Scullion said children in some communities were too hungover from all- night benders to go to school.” Australia’s indigenous population suffers from a significantly higher rate of alcohol abuse, according to the country’s Bureau of Statistics and Institute of Criminology, and indigenous Australians are up to eight times more likely to die due to alcohol than their peers, according to recent research. In the interview, Scullion mentioned the possibility of a legislative ban on Vegemite in certain communities, but said the government preferred local leaders and businesses to crack down on the problem instead. Scullion added he was tired of hearing about “ people’s rights” rather than dealing with problems related to alcohol abuse, such as domestic violence and child neglect. “ Wouldn’t it be terrible to ban Vegemite?” he told the Courier- Mail . “ Well it’s a precursor to misery in ( some) communities.” The mere suggestion of banning Vegemite caused a stir in Australia. Last Sunday, shortly after Scullion’s comments were published, his boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, came out to reassure Aussies that nobody was going to pry Vegemite from their hands. “ The last thing I want to see is a Vegemite watch going on,” Abbott said, “ because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches.” — The Washington Post P EALS of laughter rise from the front- row seats of Pyongyang Circus in the North Korean capital. Army troops have been treated to its signature slapstick: a peasant posing as a mannequin torments an American soldier, big- nosed and blondwigged. Troops are the state’s ready labour, and the show is their reward after being ordered to do months of toil on the city’s newest construction sites. Since Kim Jong- un came to power in December 2011, following the death of his father, North Korea’s Young Leader has shown a passion for construction projects, with the emphasis on leisure — a pursuit he promised his subjects early on, along with prosperity. Kim swiftly ordered the renovation of Pyongyang’s two main amusement parks. A new water park, a 4D cinema and a dolphinarium have followed, along with riverside parks, residential skyscrapers and a new airport terminal, which opened last month. Now an underground shopping centre in the heart of the capital is being constructed to cater to a small class of newly monied Pyongyangites. At its apex sit the donju, wealthy traders whose investments have been fueling a retail and construction boom in Pyongyang and a few other cities. Informal trading has been a feature of North Korean life since markets arose as an unplanned response to widespread famine in the late 1990s and the collapse of the state’s public distribution system, through which nearly all goods were apportioned. Now some donju run businesses within North Korea’s state- owned enterprises, quasi- autonomous ventures that a bankrupt state tolerates in exchange for a chunk of the profits. It is starting to change the face of the capital. Work on a cluster of new high- rise apartments near Changjon Street, a quarter local diplomats now refer to as “ Pyonghattan,” was finished in around a year. Successful donju own some of the foreign cars on the city’s busier streets. Others ride in its expanding fleet of taxis. Most own smartphones, making calls and surfing a heavily monitored intranet through Koryolink, a joint venture between the state and Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian firm. This growing segment of the population already is visible on Pyongyang’s streets as young women shrug off dowdy outfits for fitted jackets, bolder colours and sunglasses, long the mark of female villains in North Korean films. Coats with a discreet Burberry pattern on the lining are popular. One North Korean in her 30s recently was sporting a large diamanté Chanel brooch directly above her obligatory pin of the Kim rulers. A woman was even spotted carrying a tiny pet dog in her designer handbag — a sight common enough in Tokyo or Seoul, but improbable in Pyongyang even five years ago. High heels have appeared, some in leopard print or silver. The country’s dictator always weighs in, sooner or later, on matters of import, usually in theatrical set pieces in which Kim is seen to be delivering “ on- the- spot guidance.” It should have been no surprise, then, Kim recently was giving guidance about high heels at a state- run shoe factory, and urging a cosmetics firm to compete with foreign luxury brands. Besides, in the matter of fashion, Ri Sol- ju, Kim’s young wife, is seen as something of a trendsetter. It is even tantalizingly possible that state industry is responding to market trends. Kwangbok department store in west Pyongyang sells colourful, waterproof jackets, pink popcorn and a copy of a South Korean chocolate biscuit stick, all made locally. One of 310 exhilarating slogans published by the regime this year enjoins: “ Resolutely thwart the sanctions schemes of the imperialists by effecting a great upswing in light industry!” Entrepreneurs are looking to set trends. At a three- day training workshop for businesswomen in Pyongyang, run by Choson Exchange, a nonprofit group based in Singapore, a government employee in her late 20s said she wanted to open the city’s first dessert shop, or a manicure salon. Through informal market research she saw huge potential for both. Other female participants were running coffee shops, saunas and restaurants. On the weekends, donju families make their way to Sunrise Coffee, a lounge and pastry shop, for Black Forest cake, ice cream or even an old- fashioned. As at many other restaurants and shops now, customers can pay with a cash card, called a Narae card, that may be loaded only with foreign currency. It was introduced in late 2010 by North Korea’s foreign- trade bank as a neat way for the state to amass hard currency. An espresso is priced at 360 North Korean won, which really means that it costs US$ 3.30 at the official rate of 109 won to the dollar. For all the change in Pyongyang, this kind of shopping remains within the reach of only a select few. Income inequality appears to be growing rapidly between those living in Pyonghattan and those in the city’s shabbiest districts, between those who own cars and those who cannot yet afford a smartphone. The starkest contrasts, however, are with the North Korea beyond the capital’s checkpoints. If the North Korean economy has grown — by about one per cent a year since 2011, according to South Korea’s central bank — few outside Pyongyang and a handful of other cities would know it. Top- down experiments to allow farmers to sell more of their own crops for private profit have yet to take root. A severe drought this spring has squeezed already- meagre electricity and food rations, prompting the government to mobilize subjects to work extra hours on collective farms. The sights on the country road to the town of Pyongsong, an hour’s drive north of the capital, tell of little change: a truck powered by gas from burning wood chugging past men who are walking oxen through fields, women washing their clothes in a stream. To them and millions of others, Kim’s trumpeted promises of a new era of prosperity and leisure must still sound hollow. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate BY MICHAEL E. MILLER VEGEMITE DEBATE HAS DOWN UNDER UP IN ARMS THE ECONOMIST FALSE RICHES In North Korea, a new elite wants its luxuries IF you’re going to wage war on drugs, you need to be outfitted like a warrior. That seems to be the rationale behind hundreds of police department requests for armoured trucks submitted to the Pentagon between 2012 and 2014. The requests, unearthed in a FOIA request by Mother Jones magazine, shed light on how the war on drugs has contributed to the militarization of local police forces. Police departments can request surplus military gear from the Pentagon through the Department of Defense, which doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in military goods to cops each year. After Ferguson, Mo., when images of local cops training assault rifles on peaceful protesters from atop armoured trucks flooded the airwaves, the program has come under increasing scrutiny. The Mother Jones investigation focuses on requests for armoured combat vehicles. Among the requests obtained, the most frequently cited rationale for needing an armoured vehicle was drugs: “ Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected using the vehicles for drug enforcement.” By contrast, police departments rarely cited hostage situations, terrorist attacks or armed gunmen as rationale for obtaining the trucks. — The Washington Post WAR ON DRUGS? SEND IN THE ARMOURED TRUCKS D_ 06_ Aug- 15- 15_ FF_ 01. indd D6 8/ 13/ 15 5: 32: 56 PM

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