Weird Things That Only Exist in North Korea

by birtanpublished on August 3, 2020

You’re back from vacation, and boy do you have a lot to tell everyone around you When you announced you were going on vacation, everyone assumed you were thinking of a normal, safe break from normal life They couldn’t believe it when you told them you were not only going to another country, you were traveling to one of the most dangerous spots in the world for tourists They all had the same question – what on earth made you want to take a vacation to North Korea?

North Korea is called the hermit kingdom for a reason – there’s no country on Earth more closely guarded from outside eyes Ruled since 1948 by the Kim Dynasty and passed down from father to son over three generations, North Korea is a totalitarian communist state considered one of the strictest dictatorships in the world Ruled according to the principles of Juche, a philosophy translated as “self-reliance”,

It’s mostly in the news for military conflicts and missile tests But few people know about what goes on inside the isolated nation, which is sandwiched between the powerful nations of China and South Korea It makes a lot of noise for a small nation on a small Asian peninsula, but it’s not easy to get inside – and that made you all the more interested to see it for yourself and all the bizarre things that only exist within their borders

The strange North Korean facts begin before you even get in the country, starting with their tourism process They’re the only country in the world where the tourism process is handled entirely through state-controlled bureaus Companies like Korea International Travel Company and special companies aimed at bringing international athletes to the country approve visitors and lead them on guided tours, with

Very limited freedom to explore yourself Many countries, including the United States, warn or even prohibit tourists from their country from going to North Korea because of the regime’s tendency to arrest foreign tourists for the slightest offense A minor mistake like walking in the wrong area or disrespecting the leader can lead to a lengthy sentence in a North Korean labor camp

Most people can apply to visit North Korea, with one major exception based on profession – journalists The North Korean regime does not want their secrets getting out too easily Once you entered North Korea as a tourist, the cultural whiplash began quickly Nothing is like you expected back home, starting with time itself North Korea is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t use a standardized

Calendar based around widespread dates, seasons, and measurements Instead, they have their own calendar that was adopted in 1997, on the third anniversary of the death of Juche founder Kim Il-Sung Time is marked from his birth, known as “Day of the Sun”, and the calendar is a combination of historical Korean-era calendars and the Gregorian calendar Because North Korean dates only begin in 1912 with the birth of their founder, the current

Year is only 109 That puts them almost two thousand years behind the rest of us in years, so be careful not to make any “2020 vision” jokes while visiting Those guards don’t look like they appreciate puns What’s the first thing you do when you start a vacation? Probably take a selfie and upload it to all your social media channels

Not when you arrive in North Korea, because the internet as you know it doesn’t exist Think about it – have you ever chatted with someone from North Korea on Twitter? To even own a computer in North Korea, you need to get permission from the government, and each computer is registered with and strictly tracked by the government more seriously than deadly weapons in some places Few people in North Korea can afford computers, so the easiest way to access the internet

Is through computer labs and internet cafes in big cities But don’t count on being able to surf all your favorite pages – North Korea has its own private Intranet, which runs similarly to the basic internet from the 1990s, and you’ll only be able to access around thirty websites And most of them are government information and propaganda websites running on slow dial-up connections

As a tourist, you just have to worry about keeping your head down, not making any waves, and learning what you can about the country But for those who live here, proving your loyalty to the North Korean regime is a constant process and you find yourself marked by how loyal you and your family are seen as Ever since 1957, the population of North Korea has been divided into three classes, oddly named after fruits

The Tomatoes, the elite class, are called that way because they’re red (the color associated with communism) inside and out Most likely to be politicians and military officers, they have special privileges and are eligible for elite positions The Apples, the second class, are called that because they’re red on the outside but not the inside

Most citizens fall into this class, and are seen as needing improvement and frequent surveillance But they’re better off than the grapes, who are the lawbreakers who committed serious crimes – scandalous things like making an illegal phone call Every citizen has their status, or songbun, printed on their identification records and it influences every aspect of their life from school to career Committing a crime isn’t good anywhere, and if you did it back home you’d probably

Be spending some time in jail But you’d be the only person it affects Not so in North Korea, where the three-generations rule means your entire family can pay for your crime Those who commit a crime against the state are sent to the brutal labor camps for punishment and re-education, but so are up to three generations of their relatives – even if none of them

Have ever been accused of a crime Even if you were a loyal, patriotic member of North Korean society, a tomato can become a grape in an instant because of something their relative did Family reunions are great, but not when you’re reunited digging ditches in a labor camp Well, at least it’s easy to stay out of trouble You just have to avoid doing anything that would anger the massive surveillance apparatus

That works to track down all enemies of the state at the first sign of trouble We hope you didn’t dress too casually when you came on the trip, because it’s very easy to get into legal trouble in North Korea for something as simple as your pants Blue jeans are banned in North Korea because they consider them a symbol of American imperialism But at least you can easily change your clothing If you were a resident of North Korea, your life would be strictly controlled – starting

With your hair In the Hermit Kingdom, all residents must have a government-approved hairstyle, one of 28 Unmarried women have to keep their hair short, but married women have more freedom Women play surprising roles in North Korea, including exclusively filling the role of traffic guards

Remember that grumpy old crossing guard when you were going to school? She looked like a grandma, but your grandma never yelled “Move it along!” quite like that In North Korea, traffic police are very different Staffed entirely by young, attractive women under the age of 26, this position has existed since the early days of the regime

Because the country didn’t have traffic lights yet, they had humans direct traffic The traffic women of North Korea are among the most prestigious positions people aspire to there, with the workers getting higher pay, free housing, and even military honors for doing their job well We’re a long way from the intersection by your elementary school In your spare time when you’re not being taken on guided tours around the country with

The other tourists, you figured you should take in some leisure activities You heard a game of basketball was being played locally, and you love the game But it doesn’t take long into play until you realize this definitely isn’t the basketball you know They play a game with different rules than anywhere else on the planet Kim Jong-Il had courts installed in all of his palaces, and his son is friends with NBA

Bad boy Dennis Rodman, but they’ve changed major details in the game Three-pointers are now worth eight points, missing a free throw subtracts one point from the team’s score, and any baskets made in the last eight seconds are now worth eight points That makes for a chaotic finish to the game, but a confusing one for any outsiders watching Recreation in North Korea is as strange as everything else they do, but the oddness doesn’t

End when you return to your hotel You’re in a hotel with almost every other tourist in the country, in a centralized location surrounded by water on an island in Pyongyang The Yanggakdo Hotel is one of the nicest places in the country, always kept comfortable even when most of the city is without basic comforts like air conditioning Power goes out regularly in North Korea at night, so much that it can be seen from space

As the country goes dark, but you don’t have to worry about that Don’t count on enjoying your favorite TV shows, though – like the internet, you can only get a select few TV channels, and they’re almost all government propaganda You were lucky enough to be in North Korea for the biggest event of the year, as the country set the Guinness Book of World Records award for the show with the largest number of participants

That’s the Arirang Festival, a massive collection of gymnastics and art exhibits designed to celebrate the North Korean culture and regime Also known as the Arirang Mass Games, they retell an ancient Korean folk story about a young couple torn apart by an evil landlord Romance and anti-capitalism in one show – perfect for North Korea Getting selected to participate is a great honor in the country, and North Koreans are

Chosen to participate as young as five years old The biggest Arirang Festival set a record in 2007 with over 100,000 participants But the biggest, strangest secret of North Korea is one very few people get to see, unless they’re members of the North Korean military The Korean Demilitarized Zone, standing between the borders of North and South Korea, is the most heavily guarded zone in the world and has been standing since 1953 when an armistice

Was signed between the two sides of the Korean War But an armistice isn’t a peace deal, and neither North or South Korea acknowledges the other’s legitimacy That leaves them with a 160-mile long strip of land divided between the North Korean authorities and United Nation control, with a small meeting area in the middle for negotiations But things in the DMZ have been anything but peaceful, as there have been hundreds of small

Conflicts between the two sides, resulting in over a thousand deaths among the soldiers stationed to guard it But just because it’s the most heavily guarded location on the planet doesn’t mean North Korea is letting their propaganda game slip Large loudspeakers installed on the North Korean side broadcast messages towards the other side, with South Korea sending their own right back

They also send balloons with leaflets attached across the border These extensive propaganda efforts only ended in 2018, when a no-fly-zone was established for the DMZ as an attempt to decrease tensions But one unique propaganda effort is still standing, not that it’s easy to see unless you’re living close to the DMZ When South Korea built a village on their side of the DMZ, with 226 residents to show

North Koreans why they should defect, North Korea decided to build one of their own It’s a fully furnished town called “Peace Village”, filled with houses, schools, and hospitals, but it’s only missing one thing – people North Korea claims that it houses 200 people, but no one has ever seen anyone there, and close observers say there are a lot of giveaways that the village is a shell The houses don’t have glass installed in the windows, and the lights seem to turn on

And off on an automatic cycle They did briefly have the world’s tallest flagpole, designed to eclipse the South Korean one, but now the only time anyone comes into the empty village is to keep it looking fresh and clean You saw a lot of bizarre things in North Korea, and you can’t wait to share them with all your worried friends and family – now that you can access the internet again

Now go watch this video about the bizarre incident that happened in the same country, “US Soldiers Attacked by Aliens in North Korea”? Or for the other side of the DMZ, check out “What If You Were Born in South Korea?”

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