A Peek into Secretive North Korea

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You’re reading the headlines on the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. The True Net now brings you the little-known secrets of North Korea. For more startling insights, watch the compelling video below on everything from bizarre hairstyle rules to the horrendous injustice of the three-generation punishment to the sham of a ghost city.

  • Crazy laws
  • Weird tourist rules
  • Sobering facts – public executions, death camps, hard labour, faeces used as fertiliser
  • Fascinating trivia – embalmed body top tourist attraction, eerily empty brand new hotel, no vehicles and traffic jams

The recent noise about North Korea has been on its missile and nuclear tests until now when it is hogging the world headlines for the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia. It is about the most talked-about country now but there lies the problem – it is so shrouded in secrecy that there is nothing much to talk about it.

We reckon now is as good a time as any to learn more about North Korea and bring you facts that will astonish you.

Crazy Laws

Many of the laws are not found anywhere else in the world.

  • Citizens are not allowed to wear jeans. Reports state that denim is a crime as it symbolises the enemy, the USA.
  • All music is controlled by the state and must glorify the regime. All western music is seen as a crime against the state and will get you killed.
  • Citizens are forbidden to watch anything other than state propaganda. The country has five state-run TV channels that are only available after 5:00 pm and on weekends. In the last three years, more than 100 people have been publicly executed for watching South Korean soap operas.
  • International calls will incur the death penalty. In 2013, a North Korean man was publicly executed by firing squad for calling his friend in South Korea.
  • You can only have a computer if the government says so. You need authorisation to access the Internet, which is government run and mainly consists of propaganda. In 2013, a journalist was jailed for six months for making a typo in a web article – he had spelt Kim Il-Sung’s name wrongly.
  • Students are required to pay for everything, apart from their teacher, in school. This includes their desk and chair.
Nicor CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Students are required to wear their uniforms at all times, even when not at school.
  • In the 1990s, all teachers were required to learn and carry “the people’s instrument” – the accordion.
  • If you want to live in Pyongyang, the capital, you need to have the permission of the government. The city is apparently reserved for the most successful, and more importantly, loyal people.
  • Freely moving about the country is forbidden.
  • The ultimate crime is to leave North Korea. If caught, defectors will be forcibly returned and executed.

Tourist Rules

While the mysterious country has opened its doors to tourists in recent years, each of the estimated 100,000 annual international arrivals has to adhere to strict and often weird laws and regulations.

Incidentally, in 2009, Malaysia became the first country to be able to travel to North Korea without a visa, but you must go as part of a guided tour.

  • Don’t call the country North Korea, call it the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
  • Tour guides are with you every second you’re there. Seriously. You can’t go anywhere without them. You can’t even pop quickly outside your hotel, or dash across the street for a closer look at something, without an escort.
  • Deviating from your prearranged tour is a huge no-no, and lots of areas are off-limits to tourists.
  • GPS-trackers and satellite phones are definitely not allowed, along with camera lens more than 150 mm.
  • There’s a long list of what you cannot photograph, including scenes of poverty and construction sites. Anyone taking a snap of a statue has to capture the whole body of the statue in the frame – no close-ups of the head are allowed.
JA de Roo CC BY-SA 3.0
  • You must show reverence for the past and present leaders, and that includes bowing before statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. Expect numerous kowtows as there are reported to be about 34,000 statues in North Korea of Kim Il-Sung alone.

  • Trying to smuggling in Western literature about North Korea – including your Lonely Planet guidebook – as well as music, videos and written material from South Korea, would also be a really risky move.

  • Disrespecting or subverting North Korea’s government is a major offence and has landed tourists in huge trouble, including being sentenced to hard labour.

Sobering Facts

  • In the 1990s, approximately 3 million people died from a terrible famine known as the Arduous March. There were reports of people resorting to cannibalism.

  • Public executions often leave little trace of victims. Gruesome methods include being blown to smithereens by a firing squad using anti-aircraft weapons, obliteration by a mortar round, reduction to ashes by torching, and eaten alive by starving dogs.

  • Executions are carried out for perceived slights even as minor as falling asleep at a military event, which was what happened to unfortunate defence chief Hyon Yong Choi in 2015.

  • Observers believe as many as 200,000 North Koreans are being held in six political prison camps – whose existence is denied by the authorities – in some of the most inhospitable regions. Conditions are reported to be as grim as those in the death camps of the Holocaust.
  • Citizens caught criticising the government will be sent to a ‘re-education’ camp and subjected to hard labour.

  • After the death of Kim Jong-Il, thousands of people faced six-month sentences for being not sad enough.
  • Because of its lack of natural resources, North Korea uses human faeces as fertiliser, demanding the product from its people.

Stephan at Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0

Fascinating Trivia

  • North Korea is the only country in the world that is a Necrocracy – government that still operates under the rules of a former, dead ruler. So it’s really no surprise that it bases its calendar on Kim Il-Sung’s date of birth, which is Apr 15, 1912. Hence, it’s the year 105, not 2017.
  • No birthday celebrations are allowed on Jul 8, the date of the death of Kim Il-Sung, founder of the DPRK and known as “The Great Leader”. The same goes for Dec 17, the day his son and successor Kim Jong-Il, known as “The Dear Leader”, died.

  • In 2015, North Korea created its own time zone. Called Pyongyang Time, it is 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.

  • The most popular tourist attraction is Kim Jong-Il’s embalmed body. His mausoleum contains his Apple MacBook Pro, an armoured car, a luxury yacht and the train in which he was reported to have died.

  • The Rungrado May Day stadium is the world’s largest stadium. It has more than 150,000 seats and houses the extravagant Mass Games.

Michael Day CC BY 2.0
Stephan at Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0
  • For 20 years, the world’s tallest hotel was a 105-storey pyramid that still dominates the Pyongyang skyline. Called the Ryugyong, its 3,000 rooms have never been used and the building stands eerily empty.

  • There are 25,554 kilometres of roads in North Korea, but only 724 kilometres are paved – that’s only 2.83% of all roadways.

  • With only one car per 1,000 people in the country, there are no traffic jams and roads are often devoid of motor vehicles.

Stephan at Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0
  • In 1974, Kim Il-Sung took 1,000 Volvo sedans from Sweden to North Korea and never paid for them. They are used as taxis and apparently have been well maintained and are still in very good condition.

  • North Korea is tied with Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world, scoring 8/100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index scale.

  • You would think that nobody in their right mind would want to live in the hermit kingdom, but incredibly, at least 12,710 people have migrated to North Korea since 1990!

Lifting the veil on the world’s most repressive country, it’s sad that much of the free world is so fixated on ranting about the most ridiculous and petty of issues when the ordinary North Korean will probably never be able to even step out into a better world.