I have loved airs that die Before their charm is writ Along a liquid sky Trembling to welcome it. Notes, that with pulse of fire Proclaim the spirit's desire, Then die, and are nowhere My song be like an air!.
Die, song, die like a breath, And wither as a bloom; Fear not a flowery death, Dread not an airy tomb! Fly with delight, fly hence! 'Twas thine love's tender sense To feast; now on thy bier Beauty shall shed a tear.
- Robert Bridges
North Korea is considered the most isolated and ruthless country in the world. Though it is referred to as a “hermit kingdom,” there are some interesting and bizarre facts about this reclusive nation of 25 million people. Sometimes, the news leaked from North Korea seems like it came straight out of a dystopian novel. Read on to discover the true North Korea.
The government controls hairstyles. Interestingly enough, fauxhawks have been banned. An unmarried woman can choose a cut that is short and above-the-shoulders. Men are not allowed to have shaggy hair as it’s a sign of free-thinking and rebellion. The government released a five-part series explaining how to maintain hair that aligns with communist values.
According to the Los Angeles Times, people “eat what they can get.” North Koreans buy food in markets officially sanctioned by the state’s central distribution system as well as illegal “grasshopper markets.”
Three Generation Punishment Law
Equal parts shocking and ruthless, there is a three generations of punishment rule. If one person is found guilty of a crime they are sent to a prison camp sometimes along with their family members. The subsequent two generations born at the camo remains there indefinitely.
State Assigned Jobs
Forced labor is just another keg in the wheel of the established system of political repression. Citizens do not have a choice in the job they are assigned to and are not allowed to change jobs. One category includes a group of women called inminban who’s job is to maintain the neighborhood, such as polishing the monuments of their leaders and cleaning roads and train lines.
No One Drives
North Korea’s capital Pyongyang is often so empty that children play in the streets. There is a lack of cars on the road, but the police still enforce strict traffic regulations. Most cars are owned by state organizations; all vehicles must be clean, and if not, they may be fined. Those driving out of Pyongyang requires a travel certificate. And anyone who drives drunk is punished with hard labor.
Marijuana Is Legal
Surprisingly, especially to the Western world, cannabis is effectively legal, or at the very least, tolerated and commonly used in North Korea. The exact status is a little unclear since there is limited knowledge available to the outside world, but it’s sure that cannabis grows wildly. Marijuana is known there as ‘yoksam’ there.
Kim Jong Un’s grandfather started the first Pleasure Squad in 1978. They were known as Gippeumjo, or happiness, consisting of 2,000 woman and girls. After their service, they return home with payment, gifts, and promised marriage to, for example, army officers.
Children Are Brainwashed To Hate Americans
International Children’s Day is a day observed by various countries annually. The day is celebrated on different dates depending on the country. In North Korea, it is celebrated on June 1. On June 6, there is a day called the Festival for the Establishment of Young Pioneer Corps.
Human Feces Fertilizer
The government decreed that every citizen has to give 220 pounds of human manure each day to be used for fertilizer. A source in the North Hamgyong province reported, “If you cannot fill the quota, you have to supply 300kg of compost of livestock manure instead. Many people can’t [make or collect] 100kg per day…there’s a growing number of residents who are choosing to pay cash instead of providing the manure itself.”
Jeans Are Banned
Blue jeans are illegal in North Korea. Kim Jong-un launched a nationwide Western clothing ban around 2016. Japanese journalist working with citizen reporters inside North Korea, Ishimaru Jiro, wrote: “A growing number of North Korean people are infatuated with Western culture.” The inspection “target supposed capitalist tendencies such as length of skirts, the shape of shoes, T-shirts, hairstyles, and clothes.”
Propaganda has long existed in public life and has greatly shaped the public opinion of America. One propaganda book titled The US Imperialists Started the Korean War, was authored by three state-sanctioned academics. It depicts Americans are aggressiveness and the broader goal of post-WWII global domination. This is what kids grow up reading.
Elections Have Only One Candidate
North Korea holds elections every five years. The regime is centered and led by Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder who still serves in spirit as the Eternal President. The Supreme Leader of North Korea oversees physical affairs, such as sentencing political advisors to death and handling crimes against humanity.
Introduced in 2015, North Korea operated on Pyongyang Time, which is half an hour behind South Kore and Japan. It began as a way to fight “wicked Japanese imperialists”. In 2018, the country moved its clocks forward 30 minutes to speed up Korean unification.
Families Torn Apart
In August of 2018, North and South Korea held temporary reunions for families separated by the Korean War. The reunions were organized by the Red Cross of the two Koreas, included 100 older citizens from each country whom they had not seen since the early ’50s. In the photo above, a North Korean waves goodbye to his South Korean brother.
Bridge of No Return
The Bridge of No Return crosses the Military Demarcation Line between North and South Korea. At the end of the Korean War in 1953, it was used for prisoner exchanges.
North Korea’s metro system is the deepest in the world. Tunnels run 360 feet beneath the surface of the capital. The metro also doubles as a nuclear bunker should the need arise.
They Celebrate Their Army’s Strength
The image above was taken in Pyongyang on International Women’s Day. It depicts a female North Korean soldier leading an attack. The text on the screen says, “We are the General’s female coastal artillery troops.”
The Bible Is Banned
The South Korean government banned Christian ministries from launching balloons filled with leaflets and Gospel messages to North Korea. The Voice of the Martyrs Korea helped organize the balloon launches for 12 years, but now the government issued a comprehensive ban on balloon launching.
Corpse’s On Display
Kim Jong-il, who passed away on December 17, 2011, is the second North Korean leader whose embalmed body is on public display. His body is on permanent display in a Pyongyang mausoleum; various memorial towers, portraits, and statues are on display across the country.
It’s Not 2019
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea calendar, DPRK calendar, or Juche calendar. It was implemented on July 8, 1997, the third anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s passing. Newspapers, radio stations, public transportation, and birth certificates all follow the Juche years. The year 1912 is Juche 1 and there is no such thing as before Juche 1.
Government Controlled Radio
Except for the small elite, the rest of the 25 million citizens are not connected to the Internet and, thus, are a “closed society.” Televisions receive only government stations. International radio signals are often jammed. Freestanding radios are illegal. But each home and business has a government-controlled radio tuned into a central station. There is no off switch, only a volume control dial.
Prisoners Eat Rats
Those inside the prison camps face starvation. According to one prison camp survivor, prisoners are usually only fed a makeshift meal of cornmeal and cabbage. They eat rats and insects for survival.
The village on Kijon-dong looks on the outside like any other town. There is a childcare center, a kindergarten, houses for 200 families, and a hospital. It’s located in the guarded Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border separating North and South Korea. Kijon-dong is referred to as a “Propaganda Village” and is actually a decoy devoid of any people.
TV Is Under Total Control
Television in North Korea is under government control, the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee. The content is controlled by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Worker’s Party of Korea. There is a small domestic network of 30 websites available to the elite, though most do not have access to the internet. The websites promote propaganda praising Kim Jong Un, as well as some “art films, documentaries and animated movies.”
The Ryugyong Hotel has been named the “Hotel of Doom” and the “worst building in the world.” The enormous structure is twice the height of the Great Pyramids. For years the project underwent mysterious on-again off-again construction. It’s 3,000 rooms remain empty.
In The Dark (Literally)
The image above is one of the most famous images of North Korea. If one flies over the Korean Peninsula at night, the city lights illustrate the economic differences between the two Koreas. North Korea often faces energy shortages. Kim Jong-un told citizens to work hard to restore the country’s electricity.
They Tried To Flee By Boat…
Mysterious ghost ships have been appearing with corpses and skeletons for years, though recently some ships have been discovered with the crew still alive. Some speculate that the sailors are defectors trying to flee North Korea, but those found alive are sent back. Others speculate that the government is demanding larger quotas.
The North Korean famine, which is tied to the country’s ongoing economic crisis, is known as the Arduous March or The March of Suffering. It lasted from 1994 to 1998. From economic failure and the loss of Soviet support, a variety of factors caused food product to decline rapidly. Floods and drought only worsened the crisis.
The photo above was taken at a rally at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. Citizens were rallying in support of a government statement that threatened to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
There have several reports of famine-stricken North Koreans forced to eat human flesh. A man allegedly was executed for murdering his two children for food. Refugees from 2003 claimed the food scarcity issue had resulted in children being killed and used for food. Though it is illegal and those caught face execution, it is done anyway.
Colossal Kim Statues Everywhere
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are near cult personalities. The Grand Monument on Mansu Hill is a whole complex of monuments spread throughout Pyongyang. There are 229 figures each one commemorating their leaders. Reportedly, North Koreans overseas were forced to donate money to the construction of the monument.
Some Snacks Are Banned
There is a kind of Choco Pie black market in North Korea.
This picture shows 200 activists who released 50 balloons carrying 10,000 Choco Pies. One organizer of the Choco Pie balloon event, Coo Sun-Hee, said, “Embarrassed by the growing popularity of Choco Pie, North Korea banned it as a symbol of capitalism.”
2,000 North Korean girls are chosen and trained as adult entertainers for Kim Jong-un’s pleasure. Literally called the Pleasure Squad, it is divided into 3 specialized groups. One for sexual services, one for giving massages, and one for live singing and dancing (often semi-nude).
Back in 2017, 41% of North Koreans, about 10.5 million people, are undernourished, and 28% of children under 5 years old have stunted growth. Each person receives a daily ration; in the summer of 2017, it was 300 grams per day. The government target is 573 grams per day. For comparison, that is like having 2 potatoes for the whole day.
North Korea has the largest army in the world. The Korean People’s Army is the central institution of their government and society. The ‘Songun’, aka military first, policy guides domestic and foreign policy. They have such a large army through universal conscription for both men and women. They serve a minimum of 10 years starting at 17 years old.
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman has visited North Korea many times over the years. He’s even met Kim Jon Un three times. Rodman told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “We talk about basketball….I don’t discuss politics…my job is to be a human being, to try and connect us with him.”
Dictator Kidnapped Director
Dictator and former first secretary of the worker’s party of Korea, Kim Jong-II, abducted a famous South Korean film director and his actress wife. In 1978, actress Choi Eun-hee was abducted; six months later, her husband Shin Sang-ok was abducted as well. Shin was imprisoned for three years and upon his release was reunited with his wife, Choi. The famous couple was forced by Kim Jon-II to make films. The dictator wanted North Korea’s film industry to gain global recognition. In 1986, Shin and Choi escaped by entering a US embassy while in Vienna.
No Kum-Sok: A Hero
On September 21, 1953, fighter pilot No Kum Sok took an opportunity to fly away. He defected to South Korea in a Soviet MiG fighter jet. He landed on a United State’s ship, got out of the plane and tore up a picture of Kim Il-Sung that is always placed in each aircraft, and then put his arms up in surrender.
The mythological winged horse Chollima is seen as a national symbol in North Korea. The pegasus statue symbolizes the speed and perseverance of North Korea’s people. Of Chinese origin, the magical horse is so fast, no man can mount it. Kim Il-Sung said, “Let us dash forward in the spirit of Chollima!”
Natural History Museum
Leader Kim Jong-Un began the project of creating a more modern and impressive city. The construction included a new shooting range, a giant water park, and an equestrian center.
The Rungna Dolphinarium is part of an amusement park on an island in the Taedong River. Audiences of thousands of people cheer on as they watch dolphins swim and jump through hoops. Taking pictures of the performance area is forbidden.
Many people depend on trade in informal markets known as jangmadang. Defectors from the hermit state say there are hundreds of these markets that make up the country’s barter economy.
Kim Jong-Un is, reportedly, a video game fan. A video game titled “Glorious Leader!” features Kim Jong-Un riding a unicorn through forests, fighting U.S. troops, and even lighting an American flag on fire.
The Rungrado Stadium in North Korea is the biggest stadium in the world. Rungrado Stadium has enough seating for 150,000 people. The Michigan Stadium is the second biggest with over 40,000 seats.
Forced Child Labor
North Korea reported to the Human Rights Watch organization that it abolished child labor by law 70 years ago. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case according to those who fled the country. Children are forced to work in labor camps as punishment for crimes their parents committed.
Forced To Play The Accordion
Accordions are very popular in North Korea. It was even obligatory at one time for teachers to learn to play the accordion. Journalist Barbara Demick wrote a book Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, in which she wrote: “It was often called the ‘people’s instrument’ since it was portable enough to carry along on a day of voluntary hard labor in the fields.”
No Safe Place
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is 160 miles long and intersects the 38th parallel which was the border before the Korean War. Beyond the DMZ, the border is one of the heaviest militarized areas in the world.
Call A Truce
The Joint Security Area (JSA) is the only area of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where North and South Korean troops stand together. It is also called the Truce Village of Panmunjom.
The Joint Security Area (JSA) is a very heated area in which both sides engage in diplomatic endeavors. The United States government has been actively involved in the Korean peninsula.
Soldiers located at the Joint Security Area are forced to work together constantly, though tensions are high. Reportedly, when South Korean soldiers have to enter a North Korean building they hold hands to make sure they aren’t pulled in.
Allegedly, it is forbidden to celebrate birthdays on July 8th and December 17, the day’s leaders Kim Il-Sun and Kim Jong-Il died. The National Funeral Committee decided the people’s mourning period and that all institutions across the country will hold mourning events.
International leaders are terrified of what happens inside North Korea’s borders. The number of prison camps holds approximately 200,000 prisoners in conditions many compared to WWII concentration camps.
This photo was taken at the Arirang Mass Games which retells the history of North Korea. Of course, it’s their version of history. The performance is notorious for huge mosaics created by kids and the dance routines.
Prisoners lack anything even remotely close to a normal human diet, so their bodies oftentimes begin deteriorating. Without nutrients in their diet, they develop body ailments and even lose body parts due to frostbite.
Reign of Terror
The guards in these prison camps are brutal and relentless. According to those lucky enough to escape, they report that the guards terrorize and torture the prisoners, sometimes even just for fun.
Arch of Triumph
The Arch of Triumph was completed in 1982 for Kim Il-Sung’s birthday present to himself. It is one of many monuments he constructed in his name and it commemorates his triumphs.
“The Interview” s a 2014 action/comedy film that is about two journalists who get an interview with North Korea’s Kim Jon Un all because the leader is a big fan of their tabloid-TV show. The movie was condemned by North Korea as “sponsoring terrorism.”
North and South Korea marched together under one flag at the 2018 Olympics. Chung Guam Hwang of North Korea and Yunjong Won of South Korea were flag bearers during the opening ceremony. It acted as a symbolic break in tensions between the nations.
Outside of the capital, Pyongyang, the rural parts of the country is poverty stricken. The citizen’s lives are filled with hard manual labor, like working in rice paddies.
Children are obligated to attend school when they turn 5 years old. They are forced to learn Russia and English. North Korea proudly reports that they have a 100 percent literacy rate among their citizens.
North Korean weddings stick to tradition. Brides wear hanboks or traditional Korean clothes. Here is a North Korean bride wearing a traditional hanbok as she poses with her husband in 2019. Apparently, traditional weddings require a live hen and rooster wrapped in red and blue clothes to be placed on a ceremonial table. Guests place flowers and dates in the hen’s beak; the rooster’s beak gets stuffed with red chili.
During the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, 229 highly-synchronized, hand-picked, unpaid, and heavily guarded women cheered for their country. The “army of beauties” gained a lot of attention for their coordinated routines, smiles, and upbeat chants. However, it was reported that the individual woman would probably be in danger if they messed up or attempted to defect. Each member is in their late teens or early 20s.
Students at Heaven Lake
Taken on September 11, 2019, students took a trip to Chonji lake, or heaven lake, at the crater of Mount Paektu. Mount Paektu is considered the spiritual birthplace of Korea and is a pilgrimage for thousands of citizens every year. Each year 100,000 or more North Koreans go on study tours of the sites. They even dressed up in these uniforms to resembled guerrillas’; they carry red flags as they make the trek up to the volcano.
Honor the Leader Or Else…
Did you know that almost all tourist tour groups are asked to bow and lay flowers in front of statues of Kim Il Sung? It is pressed how important it is to always act respectfully around monuments of national importance, especially the nation’s leaders. Actually, it is a criminal act to show disrespect to the country’s leaders- both former and current. Violations may result in being expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. And it’s not only tourists who have to follow this law. Students visit the statues of North Korean leaders to pay their respects.
This photograph was taken on September 12, 2019, showing a security camera on a tree at the Secret Camp. The location is supposedly the birthplace of late leader Kim Jong Il. The secret camp also was Kim Il Sung’s headquarters from 1936, and it was never found by the occupying Japanese in nine years!
Military Music Festival
The state merited chorus and symphony orchestra of the Korean People’s army is near perfection. It’s existed since February 1947. During the Korean War, the ensemble performed at the front lines; they even received decorations for valorous participation in the war effort. Here they are performing on the Russia’s Army Theatre’s stage during the international military music festival on August 26, 2019.
North Korea is made up of nine provinces filled with innocent families trying to live normal lives. As westerners, it is hard for us to imagine growing up in such a closed-off and isolated country. A lot of students know English very well. Some schools are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for the most talented students. They are called schoolchildren’s palaces. They emphasize sports, music, and culture. It is important to remember that no matter where you are living, families all want the same thing.
The Daily News
On July 31, 2019, North Korea launched two ballistic missiles in Seoul. The launch was days after a similar launch acted as a warning to the South over planned military drills with the United States. A man watches the news showing leader Kim Jong Un watching the missile launch.
Korean War Memorial
According to its website, the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul “exhibits and preserves materials related to the Korea War and serves as a national moral educational venue. It was established to commemorate the noble sacrifice of patriotic martyrs by the War Memorial Service Korea Society on June 10, 1994.” The weapons in the picture above is a replica of North Korean Scud-B missile (left) and South Korean Nike missiles (right).
It is interesting to learn that for one of the world’s poorest, sanction-riddled countries, North Korea manages to perform well in international sporting competitions. Actually, Kim Jong Un loves sports like soccer and basketball and has subsequently invested significantly in recruitment and infrastructure. This photograph taken on November 8, 2019, a competition runs while balancing basketballs on his head at Kim Il Sung Stadium.
This is what a typical hair salon looks like in North Korea. It was reported in 2018 that North Korean fashion police were cracking down on banned haircuts. They view unapproved hairstyles as “non-socialists” behavior. In fact, according to North Korean sources who told Radio Free Asia, youth groups were deployed to warn or detain citizens with banned fashion or hairstyles.