When you are the Supreme Leader of a country who runs in elections unopposed, controls the media, and seemingly orders assassinations of his family members, it can often be a bit awkward when you are spending time with the normal everyday working people of your country.
When it comes to North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, the dictator has gone to great lengths to learn how to simply look at things while the media takes his picture, a skill that he learned from his dad Kim Jong-Il. He also makes sporadic visits to odd sites throughout North Korea like a lubricant factory, potato factory, and tire production center and poses for uncomfortable photo ops with factory workers while he has a big grin on his face.
But, the unpleasant photo ops aren’t just reserved for regular North Korean citizens. Even in family pics, something doesn’t seem right. And, when he is around kids, there appears to be more tears than smiles. But, no matter what, Kim continues to grin from ear to ear.
Even though he is far from normal, it seems that Kim makes a massive effort to appear that he has something in common with the people in his country, despite the fact that absolutely everyone around him knows nothing could be further from the truth. North Korea is a country full of secrets, rumors, and bizarre stories, and it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. But, one thing is for sure, these twenty photos show that Kim’s attempts to look normal often result in incredibly awkward and unsettling images.
20 Worker Praise
Kim makes it a point to often tour different factories and businesses in North Korea and likes to offer “field guidance” and praise workers. But the men and women in the photos rarely look happy to be in pictures, and that could be because they live in a super-secretive state and must follow some pretty terrible laws.
One rule North Koreans must follow is that they can only cut their hair into one of the 28 government approved hairstyles. They ban everything else, including spiked hair because they consider it to be rebellious.
Kim brought in this restriction back in 2013, but did not include his own hairstyle on the approved list because he wanted to remain unique. However, when it is time for Kim to get a haircut, he does it himself because he is afraid of barbers.
Another odd rule is that a North Korean citizen must obtain the government’s permission to live in the country’s capital of Pyongyang. Kim wants to make sure that the city only has the country’s most successful, rich, and powerful citizens living there. So, if you don’t meet that criteria, you have to find a different place to live.
19 Family Rules
The government of North Korea has some extremely mind-blowing rules when it comes to families. First, they expect parents who send their kids to school to provide desks, chairs, and building materials so their kids can pursue their education.
Next, if someone commits a crime, the government won’t just punish you, but your entire family as well. Three generations – grandparents, parents, and children – will get the brunt of the punishment, and the country made this rule as an attempt to prevent people from trying to escape from prison.
According to North Korean citizens who have managed to escape, from an early age, the government brainwashes children to believe Americans are “yankee wolves.” And, one even thought Americans were dangerous yellow-eyed devils.
The government also forces each child to have a weekly critique and they are encouraged to report other peoples’ misbehaviors. One girl believed until she was ten years old that government leaders were gods.
But, when it comes to what the refugees wanted people to know the most about North Koreans, is that they have the same heart and emotions as everyone else. And, North Koreans do yearn from freedom and they wish people would treat them accordingly.
18 Propaganda Is Key
North Korea is filled with propaganda about their leaders, making it the background of everyone’s daily lives. In the morning, a loudspeaker blares the accomplishments of the Kim family (some popular stories from the daily Kim announcements is that Kim Jong-Un’s dad, Kim Jong-Il told citizens that Coca-Cola is “cesspool water of American capitalism,” he claimed to have invented the hamburger, and he said that he is the greatest golfer on the planet).
On top of that, radios don’t turn off, so the whole nation is a constant captive audience.
But, a lot of people know that the government is feeding them lies and think the propaganda is ridiculous, but they are probably too scared to say anything. One former North Korean said, “When you are in the public space you’d better sound like a true believer. An actor immersed in a role is going to be better at it.”
About thirty percent of a child’s education is about the Kim family, and when they are young they have to take entire classes about Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. But, when they get older, the teacher gives students about a ten-minute daily update about the current leader and then sprinkles in other stories throughout other classes.
17 Technological Disadvantage
Several officials are often standing in the background of Kim’s pictures, and sometimes they take notes (about something) while other times they simply follow his lead. The only details about the visits come from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Koreans only have access to three television stations and the state-run news, and everything that appears on those channels is government-run.
While North Korea is the most isolated country on the planet, there are things that do leak in. However, things like cell phones, DVD players, and modern movies are not ready available. And if you have something from Apple, Sony, or Microsoft, you better watch it because the government does not allow those brands. If someone catches you with any of those items, the crime is punishable by death, but that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t smuggle those things in regularly.
Dealers will approach likely buyers in the marketplace. “They’ll start with Chinese movies, and then maybe if you’re receptive move on to the American stuff,” says a former citizen.
This allows North Koreans to be a bit less isolated than you might think, and some even find ways to communicate with family in South Korea. This has forced the government to alter their propaganda over the years.
“The propaganda used to be ‘We have nothing to envy.’ Now that the outside is creeping in, they claim they’re maintaining the idea of Korea while South Korea is being raped by America,” said Michael Malice, Kim Jong Il’s unofficial biographer.
16 No Talking
From an early age the government of North Korea teaches its citizens to inform on anyone who appears to be the least bit dissident. So, you will never see massive protests, and chances are you will never hear anyone say anything bad in private conversation.
One North Korean refugee said, “It is something you never talk about in public places, maybe to your closest friend you might mention you aren’t happy with the Kim regime, and even then, only after a drink or two. Even with your wife you want to be careful.”
Before that refugee escaped, he said he saw several of his neighbors deported to camps. Soldiers will take away entire families for everyone to see instead of causing them to disappear in the middle of the night.
Citizens know this isn’t a normal thing in the rest of the world, but there isn’t much they can really do about it. Treason and anything related to it is punishable by life imprisonment or death. And remember, it’s not just you, but three generations of your family.
A source from an anonymous nation’s embassy said that they once talked to a high-ranking North Korean officer who told him that it is a shame what is happening in the country, but then paused and said his leader will take them down the right path. Unfortunately, his assistant looked at him during the pause, and the embassy source said he worries about that man because he never saw him at another event.
15 In The Dark
Author Nicholas Bonner has visited North Korea regularly since 1993 as the head of the Koryo Tours travel agency, and he says his first impressions of Pyongyang were of an attractive green city with two rivers and bizarre futuristic architecture mixed in with standard socialist style housing blocks.
He says that everywhere you walk you run into monuments, sculptures, museums, and slogans that focus on the fight for victory (either from the anti-Japanese guerrilla war or Korean War).
Bonner said that in his recent trips to the city he has been talking to a lot of North Koreans, who are used to the tensions with America, but not the rhetoric that comes from the current POTUS. They did think that there could be some kind of mediation between the US and North Korea, but they see the current President as a wild card.
When it comes to international relations, the government often keeps North Koreans in the dark, so when foreigners visit they can give the locals an alternate version of the news. He also said he speaks to a large number of people, and all North Koreans are not “minders” like we often think in the outside world.
14 A Family Affair
Kim makes rare appearances with his wife, Ri Sol-Ju, or his sister Kim Yo-Jong in public, but when we do see them, they stand beside the despot with smiles on their faces or peer into glass cases of beauty products at a factory.
Ancestors are very important to Kim Jong-Un. So much so, that he once put one of his ministers in jail for “insufficient grieving” during his father’s funeral. There are also rumors that he punished an assistant for being drunk during mourning.
He also had an extremely harsh punishment for his uncle and political opponent Jang Song-Thaek. Kim found his dear uncle guilty of adultery, dining illegally, and dreaming alternative dreams, resulting in his execution by firing squad.
While Kim is the Supreme Leader of North Korea, he is actually the second highest ranking leader in the country. His grandfather Kim Il Sung is technically the “Eternal President,” which is a title higher than his grandson’s. The weird thing is, his grandfather died 24 years ago.
After there was some doubt about his legitimacy as a leader, rumors swirled that Kim got plastic surgery to make himself look more like his grandfather.
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13 Forced Labor
Kim didn’t go to school in North Korea. Instead, he attended the International School of Bern in Switzerland and used the pseudonym Pak-un. He did well in music but failed in math and science. He might be the youngest world leader on the planet, but no one knows if he was born in 1982, 1983, or 1984.
If he would have been regular kid in North Korea that didn’t live in Pyongyang, he would have been forced to work on a farm at a young age. Some reports have claimed that if you don’t comply, you can end up in a camp as punishment.
And, in the less developed regions of the country, some kids’ trek to school can be filled with construction projects and dangerous terrain. If a village is lucky enough to have a school bus, it’s usually a repurposed dump truck.
For the kids that don’t have parents, life in North Korean orphanages can be brutal, and the kids who do get adopted still face risk of rejection if their parents can’t support them.
If you are lucky enough to have a little bit of money, families can buy small luxuries like traditional North Korean clothing or trips to national monuments to honor the country’s leaders.
12 Life In Pyongyang
Over the past five years, Pyongyang has changed drastically. The middle-class is growing fast, and that means more restaurants, shops, and places for entertainment. There are now even two pizza restaurants. But, the sanctions against the country can often mean less customers, and the progress they have made can reverse into regression.
As a result, fewer people will push cultural boundaries and civilians don’t get the opportunity to open their eyes to new ways of thinking and experience new things. However, the government still presents Pyongyang as one of the greatest cities in the world, even though almost no one has experienced any other.
If you are a tourist and don’t speak Korean, chances are you won’t see the “real” side of North Korea. But, to the citizens of Pyongyang, the city is real life, and the co-op farm you can visit is a working farm with people doing real activities. If you visit, what you see is not all propaganda, but the banality of day to day life.
Travel agents say that they still believe travel in North Korea to be safe and still the same as it has always been, it’s just the geo-political stage that has shifted.
11 Getting Out Is Terrifying
Anyone who attempts to escape North Korea does so with the risk that their entire family could end up in a camp if the government finds out what is happening. One anonymous refugee said that he had to craft an elaborate web of lies before he got out of the country.
Smuggling people out of repressive regimes is an international industry, and if you can manage to set yourself up with the right person and know someone from outside of the country who can pay for it, you might be able to go free.
But, it’s not as easy as just sneaking across the border. Even if that is your goal, you must take the long way to avoid getting shot and killed. Smugglers will get you out via a network of brokers that will require hiking, bus rides, and car rides from North Korea to China, to Vietnam, and then to South Korea.
Each portion of the trip has its own broker, and you have to trust that each person is going to get you to the next point instead of turning you in. The business of smuggling North Koreans isn’t just illegal there, but in all of the countries along the route. If you can get to South Korea you are safe, but it is also illegal. So, there is no “quality control.” There is always a risk you could be sold into slavery or murdered.
10 Outside Shock
The people who have been fortunate enough to make it out of North Korea say that the outside world is a complete shock. Since childhood the government has told them that countries with capitalism have people dying in the streets, and even though many were skeptical about that, they did think capitalism was a “bad school of thought.”
It is a shock to see South Koreans have freedom to do what they want and live as they please, and it was a whole new concept to get paid for work.
The concept that humans have rights was completely foreign, especially the fact that people can assert them to their government. North Koreans literally have no idea that human rights exist, so you can’t demand something that you don’t know.
They also can’t believe just how crazy the Kim propaganda is. Even though they had doubts, the truth was mind-blowing.
“During famines, the state propaganda said Kim Jong Il was suffering through the worst of it with us, subsisting on only a bowl of rice a day,” said one refugee.
But the reality is, it is impossible to know just how much the family spent during the famine. But, we do know that Kim Jong Il spent about $600,000 a year on his personal brandy supply.
9 Happiest In The World
Often, schools in North Korea force their students to visit the country’s national monuments to pay respect to their leaders. And, last summer, Kim organized a performance called “We Are The Happiest In The World” – a celebration for the 70th anniversary of the Korean Children’s Union.
The government starts the indoctrination of the kids at an extremely young age. Young kids learn anti-American messages in Kindergarten and they use toy rifles and grenades to practice attacks against cartoon images of soldiers.
On International Children’s Day, the country holds a mock military parade in Pyongyang that features kids dressed up as members of the North Korean army.
One of the benefits of coming from a family with some money and if you are a high-achiever is that you can train at Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, a facility that provides lessons in foreign languages, computing skills, and sports. However, one visitor to the school said it was incredibly strange. During an art class, he didn’t see any kid put pen to paper despite the fact there were professional-level illustrations sitting in front of them.
The Korean Youth Corps runs Mangyongdae and it accommodates up to 5,400 children in a massive concrete building.
8 Office 39
No one outside of North Korea knows for sure what Office 39 really is, but there are a few things that are for sure. One is that it is a government-sanctioned shadow organization that is dedicated to things like manufacturing and selling illegal substances and it finances the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
A few years ago, American law enforcement had Office 39 in its sights and was probing its networks, disabling enablers, and shutting off sources of illegal hard currency. But, The George W. Bush administration shut the law enforcement down.
The North Korean government also allegedly printed millions of counterfeit American dollars or “supernotes,” and the quality was so high they managed to pass enormous quantities through electronic detection devices in cities like Las Vegas.
7 The Dictator’s Wife
Ri Sol-Ju is Kim’s wife, and she is believed to be between 28 to 33 years old. No one knows about her upbringing, but the belief is that she comes from an elite North Korean family. Some have suggested that Ri Sol-Ju isn’t even her real name, and there are conflicting reports about her background.
Some say her mother is a gynaecologist and her dad is a professor, while others claim she is related to one of Kim’s closest advisors. There are also reports that she was a member of the North Korean cheerleading team that traveled to South Korea in 2005 for the Asian Athletics Championships.
Despite the fact the public rarely sees her, she has taken on a more prominent role than previous first ladies. And, she has started appearing more as relations between North and South Korea have warmed.
In the past, North Korean State Media has referred to her as “comrade,” but last week they upgraded her with the title of “respected First Lady.”
No one knows when Kim Jong-Un and Ri Sol-Ju got married, but the North Korean news first mentioned her as Kim’s wife back in the summer of 2012. And, according to Dennis Rodman, since she married the dictator, she has given birth to a daughter.
6 False Reports
Kim used to date singer Hyon Song-Wol who was part of a band who sang patriotic songs like Footsteps of Soldiers and I Love Pyongyang. Her popularity apparently reached an all-time high in 2005 with the song Excellent Horse-Like Lady. She apparently got in trouble with the police and essentially disappeared, many fearing she was executed.
But, the reports ended up being false, and Hyon showed up in South Korea this year for the Winter Olympics, and her appearance caused a frenzy. It is incredibly rare for a such a high-profile North Korean to go to South Korea because of the decades-long tension between the two countries.
But, not everyone was excited about her appearance. When she entered the Seoul railway station, 200 protesters greeted her because of the inter-Korean peace talks. Hyon saw the activists but did not react. During the Olympics she oversaw North Korea’s artistic performances.
5 Daejang or Military General
Kim is North Korea’s Daejang, which is the equivalent of a military general. Of course, he has never served in the military, so this makes him the highest ranking military man with no experience. In 2012, an 1800-foot carving appeared on a hillside that read, “Long Live General, The Shining Sun.” But, he’s not just a big man in uniform, he also looks good while he wears it, or that’s what some people thought.
That same year, The Onion declared Kim to be The [Hottest] Man Alive, with the comedy outlet claiming that his devastatingly handsome round face and his strong, sturdy frame makes him every woman’s dream come true.
“He has that rare ability to somehow be completely adorable and completely macho at the same time,” Onion Style and Entertainment editor Marissa Blake-Zweibel said. “And that’s the quality that makes him the sort of man women want, and men want to be. He’s a real hunk with real intensity who also knows how to cut loose and let his hair down.”
The Onion’s satire was apparently so convincing that China’s People’s Daily ran the story thinking it was real. It even ran its own 55-page photo gallery of Kim to accompany the story.
Social media had a field day with the faux pas, including people on Twitter who said that it was so funny it made them cry.
4 The Great Successor
Kim’s father was in the process of grooming him to take over North Korea when he died in December 2011. Immediately upon Kim Jong-Il’s death, the country named Kim Jong-Un “The Great Successor” making him the head of the party, state, and army.
He has shown a commitment to advancing the country’s weapons program by ordering four nuclear tests and several missile tests. In his first speech to the country, he praised the “military first” doctrine and said the time of threats against North Korea was “forever over.”
The reach of North Korea’s missiles has seemingly increased, and Kim claimed they had tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the United States, and that led to a surge in tensions between Kim and the POTUS.
As animosity rose, the two started engaging in a fierce war of words, with President Trump calling Kim “a rocket man on a suicide mission.” Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
But, Mr. Kim unexpectedly extended an olive branch to the President, and then last week he made history by becoming the first North Korean leader to step over the demarcation line into South Korea.
3 Counterfeit Products
Believe it or not, the counterfeit cigarette business is quite lucrative, and North Korea actively participates in manufacturing and smuggling fake smokes. Official estimates place about 12 counterfeit cigarette factories in the country, with some being state-owned, while others are part of organized crime syndicates that pay Kim for the privilege of doing business.
It is apparently so bad that the US State Department and Big Tobacco Companies refer to North Korea as the Soprano State.
The country also uses a restaurant chain to launder the “super notes” of fake American currency that it prints. The Pyongyang Restaurants are located in places like Thailand, China, and Cambodia, and are the only places outside of the country where someone can enjoy North Korean cuisine.
They serve items like dog meat and icy noodles, and everything on the menu is overpriced. It is apparently a well-known fact the restaurants only existence is to launder money. The biggest draw of the eatery are the North Korean girls performing heavily-synchronized dances in traditional clothing, and they sell things like suspicious wine and $120 pills that can “cure anything.”
Also, the restaurant does not allow cameras, and they do not allow Westerners to go upstairs.
2 The Rodman Effect
The friendship between former NBA star Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-Un has baffled many, but Rodman says that it’s because of him that Kim will be meeting with the POTUS over the country’s nuclear weapons program.
The Hall of Famer says that he gave Kim a copy of Trump’s book the Art of the Deal when he visited last year, and at that time he doesn’t even think Kim knew who Trump was. “And I don’t want to take all the credit. I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘I did this. I did that.’ No, that’s not my intention,” he said, but noted that being a sports ambassador to North Korea “resonated” in the country.
Kim and Rodman formed a friendship because of the dictator’s love of basketball and he invited The Worm to the country back in 2013 so they could watch a game together. But, it turns out that North Korean basketball has its own set of rules.
Slam dunks are so awesome in North Korea that they are worth three-points instead of two. Perimeter shots are still worth three points, but if they are a swish (nothing but net) they become four-pointers. They also deduct points for missed free throws, and games can end in ties.
1 Peace House
For his upcoming talks with Kim, the POTUS has suggested that the two meet at Peace House which is close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. “Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING, but would Peace House/Freedom House, on the Border of North & South Korea, be a more Representative, Important and Lasting site than a third-party country? Just asking!” tweeted the POTUS this week.
The Peace House and Freedom House are buildings within the Joint Security Area which is a portion of the DMZ that diplomats from around the world can meet. It is in the former village of Panmunjom.
The village is the original location of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement back in 1953, the resolution that established the 2.5-mile DMZ.
The area has several conference rooms that sit right on the border, and both sides staff the location with guards.
When Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week their summit partially took place at Peace House.
President Trump did accept Kim’s invitation for a meeting, and if it does happen, he will be the first American President to meet with a North Korean leader.
References: theguardian.com, nytimes.com, abc.net.au, bbc.com, thesun.co.uk, telegraph.com, vanityfair.com, dailystar.co.uk, indiatimes.com, phactual.com
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