The leader of North Korea is in the news just as much as our own president. And whether he’s boasting about his country’s nuclear weaponry or engaging in name-calling with Donald Trump, we can’t help but wonder what living in North Korea would really be like.
We know the country keeps everything top-secret — and it’s certainly not on your list of possible vacation destinations. And upon further research, we found some dark secrets about what really goes on beneath the surface. Here’s what we can reveal, and what it might say about the state of Kim Jong Un’s mental health, too.
The annual income in North Korea is about $1,000 to $2,000
Most of us can’t imagine living off of just $1,000 a month — let alone an entire year. But for the citizens of North Korea, NPR reports this is a very real scenario. The publication says one of the best jobs in the country is building appliances at an industrial park for a mere $62 a month.
On the other hand, Kim Jong Un certainly isn’t starving. He’s worth about $5 billion and spends the vast majority on private islands, golf courses, and other luxury items, as well as his nuclear arsenal.
North Korea tied with Somalia for the most corrupt country in the world
Somalia has taken the prize for the most corrupt country for the past 10 years, but North Korea’s giving it a run for its money, CNBC reports. The way the country makes money may have something to do with this corruption, too. CNN reports bank hacking has become a large source of revenue for Kim Jong Un and his regime, and there’s also forced labor for industries like mining, logging, and construction.
Because of Kim Jong Un’s ongoing tyrannical ways, the British Medical Bulletin suggests the ruler himself may actually feel as if the violence and corruption in his country are totally acceptable and normal. And the citizens, of course, are put through great psychological distress.
Prisoners are starved in forced labor camps
Since the late ’40s, Business Insider reports political prison camps have been in operation in North Korea. For any citizen who even gives the slightest indication that they aren’t in support of the regime, they can be sent to the camps as punishment to this day. As Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea freedom coalition, says, “People are worked for 14, 15, or 16 hours every day with just a handful of corn to live on and they are intentionally starved and worked to death.”
So, what kind of ruler would allow for such brutality? As Vanity Fair notes, this regime is all Kim has ever known — so perhaps what seems inhumane to us is simply another country’s version of keeping things in line.
Men aren’t currently allowed to get Kim Jong Un’s haircut
Back in 2014, the BBC reported that male North Korean university students had to get Kim Jong Un’s haircut. Now he’s singing a different tune, as the New York Post says men aren’t allowed to copy the leader’s famous ‘do. Men and women have 15 hairstyles they can choose from — not one of them Kim’s. And dyeing your hair is absolutely out of the question, too. We’re sensing some narcissistic personality traits in Kim Jong Un because of this odd rule.
Elite men are expected to have mistresses and show them off in public
While ordinary citizens are required to keep any public displays of affection under wraps, it seems the same rules do not apply to the rich and powerful. Top experts tell mirror.co.uk elite businessmen in the country are actually expected to keep mistresses and show them off in public, regardless of whether they’re married or not.
This wasn’t always the case, however. Under Kim Il Sung’s rule, men in power certainly had multiple mistresses, but it was kept under wraps. Now under Kim Jong Un’s rule, it seems discretion is less of a priority. Prostitution remains outlawed, but women still participate in the practice in exchange for goods and services from the men.
Kim Jong Un required mass public grieving for his father’s passing
When Kim Jong Il died in 2011, the entire country was in tears over the loss. And as many marveled at the nation’s people mourning, CNN reports they have been required to grieve just for their own survival. As the publication puts it, the citizens are required to show patriotism — and failing to do so puts their lives at risk.
As a psychological profile of Kim Jong Un from St. John’s University notes, the leader has an overly theatrical and melodramatic personality. This, along with his narcissistic traits, makes sense as to why he wanted the whole country to mourn.
The country may have a cannibalism problem
Separating fact from fiction is becoming increasingly difficult when it comes to North Korea. But as The Huffington Post notes, a report from Asiapress news agency claimed starvation was so bad in the country that people were resorting to cannibalism. Journalists who talked to local residents claimed trading human meat was more commonplace than you think, with reports of one man being executed for trying to sell human flesh as pork.
It seems Kim Jong Un’s obsession with building nuclear missiles is leaving the rest of the country in a horrible food shortage, Newsweek reports. And he’s certainly not giving up his lavish lifestyle to help this problem anytime soon.
Kim Jong Un’s true mental state
Kim Jong Un may seem like a crazy tyrant, but CNN reports top officials from the CIA say Kim is far from being a madman. The officials say Kim is motivated to keep his regime alive and well, and he acts rationally in accordance with his goals. As deputy assistant director Yong Suk Lee says, “Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke” Los Angeles wouldn’t be characteristic of something he might do.
But just because Kim isn’t a madman doesn’t mean he’s not a violent dictator. He maintains his power by being confrontational and mercilessly getting rid of those who threaten his rule. The good news is Kim isn’t likely to act out on impulse or emotion — but the bad news is he’s still ruthless, even to his own people.
The mysterious first lady
You may see North Korea’s Kim Jong Un everywhere on the news, but someone special in his life is often missing from the limelight. Ri Sol Ju is the country’s first lady, making her somewhat of a public figure by default. But little is known about her. Details about her family, her life before marriage, and even her real name are all hotly debated.
Business Insider’s Anna Fifield notes two special women exist in Kim’s life. His wife Ri dresses in more feminine, high-fashion outfits, and Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jung wears conservative, functional attire indicative of the Communist Party.
Fifield says, “Each has a job to do in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea — one to be glamorous and aspirational, the other to represent the importance of hard work.” When Kim Jong Un needs to appear softer, modern, and young, Ri makes her appearance. But his sister is much more of a leader, as he’s elevated her higher within the ruling Workers’ Party.
Women marry young to avoid mandatory work
As NK News says, women aren’t expected to marry at a certain age — but if they’re still single by the time they reach their late 20s, they’re considered spinsters. And there’s a reason most women in the country marry between the ages of 21 and 24. In North Korea, where employment is required for all citizens, married women are actually exempt from mandatory work. They’re able to commit their lives to being housewives for their husbands instead of working long hours elsewhere.
Men are still required to complete 10 years of military service, however. This means many end up marrying the first woman they date upon completing service around 30 years old.
And weddings are seriously bizarre
When the wedding bells ring in North Korea, the ceremony is certainly different than anything you’ve ever experienced. The Guardian reports weddings are heavily monitored by the government, and newlyweds are to bring flowers to pay respects to the statue of Kim Il Sung.
While dating may be getting more progressive, the bride and groom still typically wear traditional clothing on their wedding day, and certain customs live on. Having live chickens present at the ceremony is an age-old practice that still occurs. And after the celebrating, newlyweds are to return to work the following day. The concept of a honeymoon or partying beyond the one day of the wedding is a foreign idea.
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