Photo Feature: North Korea’s Halting Opening

Photo Feature: North Korea’s Halting Opening

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Listless saleswomen loiter against stacked shelves at this most exclusive of department stores. An entire section is filled with sleek white washing machines, driers and flat-screen panel TVs produced by Haier, a low-cost Chinese appliance company. But the saleswomen outnumber customers in the echoing mall and there is little sign of commercial activity. Two taxis wait at the main gate, but neither their drivers nor any customers are to be seen.

The iconic image of NorthKorean soldiers standing guard at the 36th Parallel, the line that has separatedNorth from South Korea for over half a century (Photo by Iason Athanasiadis).

This is no store suffering from the credit crunch, but a showcase department store in Pyongyang, capital of the world's most intentionally isolated country, North Korea.

In the food-hall, refrigerated display cases are stacked with bottled water, beer, canned foodstuffs and other imported luxuries far beyond the purchasing power of this famine-wracked country's average citizen. There are only two customers in the vast, two-floor emporium. At the sales counter of the toy section, a middle-aged lady looks away when a foreign journalist attempts to engage with her.

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