You might not know a lot about North Korea, but that’s because no one does. Nicknamed “The Hermit Kingdom,” the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is one of the most secretive countries in the world today. Although it’s not technically a communist nation, it still operates under the strict and strange rule of Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-Il and grandson of Kim Jong-sung. The country is so closely controlled by this family, that their date is based on the birth of Kim Jong-sung. Since he was born 104 years ago, North Korea sees itself as 104 years old!
The country continually attempts to remain as secretive as possible, keeping the truth both from outsiders and the people that live within their walls. They use propaganda and control tactics to keep the population loyal and submissive. They use fear and punishment, limiting freedoms to the people so deserving of independence. They are extremely strict as to who is allowed to leave and who is allowed to visit. As a visitor, you’re often paired with a guide so as to ensure you won’t take bad photographs, spread the truth, or do any other funny business that might disrupt their rule over the people.
Thanks to some visitors smuggling memory cards full of strange pictures out of the country, we do have a select few rare photographs that North Korea certainly does not want you to see:
15. Child Labor Is Common
North Korea really doesn’t have a lot of friends outside its own country. Many countries put up embargoes against North Korea, including the U.S. This forces the country to be reliant on only the resources that they have within its borders. Because of this, many children are forced to work on fields and other areas where extra help is needed. These children aren’t even paid for the work that they’re doing! It’s not child labor, it’s child slavery. These kids are already robbed of having a normal childhood by the strict rules and regulations placed on their free will. They are then taken out of schools and put into fields to make up for the mistakes of the leaders past. Kids as young as five years old are seen working in the hot sun, carrying heavy materials, and forced into dangerous scenarios. Although nothing gruesome is happening in the photograph above, it’s still rather gruesome.
14. Grocery Store Shelves Sit Empty
Because of the little resources they have access to in the small country, many of the grocery store shelves, unfortunately, sit empty. There are only two grocery stores in the country’s capital, meaning this is one of the main stops for people to get their food . The country currently has over 20 million citizens, so looking at the stores in one of the largest cities and seeing empty shelves gives you an idea as to the crisis they are in. There’s nothing more than bruised fruit and plastic bags of something brown on the shelf. Those resources alone are not nearly enough to provide proper nutrition to the citizens. A photograph like this is something North Korea would never want you to see.
13. Work Conditions Are Unsafe
At your everyday job, especially if you work in the labor industry, it’s likely you violate some safety rules every day. They’re probably minor things like not wearing a hat, pair of goggles, or a pair of gloves when you should. It’s not a big deal to you, but because of our rules in place to protect workers and other people that could be harmed from the carelessness, it can be a big deal. The photograph above shows the lack of safety regulations put in place in North Korea and just how dangerous the labor the men are forced to do can be. There’s nothing more than a system of ropes to help keep the men safe from falling. Although he is not far from the ground, you can assume that climbing the rope is the normal way to do things when you have to fix the side of a building. Not to mention none of these construction workers are wearing helmets.
The image above is taken in a local restaurant where the TV plays a loop of various propaganda. This usually includes documentaries about past leaders, only painting them as the heroes they’d like to be perceived as. There are only three stations in all of North Korea, and only two of them play on the weekends! Next time you complain about not finding anything to watch on Netflix, just remember that in North Korea, there’s literally nothing but propaganda on TV. The danger in this is that these people aren’t given the truth and realities of the situation they’re living in. Imagine having to constantly watch documentaries about how great Donald Trump is. Some might already do that, but even the biggest Trump supporters would have to grow tired of the same images over and over again. Being forced to repeatedly watch the same thing can be incredibly damaging to one’s psyche.
11. Many People Live In Poverty
The image above shows a woman being forced to sell candy and cigarettes in order to feed her family. North Korea would certainly not like you to see a photograph like this, as they would like outsiders to believe they are a wealthy and successful country. Unfortunately, the average income for a person living in North Korea is $1,500. For some of us, that amount would be hard to even live off of even for a month depending on where you live. If that was your income for the year, it’s likely you would be homeless or living on someone’s couch! That comes down to about $30 a week, which is almost impossible to buy groceries for a week as a single person! Imagine having a family of four or more and trying to use that small amount to survive. Unfortunately, that is the everyday life for many of the 20 million people living in North Korea.
10. They Are Forced To Eat Grass
Because of the empty pockets and empty grocery shelves in North Korea, some residents are forced to find food in the environment around them. For many, this means lots and lots of grass in their diet. If you have a dog or cat, you know how much they love to eat grass. A lot of the time, however, they end up throwing it up! That’s because the grass is not food! Sure, it’s plentiful and green, but there’s very little nutritional value behind grass and some of it is even hard to digest. The worst part about a grass diet? Because of the scarce resources in the country, much of the plant life is fertilized with human feces that civilians were forced to collect and give to the government. We use cow poop to grow our crops here, but I’m sure many people would feel very uncomfortable knowing their food only grew because of their neighbor’s poop.
9. Not Everyone Is Poor
Of course, not everyone in North Korea is poor. The picture above is a secret photo taken of one of North Korea’s few elites. She’s wearing a very lavish gown and her tiny cart is full of groceries. Snapping a picture of an elite’s house or cars is almost impossible, so this photograph alone is a pretty rare sight. Compared to the last man who was scavenging for grass, there’s a pretty startling contrast. The divide between the wealthy and the poor is very strong in North Korea. Apparently, in one year, Kim Jong-Il, the father of Kim Jong-Un, spent over $100,000 alone on Cognac!
8. They Have Computers – But No Electricity
When visiting North Korea, the guides are excited to show you that they do in fact have computers and they have a lot of them. The reality is, they don’t have the electricity or power to actually operate them. Computers sit lifeless on shelves all around the country, but they’re still proud of the fact that they have them in the first place. Of course, a country like this would never allow their citizens to have such close access to the internet, as they’d easily be able to dispute much of their leader’s claims! If our government leaders took away the internet from us now, it’d be much more difficult to gain information against them, communicate with others about issues, and express our own thoughts on the issues that surround our country.
7. Soldiers Shouldn’t Be Seen Relaxing – Or Photographed At All
A photograph like this would certainly anger the leaders of North Korea. The soldiers are to never be photographed at all, but especially if they were seen relaxing like this! There is absolutely nothing wrong with a photograph like this. Many people in our country see soldiers as heroes and would certainly praise a photograph of someone catching a much-needed break. Of course, sleeping on duty is never appropriate, however, many of the soldiers in North Korea are forced to patrol empty areas for long hours, so taking a break is harmless. The leaders of North Korea might think that a photograph like this gives a hint that their army is not strong, however, not allowing your soldiers to take breaks is what really makes a weak army.
6. The Line For The Bus, Which Isn’t Always Reliable
North Korea has few cars in the country, partially due to their limited trade as well as their desire to maintain a better control over the people. With a population of over 24 million people, they have barely a million cars! Of course, not having a car is normal for many areas, and is better for the environment if you live in a big city. However, the gap between the number of cars and people is absolutely insane! Because of the lack of cars, many people are forced to take the bus. However, the buses often break down and are unreliable and dangerous. Relying on the bus to go to and from work, especially in a long line like this, makes it harder for people to have free time. The time they could be spending with their families is instead spent on waiting in an extremely long line for the bus.
5. The Subway Station Doubles As A Bomb Shelter And Should Never Be Photographed
After the photographer of this image snapped the pic, they were asked to delete it because it showed the subway station. The subway station doubles as a bomb shelter, and sharing that information is something that the leaders of North Korea believe to be a large threat. There aren’t any hidden secrets or codes in the station, and it isn’t even especially guarded against the public, as it’s literally a station for public transportation. If the North Korean government was really that concerned about protecting their people, they’d probably want a more secretive bomb shelter, don’t you think? Although the cost of a subway ride is less than a U.S. dollar, it’s still not even the most common form of transportation. Although not much is seen in the picture, the subway station reportedly also plays more propaganda to the commuters every day.
4. Cars Are Scarce So Children Play In The Streets
As we’ve already mentioned, North Korea doesn’t even have close to a million cars compared to its 20 million plus population. Most of those cars are also owned by the military! Because of this, many of the streets remain empty with very few cars traveling on them. In the photograph above, you can see two children literally playing in the street. The parents either aren’t around or aren’t concerned that their children are exposed to potentially fast cars. It may not seem like a big deal to them now, but in the future, there’s a chance more North Koreans will have more access to cars, and the empty street imagery will be a thing of the past. The drivers may be used to kids playing on the street and have the ability to look out, but what if a child ran out at the wrong moment?
3. Some Soldiers Are Forced To Hitchhike
Imagine driving down the street one day and seeing a hitchhiker, it’s not that common but it happens. Many of us keep driving, not knowing the true intentions or dangerous past of the stranger asking to come into our car. But would you stop if that person begging for a ride was a soldier of your military? Potentially that’s still a yes, as you really can’t trust anyone on the side of the street, but it’d certainly be a lot harder for many people to say no to someone in the military. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common sight for many people in North Korea. The leaders of North Korea would certainly be embarrassed to find out you’re looking at the photograph of one of their soldiers begging for a ride. They think allowing their soldiers to nap is a sign of weakness, but how is a lack of adequate transportation not?
2. They Claim It’s Our Fault They Don’t Have Electricity
Power outages are a very common occurrence in North Korea. Supposedly when the power goes out, North Korean leaders blame it on the fact that the U.S. has a trade embargo with their country. The best way to create a loyal member of a society and make them hate the enemy is to literally blame all your problems on the enemy. Even if we did trade with North Korea, whether or not they had common power outages would certainly not be our problem! Power outages are common everywhere, but mostly due to weather or some other problems. They are not a daily occurrence, however. The fact that they can’t even keep the lights on in a public place like the art gallery above really shows that North Korea is close to being a dystopia. Electricity isn’t the only problem, as plumbing issues are just as, if not more, common.
1. It’s Overall A Really Depressing Place
North Koreans are normal people like you and me who unfortunately were born in a less free society than us. In our country, we certainly don’t have all the freedoms and basic human rights that we should, but the fact that we’re even allowed to post lists like this shows that we still have some much deserved independence. The leaders of North Korea would not like you to see this photograph for several reasons. It shows their military, which is certainly off limits. It also shows that only soldiers and the elite are allowed into many fun attractions. North Koreans are still allowed to create and enjoy art, but it’s much stricter as to what the content of the attractions and hobbies are. These photographs show the truth behind a country that hides behind propaganda and using strict rules and fear to keep ruling over their citizens.
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