North Korea and its Tragic Jokes

December 23, 2011

The life in all “Animal Farms” is like a horrible nightmare. What the tourists say about North Korea and its nightmares is like tragic jokes. They can show us part of the tragedy of living in Animal Farm. When you read about North Korea and its tragic jokes, you can laugh or cry for hours. But you only read it, but the poor people in North Korea should live it. It’s like our tragic situation in Iran. When you live in the tragic jokes, it’s really like living in a horrible nightmare. But the outsiders can laugh at it, because it’s a great tragicomedy. Anyway, here are excerpt of what the tourists say about North Korea and its tragic jokes:

In the center of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, a huge bronze statue looms above the city. It portrays Kim Il-sung, the founder of regime known as ‘The Great Leader’. I watched as groups of schoolchildren placed flowers in front of the statue and then, in unison, bowed their heads in reverence. As I turned to leave, I heard an odd sound. Behind the statue was a man whose job it was to prevent birds from defecating on The Great Leaders image by jumping up and down and waving his arms while yelling, ‘Whoosh’

In the empty streets of Pyongyang, that there is no car and no traffic, they have the traffic girls who direct Pyongyangs sparse traffic. When I asked if it was true that Kim Jong-il had designed the uniforms for the traffic girls, our guide replied, Of course!, as if I had just asked the dumbest question in the world

The foreign community who live in NK is kept to 500 people, of which about 150 non Chinese/ non Russian. The statistics on foreigners living in Pyongyang (mostly working in embassies or UN) is a regular subject of jokes and the arrival or departure of anyone is an event celebrated at the one bar managed by foreigners (and restricted to foreigners based in Pyongyang). Outside of hotel bars and two diplomatic clubs opened in the evening, there is simply no night life in Pyongyang. I never once saw a restaurant. Restaurants must have existed for the elite, but no signs marked their location and they weren’t advertised . North Korea is the land where the people are not allowed to go to restaurant. They also can’t afford it.


That night we was allowed to walk in a residential cluster of apartment buildings. The shuffling of our feet echoed between the walls with apocalyptic gloom. And then we heard the lonely notes of a saxophone from somewhere above us. I finally spotted the guy sitting high in a window, and he waved. I felt I’d formed a genuine connection with someone in North Korea. I felt his frustration and his pain. I stopped there in the middle of the empty street to listen, and for a moment the barriers they’d built between us fell away …. I told one of our guides that I had heard that Kim Jong-il was a fan of the movies. The guide was indignant. ‘No,’ he exclaimed. ‘He is not a fan; he is a genius of cinema‘.

It took me nearly a week to realize why Pyongyang felt so much like a stage set. It wasn’t just the marble monuments and the enormous public buildings, the empty ten-lane streets and the weird scarcity of people. It was the almost total absence of shops . In all our bus rides through the city, I’d seen nothing to suggest that people actually lived there. There is several shops that obviously exist for the benefit of Pyongyang’s small number of resident foreigners – embassy and aid workers and its even scarcer visitors. North Korea is No Shop Land.

They had a Currency Reform in 1992. What they did about the old and new currency units was unique. The banks in North Korea exchanged up to 300 won per person over 17 (the exchange rate was 1 : 1)Up to 20,000 won of additional money per individual was received by banks as savings, but anything exceeding this was entirely invalidated. The money kept in savings was held until the following year, and then each household was allowed to withdraw up to 4,000 won. And the rest was seized.

Images of father and son are everywhere: on billboards, in every classroom and library, and in every home. Each person in NK should have a portrait of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in his home, and if he damages it, he would be punished. The security forces check homes. Images of father and son are everywhere, even in every subway car.


North Korea even uses its own calendar, measuring time from the year of Kim Il-sungs birth (1912). Thus our 2008 is North Koreas ‘Juche 97.’ North Koreans have grown up being taught that Kim Il-sung is responsible for inventing the philosophy they live by, known as Juche. Many don’t know Karl Marx, and their propaganda machine pretend that Kim il Sung is Karl Marx. Many people know that the Juche philosophy and the propaganda is total bullshit, but no one shows it in public. Many people just pretend to believe.

Midway through our 2-hour drive to the International Friendship Exhibition, our bus broke down. We were ordered by our guides not only to stay on the bus and not take photographs. In any other country, the guides would have used their cell phones to call their office. But in North Korea many don’t have cell phones. After much haggling, one of our guides convinced the soldiers to loan him a bicycle, upon which he raced north towards the nearest hotel, five miles away. Eventually he returned with a bus he had borrowed from a group of Chinese tourists who were eating lunch. Unfortunately, this bus, too, broke down, and we were forced to walk the rest of the way to the hotel.

Kim Jong il has its own Ten Commandments, known as The Ten Principles, that the Party uses to restrict the people. Every North Korean has to memorize it and follow at home, work and school. The Ten Principles say, for instance, they should have the regular evaluation meetings, and they have to confess flaws and mistakes they or others made in their work or personal lives (it’s like what the stupid Iranian Marxists and Rajavists do. They want to convert Iran into North Korea). These evaluation meetings are held weekly. In addition, Everyone must attend meetings, lectures and lessons to learn the Great Father’s revolutionary ideology and actively study it for 2 hours everyday. Following the concept of family purge, if a citizen is accused of a crime, specially political or ideological crime, three generations of his family are also either imprisoned or banished to remote areas.

The night before we entered North Korea, we had dinner at a North Korean restaurant in China. My son met an executive of a North Korean company that develops surveillance and recognition technology for the Chinese. After a pleasant conversation about computers, the North Korean executive told my son, You dont seem like Americans. My son asked him how many other Americans he had met. None. Youre the first. Maybe after that he realized that Americans are not the bloodthirsty demons he had been taught we are


The North Korean authorities have thoughtfully constructed overhead bridges to allow pedestrians to cross the streets without interfering with traffic. Of course, there is no traffic, but at least the citizens of Pyongyang are able to build their muscles by climbing up and down

Their propaganda machine says that Kim Il-sung created the world, and Kim Jong-il could control the weather. They say Kim Jong-il had ability to stop the rain and make the sun come out. They try to brainwash the people, but the new generations are not like their parents. They are smuggling MP3 players, USB flashes, DVDs, used laptops and cameras, as well as South Korean cosmetics, music and movies. It has become commonplace for classmates to gather in one students home and watch foreign movies together or exchange DVDs with others.

Their propaganda machine says that in 1945 Japan surrendered to Kim Il-Sung, not America. They say Japan surrendered to the Korean resistance groups, led by Kim Il-Sung. One guide told us that although soccer is the most popular sport in North Korea, he personally preferred basketball because ‘Kim Jong-il has taught us that Koreans are a short race, and playing basketball will make us taller

“There was a supermarket in Pyongyang, that was run by an Argentine businessman, and it was where the North Korean elite and resident foreigners shopped. For the rest of the population there are no shops. The rest survive on government rations, and on what little food they’re permitted to grow for themselves. A Scandinavian aid worker told us she couldn’t go outside the city without permission. The entire time we talked she spoke in a low voice, looked around often, and was very careful in her choice of words. While browsing the music section I saw four harmonica boxes. I asked the attendant if I could see one of the harmonicas. She opened the boxes one after another, but they were all empty. It felt like I’d punched another small hole in the façade.

When I moved back from NK to China, I felt such a sense of freedom simply from walking down the street. People were laughing, music boomed from nearby bars, girls wore short skirts and smiled. Never in my life did I expect China to feel like the land of freedom. But after going to NK, I thought China is the land of freedom. I just wanted to sit there all night just to soak it all in. Compared to Pyongyang, Beijing was a free land.