It’s easy to think of North Korea as nothing more than a joke, but I remember how the world laughed about Idi Amin and his claims to be the Last King of Scotland, and then, the world found out that the Ugandan dictator was responsible for the deaths of up to half a million of his own people. Kim Jong-un, the current supreme leader of North Korea, cuts a similarly comical figure, with his odd haircut and wild rhetoric about the evils of the West.
This comical leader, though, heads up the third largest army in the world and, quite probably, will soon have access to viable nuclear weapons. So, while we wait with bated breath to see if the latest spat between North Korea and South Korea develops into something more serious, here are ten, almost unbelievable, facts about North Korea.
1. The North Korean government dictate their citizen’s hairstyles
Perhaps one of the weirdest facts about North Korea is that the government of North Korea control pretty much every aspect of a North Korean’s life and that even goes as far as to what hairstyles the people are allowed to have. Apparently, there is an official list of permissible hairstyles; the men can choose from ten possible cuts, and the women have a choice of eighteen styles to select from.
Ryugyong Hotel – Still Empty
Source: By Joseph Ferris III, via Wikimedia Commons
2. North Korea has the tallest empty hotel in the world
Up until 2009, the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea was the tallest hotel in the world, but, it has never had any guests. The hotel is 1080 feet high, has 105 floors and has over 7000 guest rooms. The only problem is that the interior of the hotel has never been completed and not one single guest has ever stayed there.
3. Marijuana is legal in North Korea
Even though everything else is strictly controlled by the government of North Korea, smoking weed is not only legal, it’s socially acceptable. They have very strict control over hard drugs, including the death penalty, but marijuana is freely available and smoked openly in public.
4. They have a different calendar in North Korea
Whilst they are still following the Gregorian calendar for their months, in 1997, the North Korean government changed their counting of their years to what is known as the Juche calendar, which is based on the number of years since the birth of Kim Il-sung in 1912. So, in 2016, North Korea is in the year 105.
Arirang Mass Games 2012 - 1st of May Stadium
Source: By Nicor (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
5. North Korea has the largest stadium in the world
North Korea may not be the biggest player in the world of international sport, but they do have the biggest stadium in the world. The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, which seats 150,000 people, is used mainly for football matches and the occasional athletics event. It is also home to the Arirang Festival, which is a massive a gymnastics and artistic festival that is held every year.
6. North Korea is not a communist country
It’s a fact about North Korea they so like to go it alone and they have even abandoned any official recognition that their country is a communist state. The government removed all references to communist ideology in their constitution in 2009 replacing it with "Juche", which is the ideology that was created by Kim Il-sung that states that the “Korean masses are the masters of their country”.
7. Wearing blue jeans is a crime in North Korea
One of the stranger facts about North Korea and its hatred of all things American is that it is actually a crime to be seen wearing blue Jeans in the country because they are seen as being a symbol of US imperialism.
Kim Jong-il - Never needed a toilet
Source: By babeltravel (Flickr: Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang),
via Wikimedia Commons
8. Kim Jong-Il didn’t use a toilet
Kim Jong-Il, the father of the current supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, didn’t need to use a toilet because he never defecated, at least, that was according to his official biography. Mind you, he also claimed to have invented the hamburger, was born under a double rainbow, and he could control the weather. He also once kidnapped South Korea’s most famous actress and her husband and put them to work remaking the movie “Godzilla”.
9. In North Korea, you are a tomato, an apple, or a grape!
The citizens of North Korea are given a status, which determines the types of jobs they are allocated and even the amount of food they are allowed. The system, which is called Songbun, allocates people to one of about fifty subcategories, within three major categories, based upon their political and social background. This fact about North Korea means that every citizen is put into one of three main categories of classification, and described as “Tomatoes”, being a 100% regime people who are red the core, “Apples”, being people who are red on the outside only and need a bit more ideological improvement, or “Grapes”, who are people who are considered to be hostile to the regime.
North Korean teachers –Accordion playing was compulsory
10. In the 1990s, all North Korean teachers had to learn the accordion
To finish on a really odd fact about North Korea, during the 1990s, all teachers had to learn how to play the accordion. The accordion was seen as an instrument of the people and, one of the songs that the teachers had to sing their pupils was called “We Have Nothing to Envy in the World”. Sadly, they probably don’t envy the rest of the world because they never get to see it. The internet is strictly controlled by that state, as is the TV and all other media.
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