North Korea is one of the few remaining places in the world that are closed off to outsiders. Under the helm of a notoriously unstable leader, Kim Jong-Un, it is shrouded in mystery and is both alluring and shocking in equal measure. Fortunately, for those who are curious to learn more about this secretive nation, some details about life North Korea regularly leak to the outside world. Here are some snippets of information that may surprise you.
18. People have to choose from 15 haircuts
On the positive side, the nation’s haircut policy promotes gender equality. All citizens have a choice of 15 approved haircuts. However, despite the fact none of them are remotely similar to that of the supreme leader, males are encouraged to copy his look. Moreover, women are expected to copy the leader’s wife’s haircut, and no females are allowed long hair.
17. The Film Industry Was created by a kidnapped film director
Why nurture home-grown talent when you can simply kidnap it? Back in 1978, in response to the leader’s interest in starting a film industry in North Korea, specialist agents kidnapped South Korean film director Shin Sang Ok and his wife, actress Choe Eun Hui, and ordered them to start making films. It took the couple eight long years to escape their captivity while, in the meantime, they made many films for the North Koreans.
16. Pollution is a major issue
Even though North Korea is widely regarded as one of the least developed nations in the world, it is also one of the most polluted. According to the Worldwide Health Organization, the country’s heavy reliance on coal entails that there are 89 pollution-related deaths per every 100,000 citizens.
15. Only an elite few can use the Internet
The nation’s search engine is known as Red Star. However, very few citizens have access to it. In fact, there are just 1,579 IP addresses in existence in North Korea, for a population of over 25 million people. The online activities of those chosen few who have Internet access—typically government officials and foreigners—are always strictly monitored.
14. The dictatorship holds elections
Strangely, despite its reputation for being a dictatorship, elections are actually held in North Korea every five years. However, people have only one candidate to select in each district. Their decision, therefore, is whether to vote in support of the candidate or not. If they decide to vote against them, they simply place their ballot in a different box. Perhaps they do so at their own risk because their identity is duly noted.
13. North Korea has created its own time zone
Back in 2015, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s liberation from Japan, North Korea put in place the Pyongyang time zone. This time zone is approximately 30 minutes behind Japan and South Korea.
12. North Korea operates a ‘Three Generations of Punishment’ policy
North Korea is well known for abusing human rights; however, when it comes to treating citizens badly, the “three generations of punishment” policy is particularly shocking. Under this doctrine, the entire family of an individual who commits a crime is sent to a prison camp. Worse still, the following two generations of family members born within the camp must remain there for the rest of their lives.
11. Foreigners and visitors need to be accompanied
Although it is not particularly challenging to access North Korea, foreigners and visitors always need to be accompanied. There are also accompaniment ratios in place. For example, international tours will need to be accompanied by a minimum of two guides, more if the group is large. We’re not quite sure if travel insurance would be of any help here if you do decide to travel to North Korea…
10. North Korea has 51 social classes
While societies throughout the world are organized according to class systems, no other nation in the world classifies its citizens like North Korea. People are classified according to the extent to which they show loyalty to the government. The more loyalty you exhibit, the higher your social ranking.
9. Illicit substances are abound
Unlike most nations in the world, illicit substances are in common circulation in North Korea, and around 30% of the population use some form of drug on a regular basis. One of the most common substances in use of that of uppers, which many people in North Korea use to suppress their appetites so that they can spend longer working.
8. Students completely fund their own studies
Students throughout the world are frequently asked to provide their own pens and paper. In fact, the only thing that is provided is the teacher! Schools in North Korea take things much further, with students being required to fund everything associated with their education, from chairs and desks right the way through to heating oil.
7. North Korea is a tax-free nation
North Korea is one of a handful of countries that does not levy taxes on its citizens. Back in 1974, taxation was eradicated under the “old world” initiative. Only businesses and people who make money that is derived beyond North Korea’s borders are required to pay taxes nowadays. However, the tax-free life for citizens may soon come to an end, as there are rumours that the government is planning on reintroducing income tax.
6. The North Korean army is massive
According to figures released by the State Department, there are in the region of 1.2 million military personnel in North Korea, the majority of whom are stationed in Pyongyang, which sits at the border between North and South Korea. To put this number into context, there is just over half that number of soldiers (680,000) stationed at the border on the South Korean side. It is widely reported that men aged under the age of 60 are forced to join the South Korean army. For this reason, the total number of soldiers in South Korea is an estimated 6 million.
5. There are only three TV channels
The main TV channel in North Korea is Korean Central Television (KCTV), which is available seven days a week throughout the nation. The other channels only air during the weekend. While some people try to get their TV fix by watching South Korean programs that have been smuggled in or are unlawfully broadcast, the punishment if found doing so is extremely harsh.
4. North Korean’s average life expectancy is falling
According to figures released by the North Korean government, the life expectancy in the nation has fallen by five years from 74 to 69 since the early 1980s. However, as the life expectancy statistics are government-issued, there’s a strong chance that the figures are worse.
3. Blue Jeans are outlawed
Jeans cost a lot of money in North Korea. However, even if you do have the cash to splash on them, they must be solid black, as blue jeans are expressly prohibited. This particular law was put in place by Kim Jong-Un as part of his efforts to reduce western influences in the country.
2. Less than 3% of North Korea’s roads are paved
Although there are a massive 25,000 kilometers of roads throughout North Korea, very few of them are actually paved. According to estimations, just over 724 kilometers of roads are paved in North Korea, representing a mere 2.83% of all the roads.
1. North Korea is the world’s most corrupt country
This one may not come as a massive surprise. However, according to the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, North Korean (in joint first position with Somalia) was the most corrupted country in the world. Countries were scored on an index that ranged from 0 (very corrupt) to 100 (very honorable); North Korea scored just eight.