Eatery staff un­fazed by travel ban

New Straits Times - - News -

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.

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