(Repeats story that ran on Sunday with no change in text0700)
* U.N. sanctions squeeze trade at China's border with North
* Overseas workers important source of hard currency for
* Foreign media and Internet strictly controlled in North
* Memory cards valuable due to North's restrictions on media
By Sue-Lin Wong
DANDONG, China, Dec 4 Tiny memory cards and
fluffy teddy bears are among the most popular items for North
Koreans shopping in Dandong, China's gateway city to its
impoverished and isolated neighbour.
The teddy bears are often the souvenir of choice for young
North Korean women returning home from contract work in Chinese
restaurants and factories. Their remittances have become an
increasing source of revenue for Pyongyang.
North Korean traders are the big buyers for the memory
cards - and that could get them into trouble back home.
"We help them copy whatever they want onto microSD cards,"
said Yao, who would only give his surname, in his tiny store
primarily selling cameras.
"They usually want South Korean TV dramas," he said, sliding
open a display cabinet to reveal a stack of the tiny memory
cards, each the size of a fingernail, that slot directly into
DVD players and computers.
The flow of information in and out of North Korea is tightly
controlled by authorities. Most North Koreans cannot access the
internet or foreign media and share content secretly on USB
But tiny microSD cards are increasingly popular now because
North Korea has been cracking down on USBs, Yao said.
"It's getting harder to bring USBs across the border,
customs will check what's on them. But microSD cards are
smaller, easier to slip through," he said.
Apart from their small size - the cards can be woven into
clothes or hidden between the pages of a book - MicroSD cards
can often be directly inserted into a "Notel", a device popular
in North Korea which can be powered by a car battery and plays
DVDs and media from USB sticks and memory cards.
"MicroSD cards make it easier and safer for North Koreans to
smuggle foreign digital media in from China," said Sokeel Park
of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organisation which works
"Once inside, it gets copied onto multiple USB sticks and
memory cards, making it difficult for the authorities to
effectively block out foreign information that undermines their
propaganda and ideologies," Park said.
Foreign media "is becoming normalised and is even affecting
fashion, dating behaviour and teenage North Koreans' accents,"
TEDDY BEARS ALLOWED
Across the street from the wholesale electronics market,
it's the teddy bears in Qian Jiang's shop that are the main
"They didn't used to buy the soft toys. The young women
would just come by in groups and look. But that changed a few
years ago," said Qian, surrounded by plush animals in his booth
at a shopping mall in Dandong popular among North Koreans.
"I guess they're allowed to bring back teddy bears now. It's
probably the first soft toy they've ever had."
Estimates of North Korea's overseas workers vary greatly but
a study by South Korea's state-run Korea Institute for National
Unification put the number as high as 150,000, primarily in
China and Russia. They send back most of their wages - as much
as $900 million annually - through official North Korean
But fewer North Korean workers have been coming to China in
recent months, Reuters reported on Tuesday, a trend Qian has
witnessed, saying he has been making fewer sales to North Korean
overseas workers of late.
The workers earn around 2000 yuan ($295) each month, Qian
said, but they only get to keep 400-500 yuan for themselves,
with the rest going back to the government through official
At the end of their three-year contracts in China, young
women often use their pocket money to buy a soft toy - big teddy
bears are the most popular - to bring back as a souvenir, Qian
"They don't like the blonde-haired dolls because to them,
that's an American doll - you know how they don't like
Americans," he said. "They always ask for dolls with black hair
but we don't stock any. We only stock blondes."
(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong. Additional reporting by James
Pearson in Seoul. Editing by Bill Tarrant.)