Scary rhetoric is regularly exchanged between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump. Between threats of “Fire and Fury’ and regular ballistic missile tests, lie the lives of 24 million North Koreans; all with families, friends and loved ones.
Life in North Korea is about schedule and following the law, or perhaps, not getting caught if if you don’t. Power is off-and-on at best, and food is becoming increasingly scarce. People go to work and school and return to their homes immediately after. Pyongyang can be described as a ghost city.
They are taught since birth to worship the socialist lifestyle, and of course, their leaders, the Kim family. Even as the rest of Pyongyang lives in the dark, portraits of the family are sure to be lit.
It has become increasingly accepted for North Korean women to wear minimal makeup imported from China. Many North Korean women wish to cover the blotched skin that is caused a deteriorating national diet. Makeup is allowed, but hair must always be tied.
A necessary accessory each citizen must also have is their Kim-Il Sung badge. This is the only valuable North Koreans generally carry on their person, so the badges are popular among pickpockets.
As far as shopping, shortages are causing essential items such as salt, clothes and soap to sell out quickly. People get by on what they have.
People commute to work partly by car, partly by bike, and mostly by walking. Most cars belong to state organizations and bikes take months of saving to buy. Those with enough money are proud owners of second hand Japanese bikes.
Before leaving the workplace, it is mandatory to attend a Community and Learning Session, in which attendees will reflect on their work and anticipate the work to come. People can use this time to accuse their colleagues of misdemeanors from being late to work to wasting national resources.
After work and school, people watch smuggled South Korean and Hollywood movies, knowing fully the extent of that crime. This, according to Sokeel Park, the director of Liberty In North Korea, has created a generation of young Koreans that can almost be described as the millennials of North Korea. They grew up without full indoctrination to the regime’s ideals, and they are the reason that recent government projects have had limited success. Some of them have even escaped and told the outside world what life in North Korea is like.
Movies in North Korea are evolving from gruesome tales about the bad fates of Americans to love stories. Beyond Joy and Sorrow included North Korean cinema’s first on-screen kiss, and the movie was a huge hit.
Teenagers in North Korea enjoy similar pastimes as some western teenagers. Jimmin Kang, who grew up in North Korea, described how there was one arcade, one bowling alley, and one ice-skating rink in Pyongyang. He would go there to escape the heat or the cold, because the use of air conditioning in a home during a scheduled black out would result in being sent to an infamous labor camp. He would use American currency that he gained from the black market for entry.
Kang lived in a city, but for 14 days each year, he was forced to go to a village and farm for 12-14 hours each day. He did everything by hand. And one year after his mother escaped, he did too. He and his sister were caught six times on the way to China, and each time they bribed their way out with money they earned by selling appliances on the black market. Kang has had no communication with his father or his girlfriend since.
These people don’t live in a real-life version of 1984. They do, however, live under the unfaltering gaze of Kim Jong Un. Nevertheless, they exercise their humanity. They live, they feel, they love. They are humans who want the brightest future for themselves, their family and their friends. They are not pawns in a war of words. They are not faceless entities that live obediently under their leader. They are individuals with a plethora of opinions and values.
They are worth valuing and saving.
Featured Image: Business Insider: “A photographer captured these dismal photos of life in North Korea on his phone”