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26 Weird and Bizarre Facts about North Korea that reveal the horrifying truth about life there

14. Border relations between North and South Korea are so tense that when soldiers from the South open the door to the North in the Demilitarized Zone, they hold hands to avoid being physically pulled into the other side.

South Korean soldiers holding hands
image source: Inside North Korea via businessinsider.com

If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, here’s something. In 2014, South Korean Christians put up a Christmas tree visible from the North Korean Border. North Korea responded by calling it a “tool for psychological warfare” and threatened to bomb it. Bizarrely, North Korea also uses a fax machine to send threats to South Korea.(1,2,3)

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15. The North Korean regime has long enforced strict rules on styling one’s hair; most of the barber shops in Pyongyang advertise photos of government-sanctioned haircuts.

haircuts north korea
image credit: David Guttenfelder/AP

Since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011, the rules have been relaxed a little. It is still preferred that men and women stick to conservative haircuts. Older women can only wear their hair short, whereas the young ones are allowed to sport loose locks, albeit in a neat and cropped fashion. Long hairstyles are generally frowned upon, especially for men.(source)

16. There are an estimated 34,000 statues of Kim Il Sung in North Korea – one for every 3.5 km, or one for every 750 people. All North Koreans are also required to wear a badge featuring his face as a mark of their loyalty to the founder of the nation.

North Koreans bow before the statue of the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung
image credit: AP Photo / Elizabeth Dalziel

Wearing the badge on their lapels is a daily ritual for everyone and in a city where people rarely carry expensive or valuable items and credit cards, they are highly prized by pickpockets and thieves. So much so, that each badge can be exchanged on the black market for several hundred NKW.(source)

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17. Public transportation connecting the main towns is nearly non-existent as citizens need permits to go from one place to another even within the country. Because of this, the streets in North Korea are so empty that children use them as playgrounds and soldiers can be seen hitchhiking on the highways.

north korean street
image credit: Eric Lafforgue

In addition to the massive public transport problem, freedom of movement in North Korea is also extremely limited and citizens are rarely allowed to move around freely inside their own country. Cars are strange, foreign things to children and old people that move around on the deserted streets, and often put their lives in danger while crossing the road without looking for oncoming vehicles.(1,2)

18. A night image of the Korean Peninsula taken by NASA illustrates the sheer isolation and underlying electricity problems in North Korea. Compared to its neighbours South Korea and China, it is completely dark.

NASA satellite image
image source: nationalgeographic.com

Since the defunct Soviet Union stopped supplying power to North Korea in the early 1990’s, the country has become entirely energy-bankrupt. Compared to South Korea, where each person consumes 10,162-kilowatt hours of power, the average North Korean uses just 739. Recently released photos from the International Space Station show how North Korea completely blends into the surrounding blackness, other than a couple of small spots of light.(source)

19. According to data that the government of North Korea provided to the UNESCO, the country’s literacy rate is 100% and it boasts that it is on par with the U.S.

North Korea literacy rate
image source: businessinsider.com

With the supposed 100% literacy rate, North Korea ranks equally with the U.S., U.K., and champions hundreds of other countries on that front. According to Asian scholars like Andrei Lankov, this is accomplished by teaching school children how to write the names of “President for Eternity” Kim, Il-sung  and “Dear Leader” Kim, Jong-il before they can write their own name and that of their parents’. Once this is done, the North Korean Government declares the student literate in writing. The authenticity of this information still remains to be proved, however.(1,2)

20. Kim Jong-il was apparently born under a double rainbow and his birth caused a new star to appear in the sky; he learned to walk and talk before 6 months and has the ability to control the weather by his moods, according to the official government-released biography of his life.

kim jong-il stamp
image source: mountainstamp.com

An extreme personality cult around the Kims exists in North Korea, which even surpasses that of Stalin or Mao Zedong. As part of its propaganda and brain-washing methods, the government elevates its leaders to a godlike status in the minds of the average citizen. One defector, Kang Chol-hwan writes of his childhood in North Korea:

“To my childish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were perfect beings, untarnished by any base human function. I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?”

School children are taught fantastic and obviously untrue things about their leaders to keep them in awe and fear of the regime.(source)

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