39 Unexpected North Korean facts that you had no idea about
To foreign eyes, the life of an average North Korean citizen may look like science fiction to all intents and purposes.
This is a nation of the 21st century where resources and liberty are scarce, there is an ever-increasing danger of invasion from neighboring nations, and people are brainwashed from birth to follow the dear leader.
North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as its people know it, appears like a dystopia from the outside.
However, on closer inspection, the nation just gets weirder. Here are 20 of the craziest things in North Korea that are just a part of everyday life.
1. Drugs are widespread and largely unregulated
Drug use in North Korea, with an estimated 30 percent of North Koreans using drugs, is largely unregulated and very common, UPI reports. Locally known as yeoksam, according to Radio Free Asia, marijuana is cultivated in such amounts that smugglers sneak it for foreign sale across the border into China.
Public Radio International reports that methamphetamines are also popular in the DPRK, and especially highly potent crystal meth, and while these substances are not as freely tolerated as marijuana, their use is widespread. Meth is also used less for recreational purposes and more as an appetite suppressant and to help employees at plantations, factories, and in other industries toil away for long hours.
2. The North Korean calendar is based on the birth date of its founder
For the rest of the world, it might be the 21st century, but for North Koreans, it's already the 106th year of Juche. The Juche calendar of North Korea starts on April 15, 1912, the date of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-Sung.
3. North Koreans claim that Korea is a single country
You'll see both North and South Korea on it if you take a political map of the world made in some other place. North Koreans, however, are adamant that there is only one Korea: every school map shows a united country with Pyongyang as its capital. On the other hand, while both sides seem to dream of reconciliation, they both have their own reasons for maintaining the status quo.
4. Frequent elections are held, but there is still only one option on the ballot
Kim Jong-un may have a reputation for being a dictator, but he doesn't go absolutely undemocratically about things.
As in the UK, while elections are held every five years, North Koreans have a chance to vote.
The only thing is that the ballot has only one name on it: Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
As participation in the political process is compulsory in North Korea, nearly 100% of people turned out to vote in the last election.
Unsurprisingly, Kim won 100% of the vote, thereby holding him and his party in control for a further five years.
North Koreans are expected to vote annually so that the government may take a population census and keep track of anyone who does not use their right to vote wisely, as odd as the whole charade can seem.
5. The world's biggest stadium is located in North Korea
In terms of seating capacity, not only is the DPRK home to the biggest stadium in the country, but it holds the distinction by a huge margin. There is a total capacity of 150,000 people at the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium (also known as May Day Stadium).
The next biggest stadium, Ann Arbor's Michigan Stadium, which accommodates 107,600 spectators, dwarfs it. The venue is used for occasional sporting activities, but its main function is to host the annual Arirang Festival, a huge affair that celebrates North Korean heritage, culture, and accomplishments every August and September.
6. It only has 3 TV channels
It's very clear, with everything under investigation, that the North Korean regime keeps its media on a tight leash. With all programming regulated by the government, there are only 3 television channels to choose from.
7. Cut power every night
You know how annoying power cuts are so occasional. Now imagine the condition of the North Koreans, whose night is dark all over the world. Apparently, it's because of the state's energy shortage that it can't supply homes with enough power. This was discovered after a picture taken from space by North Korea went viral.
8. They call "big noses" to Americans
North Koreans claim there are large noses, wide eyes, and hairy chests for all Americans. According to accounts of defectors, in their school PE lessons, they are trained to kill American soldiers. For this, they use cardboard mannequins with huge noses and wide-open blue eyes, designed to look like people in military uniforms.
9. North Korea is not a Communist republic
North Korea is generally believed to follow the Marxism-Leninism ideology. In fact, in the '50s, when the personality cult was officially debunked in the USSR, it abandoned communist ideology. That is when the concept of Juche blossomed. This theory emerged as early as 1926 as a continuation of Marx's and Lenin's teachings, according to North Korean historians.
Over time, the North Korean constitution began to wipe out any mention of communism. It vanished altogether in its last edition, adopted in 2009.
10. Your whole family will go to prison if you commit a felony
North Korea is just as hardline as nations get when it comes to punishing people for misbehavior.
Take the example of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong-un, who was executed in 2013 by the Supreme Leader.
Uncle Jang was allegedly stripped and literally fed to dogs as part of a government purge by Kim.
Things aren't any better for regular people. For instance, if anyone commits a crime, they may not be the only ones going to jail.
An apparent 'three-generation law' in North Korea means that if one person is imprisoned, their whole family may be too.
Even if they are totally innocent of any wrongdoing, the accused's parents, grandparents, and children may be convicted along with the guilty.
11. In its own time zone, North Korea lives
As of August 15, 2015, CNN reports that North Korea remains in its own time zone, moving at least half an hour away from every other location on earth. To be exact, Pyongyang time is GMT+08:30, which was adopted in an apparent return to the time the nation used prior to the Japanese invasion of the twentieth century.
12. Parents have to provide their children with desks & chairs
It is required that parents who send their children to school have their own desks and chairs. Some students, such as gathering discarded material, are also required to do laborious tasks for the government.
13. North Korea doesn't have taxes
North Korea is one of the few countries in the world where no taxes are charged by its citizens. As part of the "old world," taxation was abolished in 1974. Only companies and people who make money outside the country are not released from it. All may change soon, however: it is speculated that in the near future the government is planning to reintroduce income tax.
14. Without knowing it, North Koreans watch American films
Yeah, you read it correctly: in North Korea, they only love Hollywood movies. For instance, Titanic and Die Hard. Koreans sometimes don't know precisely where the film was made, however. It's not just Americans who have big noses, after all. By the way, watching South Korean TV is even riskier because, in this situation, one can not claim ignorance about where a movie or show comes from.
A curious fact: on April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic sank, Kim Il-sung was born.
15. You can be kept hostage because you are imaginative
It's one of the famous stories of the 1978 abduction of film director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actor Choi Eun-hee, by dictator Kim Jong-il to inject imagination into North Korean films. Later in 1986, after almost a decade of being kept against their will, the couple eventually gained the confidence of the dictator and fled during a trip to Austria where North Korean films were being promoted.
16. Life improves for some North Koreans
To be sure, almost every day for many North Koreans is a struggle where life is characterized by food shortages, horrid working conditions, and government oppression. But daily life bears some parallels to the rest of the world for some DPRK people, NPR reports.
According to NPR, more and more North Koreans have access to cell phones, DVD players, and other gadgets that less than a century ago were practically unknown. In Pyongyang and a handful of other population centers, entertainment opportunities such as movie theaters, amusement and water parks and more are prevalent, and with each passing year, NPR notes, the presence of the wider world increases more.
17. People are prosecuted for not having haircuts sanctioned by the state
You would think that, based on photographs, fashion in North Korea is not high on the list of priorities. You'd be mistaken.
In the DPRK, not only is fashion a big deal, how individuals show themselves is strictly controlled.
For one thing, walking out with an approved non-government haircut could cause a person to be in severe trouble.
There are 15 state-sanctioned haircuts for females and males. "Non-socialist behavior" that government enforcers are expressly employed to keep an eye out for is deemed to be failing to wear either of these types.
It could lead to a fine or even put a person in jail by deviating from approved hairstyles.
Kim Jong-un's own fierce 'do' is not one of the 15 haircuts that men in North Korea are authorized to have, somewhat selfishly, suggesting that the Supreme Leader has practically banned his own hair for anyone but himself.
18. People are expected to make 'fertilizer' for the government if there is a shortage
Shortages are popular in North Korea due to how isolated and resource-poor the nation is.
A frequent feature of everyday life here is blackouts, food insecurity, and the shortage of fuel for vehicle use.
There is one other thing that the nation often runs out of fertilizer. But there is a novel option for the nation.
In 2007, North Korea stopped receiving from South Korea the shipment of 300,000 tons of chemical fertilizer it had come to rely on over the years.
By 2013, South Korea's chemical fertilizer had run out of whatever supplies North Korea still had, so the government forced people to begin handing over their feces.
In time for the spring sowing season, the North Korean regime requested hundreds of kilograms of human fertilizer from each of its citizens.
19. A village for propaganda
There is also, like so many other propaganda operations, a "propaganda village" on the border between North and South Korea. In 1953, to end the war and serve as a buffer zone between the two countries, the Korean Demilitarized Zone was created. Kijong-dong, the village that boasts of North Korea's economic prosperity, lies on this frontier.
But people who have watched the South Korean village have said that this village is just a fake, with no one living there, only the occasional sightings of street-sweeping workers. It is believed to be a fake construction show designed to draw defectors from South Korea and threaten South Korea.
20. The dead body of Kim Jong-Il is preserved
The North Korean government has left no stone unturned to prove itself to be the country's sole proprietor. The country has kept North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-Il's dead body in a glass tomb and it is available for visitors to see. And they have a responsibility to bow at his feet and arms.
21. Just 28 websites that North Koreans can visit
Just 28 websites on the internet are allowed for North Korean people to search. For those with access to a computer, their intranet, which is called "Kwangmyong" or Bright, from which the internet is accessed, is free to use. The machines, however, are very costly and one requires prior approval from the government to purchase one!
22. No religious liberty
Like limitations on any other aspect of life, in North Korea, there is no religious freedom. The nation declares itself a state of atheism and persecutes everyone who is seen practicing any faith.
23. Blue jeans are prohibited in the region
Blue jeans are seen by North Korea as a sign of US imperialism and, therefore, have been banned in the region.
24. In the capital, the government monitors who lives
It should not come as a surprise that the autocratic nation still governs where its citizens live, with the government overseeing everything from food to feces. In North Korea, in order to be able to reside in Pyongyang, the capital, one requires government approval.
Additionally, the owner of any dirty vehicle entering the capital city is fined and a travel certificate is provided for anyone traveling out of the capital.
25. There's a special Kim Jong-un
It is officially prohibited in North Korea to give children the name of their chief. If a child was called like this before his accession, the parents have to change the name urgently. In the DPRK, this is not the first taboo of its kind: Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, released an identical decree in 2011 concerning his own name. However, their respective grandfather and father, Kim Il-sung, were the first to take this measure, and all the earlier prohibitions are still in place.
26. Who's louder?
A view of Kijong-dong and its 160-meter-high flagpole, which until 2010 was the world's largest.
Another interesting story related to Kijong-dong is there. It hosted a loudspeaker for many years that represented the delights of living in North Korea for those from the South who would defect.
North Koreans, however, began broadcasting military marches for 20 hours a day and at maximum intensity in 2004, recognizing the futility of their attempts to entice their neighbors. With their famous K-Rock, the Southerners replied. The radio was shut off through silent agreement from both sides when the noise became absolutely intolerable.
27. Tree bark and grass in the North Korean diet
Food shortages are so serious in North Korea that people sometimes have to resort to desperate measures just to survive.
The introduction of 'wild foods' to the diet is one common way of making it throughout the year.
Wild foods are just as they sound: there are foods that North Koreans can simply pick up naturally if getting hold of store-bought products is not a choice.
These include seaweed and edible mushrooms, but individuals have also resorted to eating tree bark and grass in more serious cases.
Apart from the lack of nutrients that 'wild foods' such as grass and bark have to offer, the issue is that North Koreans have been known to consume wild foods that are potentially harmful to humans.
It has been known to make already-hungry North Koreans severely ill from such things as wild grass and poisonous mushrooms and plants.
28. Cars are practically nonexistent
Kim may have nukes now, but if you assumed that North Korea had completely reached the twenty-first century, you're sadly wrong.
In the DPRK, it's still rare to see one in motion, though cars have become a more frequent sight of late.
In reality, it's so unusual that nobody has even bothered to make the traffic lights work.
While there are traffic lights in the country, hardly any of them are operational, and most of the work is performed by female traffic wardens (who must be young and attractive and retire at 26).
As transport to and from connecting cities is practically non-existent, highways are also eerie sights in North Korea.
Instead, you'll see individuals walking the miles of road and trying to flag down any cars in which they may be able to hitch a ride.
29. No Marijuana Ban
It is ironic that marijuana or cannabis that can be obtained from the roadside is readily accessible in a country that lacks the human rights of its people.
30. North Korea has its own basketball rules
North Korea has visibly separated itself from the rest of the world, and the way they play their sports also reflects this. Their whimsical king, on his own accord, does everything. No wonder he rewrote the rules for basketball as well.
The rules of North Korean basketball say slam dunks are worth three points and field goals are worth eight points in the final three minutes of the game, as opposed to the usual two points.
31. The dead grandfather of Kim Jong-un is now officially the head of state
Since his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011, Kim Jong-un has been North Korea's Supreme Leader.
Kim will be like his father's all-powerful dictator in North Korea, barring any sudden surprise coup de'tats, until he dies or hands control over to one of his children himself.
Yet, all-powerful as he might be, there is one man to whom Kim still has to speak technically.
Kim Jong-un's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, is regarded as a kind of deity in his own right in North Korea, with religion frowned upon in the region.
This is the extent of respect for Kim Il-sung, who, four years after his death, was proclaimed the Eternal President in 1998.
The North Korean Constitution now states that no one else will ever wear the president's title again, making Kim Il-sung forever the head of state.
32. The prohibition of music
The regime of Kim Jong Un is always on the lookout for something which could challenge his position. Kim-Jong-un issued a decree in 2015 to scrap all cassette tapes and CDs that had songs banned by the state because lyrics could propel citizens' dissent.
33. 109 is the year, not 2020
It certainly goes without saying that there are considerable cultural gaps between the North Korean people and the rest of the world.
North Koreans, also in some of the most simple ways, have an understanding that we would fail to understand here in the West.
North Korea has an entirely different calendar than us, for instance, and the year is certainly not 2018 right now.
In 1997, the revamped North Korean constitution also modified the year just before Kim Il-sung was made Eternal President.
With the birth of Kim Il-sung in 1912, the new calendar that was introduced, the Juche calendar, started to record time.
In North Korea, this renders 1912 'Juche Year 1,' with 107 being the current year.
34. The nation is riddled with STDs
Casual sex is rampant in North Korea because of extreme socio-cultural constraints and long periods of military service.
The limited availability of preservatives also aggravates the spread of STDs in the country. Some women would give sex for the price of rice because of the poverty and hunger rate in North Korea.
Prostitution is not legally permissible, but poor women use places like train stations to offer a quickie to buy one unit of rice in return for food or cash just enough.
There was, of course, one exception to the law, as we have already seen, a ring of prostitutes called the kippumjo, who for many years have given services to high-ranking government officials.
In 2011, they were supposedly disbanded, but we're not so sure, especially when you consider the fact that Kim Jong-un likes to surround himself at all times with a bevy of women.
Unfortunately, many women escaping the regime and crossing the border into China frequently end up turning to prostitution as a means of making money.
35. You will only be able to date anyone if you plan to marry them
We're assuming that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea doesn't have Tinder and Grindr.
The object of North Korean dating is not just to get to know somebody ... it's for the sole purpose of marriage. It is absolutely prohibited to have homosexual relations.
North Koreans are not permitted to do many things that we take for granted in the West. This involves things including obtaining tattoos and getting piercings for public shows of affection (including hugs and kisses, including for married couples).
Much of this stuff is a no-go in North Korea. It sounds like a true laughing barrel!
North Korean men hope to be chaste of their brides and have not been in previous marriages. They also have to be without kids.
In the DPRK, it is always her fault if a woman gets divorced and, as such, she has very little hope of ever finding another husband. Domestic violence is not frowned upon and there would be government help for those men who harm their women.
Kim Jong-un is again granted a free pass to do as he wants with women. The country's female defectors have explained how schoolgirls are taken out of high school and taught the infamous leader how to become sex slaves and happiness.
36. For their first ten years of service, North Korean soldiers must remain celibate
This is a rule that seriously affects the lives of soldiers serving in the military in North Korea.
During their first 10 years of service, North Korean military law specifies that officers have to be celibate. This explains why, with desperate women, male soldiers would frequently trade food for sex.
Despite the fact that homosexuality is illegal, there is also a high degree of "situational homosexuality" among them. This is interesting when you know that North Korea has the world's highest per capita military.
Experts report that the state has nearly 1.2 million active troops, which means that North Korea has 47.8 per 1000 people. This is the highest rate in the world of any country, and ten times greater than the United States.
North Korea also has a flourishing Hitler Youth-style children's army, like any successful dictatorship. The Young Red Guards are the army's organized youth paramilitary branch and were founded in 1970.
The Young Red Guards are male, between the ages of 15 and 17, and are expected to attend military training for 10 to 15 days. They must have food and uniforms of their own.
37. On your wedding day, you have to go and visit the statue of Kim Il-sung
To honor it with flowers and then take pictures, Korean newlyweds must visit the statue of Kim Il-sung on their wedding day. You can even fail to have a honeymoon.
Apparently, cold noodles at a North Korean wedding are the most famous dish and will still be served after the ceremony.
It is very normal on a wedding day for someone to inquire, "When can I eat your cold noodles?" that just sounds like a terrible insinuation to us.
You can't have a wedding any time you fancy in North Korea, as though there weren't enough rules. Usually, they are only held in spring and autumn.
When Kim has an upcoming big event, weddings are also forbidden. On 15 April or 16 February, people are still unable to marry because these are the birthdays of former leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.
You should sit down on those days and dream about how amazing your glorious leaders are!
38. To make them work harder, construction workers are given crystal meth
The fact that the government poisons its own people is yet another troubling revelation coming out of the DPRK.
They are also given meth-based drugs to staff who work on important state programs, which, when inhaled, raise energy levels and suppress appetite.
This encourages employees, with little to no food to rest, to work longer hours. Project managers would follow this tactic as a form of propaganda in response to tremendous pressure to complete critical state programs in record time.
Sounds legit. With the arrival of Kim, who is known as the 'builder-president', construction workers have been busy in recent years.
So far, every year of his reign, he has ordered the building of one new monument, and naturally, he personally inaugurated each.
The Ryugyong Hotel is a giant 3,000-room hotel in the center of Pyongyang that has never been completed and remains unfinished to this day. However, not all of his projects have been a success.
39. North Korea spends a large amount of money on military service
From its numerous nuclear and missile tests, this is very apparent. The economy of the country may be in a dilapidated condition, with most of its population starving for food, but that does not stop North Korea from spending about 20% of its GDP on its army.