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What Life in North Korea is Actually Like

North Korea is a mystery to the rest of the world. It has shut its doors to us and only shows what it wishes. With 25 million people living under the dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, we can only wonder what their everyday lives are like. Here is an inside look at how the North Koreans really live.

Required Haircut

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Surprisingly, the government of North Korea controls what kind of haircut its people can have. You’ll see women can choose from sixteen different hairstyles, but they don’t actually look all that different.

Adult Entertainment

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This group of 2,000 girls is known as the Pleasure Squad. They were chosen and then trained for adult entertainment purposes solely for Kim Jong Un. There are three groups within the larger group: sexual services, massages, and dancing.

Elections

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Every five years North Korea will hold a national election. While it may sound like the citizens have some freedom here, that is not the case. The electoral ballet only has one candidate.

Child Labor

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Over 70 years ago North Korea claimed that it had stopped child labor in the country. However, according to North Koreans who have escaped the country, children are forced to work in camps as punishment for their parents’ wrongdoings.

The Accordion

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The North Koreans really love the accordion. Barbara Demick writes in her book Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, “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.”

Pyongyang Time

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In 2015, North Korea created their own time zone known as Pyongyang Time. It ran half an hour behind South Korea. However, in 2018 they switched back to the normal time in an effort to speed up the unification process.

Three Generations are Punished

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There is an extremely disturbing rule for when someone breaks the law. If convicted, they have to go to a prison camp along with the next two generations after them. Oh and their family has to go too.

Jobs are Assigned by the Government

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Forced labor is what many people think of when they hear about North Korea. Citizens do not have the luxury of choosing what type of career they have. Instead, the government will assign people jobs.

People Don’t Drive

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One thing people notice when visiting North Korea is that there aren’t any cars on the road. People just walk in the streets freely. This is because people do not learn how to drive or own cars. It’s mostly military officials or government workers who know how to drive.

Weed is Legal

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Referred to as “yoksam,” marijuana may be legal in North Korea. This sounds a little strange considering it is still illegal in much of the Western World.

Children Are Starving

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North Korea went through an intense famine from 1994 to 1998. This was partly caused by its economic crisis, loss of Soviet support, and unfavorable weather conditions.

Portions are Rationed Daily

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The government provides food rations for its people. It isn’t much though. At 573 grams a day, it’s like eating two potatoes. According to 2017 statistics, 41% of North Koreans were undernourished and many children experience stunted growth from the lack of food.

Cannibalism isn’t Uncommon

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People will do crazy things when they are hungry. One father was convicted and executed for murdering his children and eating them. In 2003, refugees confirmed that sometimes children are killed and eaten due to the lack of food.

Underground Metro

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North Korea’s subway system sits at 360 feet below the surface making it the deepest in the world. It was also designed as a bunker in case of a nuclear war breaking out.

Children Are Brainwashed

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Growing up, children are taught to at America. They are brainwashed into thinking America is the enemy.

Human Feces is Used as Fertilizer

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It is required by the government that each person give them 220kg of human feces to be used a fertilizer per day. “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, “a source confirms.

No Jeans Allowed

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It is illegal to wear blue jeans in North Korea because it is associated with Western culture. This is to keep citizens from taking interest in the ways of the West and keep them focused on North Korea.

Propaganda for Children

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Children’s books are used as propaganda to make them hate Americans. This book in particular states that the Americans started the Korean War and were extremely aggressive in their war acts.

Families Are Separated

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The division of North and South Korea meant that families were separated from each other. In 2018, the Red Cross organized the reunion of some families who hadn’t seen each other since the 1950s.

Forbidden Birthdays

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If your birthday falls on July 8th or December 17th, you are not allowed to celebrate it. These are the dates that Kim Il-Sun and Kim Jong-Il died, so they are days of mourning for the country.

Prison Camps

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Nobody knows for sure what goes on in the prison camps that are located in North Korea. We do know that these camps hold over 200,000 prisoners captive and the conditions are even worse than the concentration camps established by Hitler.

The Bridge of No Return

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This is the Bridge of No Return. It is located at the Military Demarcation Line for North and South Korea. Prisoners were exchanged on this bridge once the Korean war ended in 1953.

The Army is Celebrated

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Surprisingly, women are able to serve in the military. This celebration on International Women’s Day shows a photo of a female soldier with the text “We are the General’s female coastal artillery troops.”

Bible Ban

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People in South Korea used to send over balloons filled with pages from the Bible to North Korea. However, South Korea has since put a ban on sending the balloons over.

Displayed Corpses

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When a leader dies, their body is embalmed and put on display for everyone to see. Pictured here is Kim Jong-il. People can view his body in the Pyongyang mausoleum.

They Use a Different Calendar

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The North Koreans put their own calendar in place, known as the Juche calendar, on July 8, 1997. All documents follow this calendar. The calendar begins on Juche 1, which in our time is 1912. There is nothing before that.

Government Controls the Radio

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25 million citizens do not have access to the Internet in North Korea. The government controls any form of entertainment such as television or radio. The radios that are used are attached to the wall and are on constantly because there is no “off” switch.

Prisoners Eat Rats

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In the prison camps, prisoners are forced to eat the rats that they can catch. They are not given nearly enough food to survive, so they have to result to this. The food that they do receive is made up of corn meal and cabbage.

Kijon-Dong is a Fake Town

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The village of Kijon-Dong is not inhabited in spite of there being homes that could house 200 families, a childcare center, and a hospital. Located near the border of North and South Korea, it’s used as a decoy.

No Free TV

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The government is responsible for what is broadcasted on the television channels. They also control the Internet. For those elite citizens who do have access to the Internet, they can browse just 30 websites that have been created and approved by the government.

Ryugyong Hotel

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Ryugyong Hotel stands at twice the height of the pyramids and is completely empty. It’s known as the “Hotel of Doom” as well as the ugliest building to ever be built in the world.

There Are No Lights at Night

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From outer space, we can see that North Korea doesn’t use electricity at night. This is probably because of their economic struggles and a tactic used by their dictator to keep the people under control.

Ghost Ships

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Ships have been discovered with the skeletons and remains of people near North Korea. It’s believed these people tried to escape North Korea. If anyone is found alive, they are sent back to the country.

Rallies are Mandatory

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These aren’t the pep rallies you had in high school. No, Kim Jung-Un requires citizens to attend political rallies such as this one. Thousands of citizens gathered in Kim Il-Sung square to support North Korea’s threat of overturning the ceasefire agreement that put an end to the Korean War.

Statues Everywhere

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There are large statues of Kim Jung-Un and his father Kim Il-Sung throughout the country. They are truly massive in size and some North Korean citizens were even forced to donate money to their construction.

Certain Foods Are Banned

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The North Koreans love a snack called Choco Pie. However, the government didn’t approve of its rising popularity and banned the snack. Sometimes there are events where people will send over thousands of Choco Pies over the North Korea in balloons.

Largest Army in the World

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If you weren’t scared of North Korea before, you will be now. The country has the largest army in the world! Both men and women are required to serve in the army for a decade starting when they are just 17 years old.

Dennis Rodman

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Professional basketball player Dennis Rodman is no stranger when it comes to North Korea. He has been to the country many times and has even attended a basketball game with Kim Jung-Un. “We talk about basketball. I don’t discuss politics. My job is to be a human being, to try and connect us with him,” Rodman said in an interview with Stephen Colbert.

Kim Jong-Il Kidnapped a Director

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In 1978, Kim Jong-Il ordered for the kidnapping of famous South Korean director Shin Shang-ok and his actress wife, Choi Eun-hee. They were imprisoned and finally released, but forced to make movies for North Korea.

Betrayal

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Fighter pilot No Kum Sok was fed up with his country. So, in 1953 during the Korean War, he landed his plane on a US ship, got out of the plane, tore up a photo of Kim Jong-Il and surrendered.

Mythology

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The national symbol of North Korea is a winged horse called Chollima. Its origin comes from Chinese culture, but has been adopted by the North Koreans. It symbolizes perseverance and speed.

Museum of Natural History

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Kim Jong-Un wanted to update his city, so he ordered the construction of some new attractions. He added a water park, equestrian center, museum, and a shooting range.

Dolphinarium

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Located on an island in the Taedong River, the Rugna Dolphinarium is where people can go for entertainment. They can watch dolphins do tricks and swim around. However, people are not allowed to take photos of the act.

Barter Markets

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Many people set up mini markets where people trade goods. They are known as jangmadang. This trading makes up a bartering economy amongst North Korean citizens.

Kim Jong-Un Loves Video Games

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North Korea’s dictator loves to play video games. He even had one created of himself called Glorious Leader. It features him riding a unicorn while fighting the American army.

Largest Stadium in the World

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Rungrado Stadium is the biggest stadium in the world. It can fit 150,000 comfortable. That’s more than triple the size of Michigan Stadium, which is the second largest in the world.

Always Guarded

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DMZ is a demilitarized zone located near the 38th parallel. This stretch of land is heavily guarded by the Koreans.

Truce Village of Panmunjom

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In the Demilitarized Zone, there is one section where both North and South Koreans can be together. It’s called the Join Security Area, but is also known as the Truce Village of Panmunjom.

Assistance from the US

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The Join Security Area is often very tense. However, politics are often discussed here. The United States has even been involved in some of these conversations.

Holding Hands

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When South Korean soldiers enter the Joint Security Area, they are extremely cautious. They will hold hands as they open the door so the North Koreans cannot pull them in and take them to their country.

Retelling History

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The people of North Korea receive a very skewed version of their history. This is a photo of a celebration of North Korea’s history and a celebration of life.

Prisoners Deteriorate

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Prisoners in North Korea are not treated as people. Due to the hard labor and little to no food, their bodies start to deteriorate. They must use what they can to make their lives just a little more comfortable.

Less than Bugs

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Prison guards view prisoners as dirt; “less than bugs” really. Sometimes guards will execute a prisoner just to relieve some of their stress. It isn’t uncommon for prisoners to be tortured for fun.

Arch of Triumph

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Kim Il-Sung gifted this Arch of Triumph to himself on his birthday in 1982. During his reign, the dictator commissioned many monuments around the country with his name on it.

The Interview

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When James Franco and Seth Rogan created the movie The Interview, Kim Jong-Un was no happy. The movie makes fun of the dictator and what life is like in North Korea.

2018 Olympics

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North and South Korea were able to ignore their differences during the 2018 Olympics. They united as one team and even carried the flag together during the opening ceremony.

Rural North Korea

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Just like any country, North Korea has its rural parts. Although North Korea’s rural parts are much worse than anywhere else. People live in poverty and are forced into hard labor.

100% Literate

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According to North Korea, every citizen is literate. At the age of 5, children are required to go to school where they learn how to speak Russian and English.

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