Jeans, Man Buns, and Other Things You'd Miss If You Lived in North Korea
Closed off from the world, the oppression within the borders of North Korea has been uncovered little by little by extensive research and by defectors who have managed to escape the regime.
Apart from the tentative number of killings recorded in “Mapping Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea,” human rights are continually violated under the Kim regime as citizens continue to live in conditions of scarcity. Some tourists who have dared travel to the North recount how they were followed around during their entire visit.
While the enigmatic country has enticed certain travelers to visit, the majority of the world will continue to remain relatively clueless about what goes on in Kim Jong-Un’s land, where weapons are aplenty. Certain illegal actions or objects brought into the rogue nation could spell remarkable trouble for both natives and visitors.
Early on, the first president and founder of North Korea Kim Il Sung established an official policy of “self-reliance,” cutting North Korea off from any diplomatic or financial need from the world. Communication is very closely monitored and much of it is restricted. Inhabitants are fed news from state-controlled programming. Korean Central Television (KCTV) usually begins with news at 3 p.m., reporting on the leadership’s latest developments. Documentaries and films are aired repeatedly, while the regular news airs at 5, 8, and 10 p.m. for no more than 20 minutes, The Guardian reports. All other programs—dramas, music shows, and even songs—must be cleared by the government. Laden with the regime’s ideologies, these programs are duly planned and their plots revolve around the regime.
Likewise, transportation in North Korea is at a bare minimum. With a lack of paved roads and a shortage of petroleum fuel, it makes little sense for the typical North Korean to own a car. On large highways, the senior government and military officials take the far left lane while everyone else takes the far right and are restricted to driving 24 miles per hour. While it is legal for citizens to own cars, the government has made it extremely difficult to become a car owner. Cars must be registered as property of national organizations and owners must pay fees to the enterprise they are registering them with, plus pay a monthly fee to the security department. For those who cannot afford the fees, trains, subways, and buses make an easier commute. If you prefer to fly, airlines Air Koryo and Air China offer flights to Pyongyang.
In North Korea, even your own individual identity has restrictions. Men are given only 28 hairstyle options that must be no longer than 2 inches long, while single women must keep their hair short, according to Fox News. For clothing, women caught sporting trousers may face serious labor punishments or fines. Other banned clothing items include jeans and piercings, which the government imposed to keep capitalism from spreading among the people.
Owning a bible also warrants an arrest, as American and devout Christian Jeffrey Fowle learned when he tried to smuggle one into the country a few years ago and was caught leaving it under a trash can in the men’s room. Luckily, he was released about six months later. Named “the Globe’s Number One Religious Persecutor” by Forbes, the regime labels anyone loyal to a religious faith as an enemy. Thus, Christians must hide any evidence of their faith to avoid arrest or persecution at a prison or labor camp.
Instead, people must serve the leaders of North Korea. Kim Il-sung is called “The Great Leader,” his son, Kim Jong-Il, “The Dear Leader,” and finally, Kim Jong-un, “The Marshal.” Tourists and natives alike must show reverence to this trio, and respect them by presenting flowers to their statues, which are quite a number. There are 34,000 statues of Kim Il-sung alone that people must bow to around the country.
While the ban on mobile phones has loosened, phones and cameras must all be confiscated at the border and inspected to ensure “anti-state” material has not been documented. GPS trackers, satellite phones, and cameras with lenses longer than 150mm are not allowed. And the internet? The average North Korean has no clue it exists and what it can do. A North Korean student who traveled to Sydney to take part in a 30-week English course shares that while they were allowed to use computers, “there was a PC room but there was no internet.”
Leaving the country is also prohibited without any proper excuse, such as representing the country in sports, pursuing studies, or going on diplomatic missions. Still, a number of people who have managed to defect have told the world that beneath the leadership of the regime is a group of innocent people who have nothing but who treat each other kindly. Defectors have told The Guardian that despite the oppression of individuality, they miss the kindness of friends and neighbors. Nayoung Koh, who left North Korea in 2009, says she misses her friendships and “the innocent people in North Korea. Although we were poor, we were all friends with our neighbors and we all were very close in North Korea.” A military man, Jimin Kang, who defected 12 years ago says, “In North Korea, everything is done by hand. I sometimes miss this old-fashioned charm. Sometimes I think that I have become quite lazy because I have everything I need here.”