Who are the waitresses at Pyongyang restaurants in Shanghai?

North Korean waitresses rock out a power ballad to their Great Leader at a Pyongyang Restaurant, Shanghai
North Korean waitresses rock out a power ballad to their Great Leader at a Pyongyang restaurant, Shanghai

Recently I’ve been fixated with totalitarian regimes, and it’s beginning to show in my work. Today I published a piece titled “The odd reality behind Shanghai’s Pyongyang restaurants” for CNNGo in which I discovered that waitresses of the three North Korean-government run Pyongyang restaurants in Shanghai have no clue of each others’ existence. Like the night sky of their electricity-deprived homeland, they are kept in the dark.

I popped in as a patron at the Xujiahui branch and quickly realized that it was going to be hard to get information in person, so I turned to CNNGo and their abundant resources (a Chinese intern, in this case).

After sporadically calling each of the restaurants several times over the course of two weeks, asking questions about banquets and how much visitors can interact with the waitresses to the occasional personal probe, we finely confirmed what I had initially expected: the waitresses know of little beyond their immediate circle, are mostly amateur performers, and likely come from a high-class caste in Pyongyang.

It is worth noting that there are many other locations, some more established then others, in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh and Ulan Bator, to name a few.

My fascination with pariah states is slated to continue, this time with Myanmar (Burma). More to come on that.

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