Eatery staff unfazed by travel ban
KUALA LUMPUR: North Korean employees at Koryo Restaurant are not bothered by the travel ban imposed by the government.
It was business as usual at Malaysia’s only North Korean restaurant; the restaurant workers carry on with their jobs and were only too happy to be in the country, getting paid for their work and living in the employees’ dormitory.
Life for them, it seemed, couldn’t be any better and the rise in tensions between their native country and Malaysia was far from their minds.
“We are okay with that (being barred from leaving Malaysia)... we aren’t even worried,” said one of the six employees who declined to be named.
The impression given by the employee was that they were more than happy to stay in Malaysia.
“All of us have been working here for one to two years and we are living in the employees’ dormitory within the restaurant,” one of the waitresses said, adding that all of them came from Pyongyang, the capital city of the reclusive North.
The high-end restaurant opens only for dinner and has a steady stream of patrons. Apart from locals, there are tourists from Japan, China and South Korea.
Some of those dining there on the night the New Straits Times visited the restaurant were journalists from Japan and South Korea, drawn to Kuala Lumpur after news broke of the Feb 13 assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Asked if anyone from the North Korean embassy ever ate there, the employees were quick to deny this.
Whether or not this was true, it was clear that Jong-nam’s murder and the attention it had drawn towards North Korea and North Koreans have had some effect.
Despite the restaurant being busy, there seemed to be a somewhat tense atmosphere. Even the usual traditional dance performance, which goes on every night at 8.30pm, seemed to take on an air of palpability.
As diners have their meal, Korean shows are played on television sets. But on one of the walls hangs a sign that says: “No Photo, We Are Shy.”
The employees said the “No Photo” ruling applied to the signage outside the restaurant as well.
Whether that signage was there before the Jong-nam murder, or whether it was put up in the aftermath of it, was left unanswered.
The Koryo Restaurant in Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur.