WONSAN, NORTH KOREA For North Korean factory managers, a visit by leader Kim Jong Un is the highest of honors and quite possibly the most stressful event imaginable.
The chief engineer at the Songdowon General Foodstuffs Factory had looked forward to the visit for nearly a decade. His factory churns out tons of cookies, crackers, candies and bakery goods, plus dozens of varieties of soft drinks sold around the country. In its showroom, Kwon Yong Chol proudly showed off one of his best-sellers, a nutrient soup made with spirulina, a blue-green microalgae "superfood."
"Ever since construction began everyone here had wanted the leader to visit, and this year he did. His visit was the biggest thing that could happen to us," Kwon, smiling broadly, said of Kim Jong Un's visit in July. "He ate our instant noodles. He said they were delicious."
Not all managers have been so fortunate.
There's a lot on the line for North Korea these days. And Kim means business.
Tours top the news
Most inspection tours, however, go like Kim's two-hour visit to the Songdowon processed foods factory.
With a gaggle of cameramen in tow � the tours are always top news in North Korea's media � the site's senior manager generally serves as the guide. Members of Kim's entourage frantically take notes as he suggests tweaks of this or that and offers praise or encouragement.
Many factories put up red and gold plaques to commemorate the event. Some have special wall displays made afterward that show the exact path the leader took in little LED lights that can be turned on at the press of a button.
At Kwon's factory, which has 300 employees and is located on the outskirts of the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, Kim advised managers to improve operations on an "automated, unmanned and germ-free basis, holding aloft the banner of self-reliance."
Before the obligatory group photo session, the North's official news agency reported, Kim voiced "his expectation and conviction" the factory would produce more quality foods "and thus more fully demonstrate the honor of being a factory loved by the people."
But Kim also had a broader point to make.
He told the factory management that they must be prepared to work in a more competitive environment, to modernize and cut the fat. These are special times and they, and basically all managers throughout the country, need to step up their game.
"The Respected Marshal Kim Jong Un pays much more attention to the quality of a product," Kwon said. "When he came to this factory he gave instructions to maintain a high level of hygiene because food is closely associated with the health of the people, and to keep the highest level of quality of products that people like. He said we must produce products that are world class, and produce a lot of foods that people like."
Kwon said the pressure isn't just coming from above.
"The people demand more quality," he said. "When people look at the product, they must feel like they want to have it. So we are designing things in line with that. We have to satisfy the demands of the people."
Source: Voice of America