"I went day and night along with everybody else. You had to.... But there were no tears coming from my eyes," recalled Ok Hui, now 39, who did not want her family name published.
Ok Hui worked for a construction company's propaganda unit, a job that entailed riding around in a truck with a megaphone, exhorting workers to do their best for the fatherland. But she didn't believe what she preached.
Her father had taught her to doubt the regime. As a reporter and member of the Workers' Party, he knew more about the outside world than many people and realized how far North Korea lagged behind South Korea and China.
"He and his friends would stay up at night when my mother was out, talking about what a thief Kim Jong Il was," Ok Hui said.
Her mother, though, remained a firm believer. "I lived only for the marshal. I never had a thought otherwise," said Kim Hui Suk. "Even when my husband and son died, I thought it was my fault."
Ok Hui and her mother frequently clashed. "Why did you give birth to me in this horrible country?" Ok Hui remembers taunting her mother.
"Shut up! You're a traitor to your country!" Kim retorted.
"Whom do you love more? Kim Jong Il or me?" her daughter shot back.
The regime was probably less beloved in Chongjin than elsewhere in North Korea. Food had run out in its province, North Hamgyong, earlier than in other areas, and starvation rates were among the highest in the nation.
Chongjin's people are reputed to be the most independent-minded in North Korea. One famous report of unrest centers on the city. In 1995, senior officers from the 6th army corps in Chongjin were executed for disloyalty and the entire unit, estimated at 40,000 men, was disbanded. It is still unclear whether the incident was an attempted uprising or a corruption case.
Chongjin is known for its vicious gang wars, and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish political unrest from ordinary crime. There were increasing incidents of theft and insubordination. At factories, desperate workers dismantled machinery or stripped away copper wiring to sell for food.
Public executions by firing squad were held outside Sunam market and on the lawn of the youth park, once a popular lover's lane.
In a village called Ihyon-ri on the outskirts of Chongjin, a gang suspected of anti-government activities killed a national security agent who had tried to infiltrate the group, former kindergarten teacher Seo Kyong Hui said.
"This guy was from my village. He had been sent to inform on a group that was engaged in suspicious activities," she said. "They caught him and stoned him to death."
Work crews went out early in the morning to wash away any anti-regime graffiti painted overnight, according to human rights groups, but most people were too scared to express their discontent. Badmouthing the leadership is still considered blasphemy.
To discourage anti-regime activity, North Korea punishes "political crimes" by banishing entire families to remote areas or labor camps.
"If you have one life to live, you would gladly give it to overthrow this government," said Seo, the teacher. "But you are not the only one getting punished. Your family will go through hell."
Even as Kim Jong Il's regime weakens, many of its stalwarts are growing richer. Many of Chongjin's well-to-do are members of the Workers' Party or are connected to the military or security services. In the new economy, they use their ties to power to trade with China, obtain market licenses, extract bribes and sell bureaucratic favors.
"Those who have power in North Korea always figure out ways to make money," said Joo Sung Ha, 31, who grew up in Chongjin and now works as a journalist in Seoul.
Joo was the pampered only son of a prominent official, and his family lived in Shinam, in the city's northern hills overlooking the ocean. By the standards of South Korea or China, the single-family homes with lines of fish and squid drying from the roofs are nothing special. But for North Koreans, these are mansions.
The Joo family had a 2,000-square-foot cement-block house and a walled garden about twice that large. The garden proved crucial in protecting the family against the famine, though they had to contend with hungry soldiers who would scale the walls and steal potatoes and cabbages.
North Korean families like to measure their status by the number of wardrobes they own, and Joo's family had five -- plus a television, a refrigerator, a tape recorder, a sewing machine, an electric fan and a camera. They didn't have a phone or a car -- at that time those were unthinkable even for a well-off family -- but they did have a bicycle.
"The appliances were of no use after the electricity ran out," Joo said. "The bicycle was the most important thing, because the buses and trams stopped running."