Weird and the country of North Korea seemed made for each other. One of the few densely populated places on Earth that will appear totally black from a nighttime satellite photo (since no one has paid the electric bill or told them about electricity since 1953), North Korea seems to go out of its way to make it the hobo who talks to himself on street corners of countries.
1. Kumgangsan Tourist Region
Rarely has there been a recreation area that did its best to deter tourism. Breaking any of the rules here, which include no picture taking, looking at a military area nearby, or touching any of the statues of North Korea’s first president Kim Il Sung, can get you shot, which has happened. With the exception of some nice gardens, Kumgangsan has really only one thing going for it: The Meeting Hall for Separated Families, and that is not a typo. Once a year families separated by either the post-WWII partition, or from being kidnaped by North Korean agents, can meet and catch up. Most of these visits probably are along the lines of Northern relatives asking about all the new-fangled things in the South like HD TV and food.
2. Leaders, Both Past and Present, Are Treated Like Gods.
When North Korea’s first president, Kim Il Sung died in 1994 newscasts showed thousands of weeping citizens in the capital of Pyongyang on their knees in worshipful sorrow. Lady Gaga could provide sexual favors for each of her fans and not have the same following. Kim’s statue in Pyongyang, 50 feet tall and made of bronze, and one over 500 of him throughout the country, is the North Korean equalivant of Mecca. When Kim’s son and next North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died in 2011, an equally tall statue was place directly next to the one of his father. This isn’t too bad for a guy who looked like he helped Frodo find Mt Doom.
3. The Streets Have Traffic Cops, For No Traffic
Private ownership of a car in North Korea is about as common as being struck by lightning while waiting in line for your lottery winnings. Yet despite a per capita car ownership rate of about 11 per 1,000 people the traffic cop business is thriving. Every intersection in Pyongyang is manned by a smartly uniformed officer who will duly blow his whistle and direct, nothing. With exception of the occasional bus or bicycle an officer can expect to wave on a car every three to four days. One would think traffic lights would be more efficient, but again that electricity thing.
4. They Made Their Own Monster Movie, Under Pain of Death
Pulgasari, North Korea’s answer to Godzilla is not much different than any of the cheesy Japanese monster movies of the past. With the exception of the fact that the director and his recent ex-wife were kidnaped from South Korea, jailed for 4 years, including time in solitary for an escape attempt, and then asked to make the film. Amazingly bad even by Mystery Science Theater 3000 standards, Pulgasari at least had a happy ending. The director, Sing Shang-ok, and his ex found that jail and constantly being surrounded by armed guards on the set was just the spark their relationship needed. The re-kindled their romance and escaped, successfully this time, after a wild car chase in Vienna.
(Picture credit dprkcool.com)
5. Their Only Naval Victory Was Over A Single Ship
The American electronic intelligence gathering ship the USS Pueblo was on patrol off the North Korean coast on January 23, 1968 when it was attacked by gun boats of the Peoples Navy. Armed with only 2 machine guns the Pueblo fought bravely but was eventually forced to surrender. The ship was towed to Wonsan harbor and the crew was interned. It took a year of negotiation before the crew was released but the North Koreans kept the ship. Today it’s a floating museum on the Taedong River with exhibits treating the battle with only slightly less fanfare than Trafalgar and Midway combined. Not bad for a country whose surface navy is made up mostly of armed water ski boats.
6. The Ryugyong Hotel
Begun in 1987 with funds and technical support from the USSR, the Ryugyong Hotel was meant to be ready for the 1992 Seoul Olympics. In an attempt to one-up their southern cousins the Ryungong was to be the largest hotel in the world. With 3,000 rooms and seven rotating restaurants on the top, the Ryugyong Hotel would show those democracy, free market Southerners what for. That would be of course if construction hadn’t stopped in 1992 with the dissolving of the Soviet Union. For the next 16 years the 100 story concrete monstrosity stayed empty and unfinished. In 2008 an Egyptian firm took over and finished the exterior and a German firm took ownership in 2011 with plans to have half the room reserved by 2012. To date no one has registered.
7. An Invasion Tunnel was Called a Coal Mine.
When your Southern border is filled with 1 million land mines and tens of thousands of soldiers, how do you achieve your dream of reuniting your country in to one socialist paradise? Easy, you tunnel under all that nasty stuff. This is all fine and good, except when your neighbors find it.When one such tunnel was discovered by South Korean soldiers, with a propaganda banner, the North claimed it was a coal mine. Once again all well and good except when you reside in coal producing country and even the most casual observer knows that coal is found nowhere near the level the tunnel was dug. Easily fixed, just paint some of the rocks black and invite the press and hope their blind and stupid. Oh yes they actually tried that.