*A factoid is a questionable or spurious—unverified, incorrect, or fabricated—statement presented as a fact, but with no veracity.
(Long post ahead!). North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il’s funeral was Wednesday. Regarded as one of the few Stalinist regimes persisting into the post-Cold War era, North Korea—along with its culture, history, and society, and the daily lives of its residents—is hidden behind iron curtains even in today’s information age. One official picture (first one below) turned out to have been Photoshopped – to make people milling around in the white snow section on the left disappear by adding ‘snow’ over them.
But more information from North Korea is emerging. Further down are pictures I took a few weeks ago from NHK World’s TV coverage when Kim Jong Il died, as well as some culled from the web. The map picture shows the major roads in the country, even though private car ownership is almost non-existent. (You use the bus or a train to get around). What about flying? Well, North Korea’s sole airline, Air Koryo, currently has scheduled flights from Beijing, which depart at 11:30AM every Tuesday and Saturday, and return from Pyongyang at 9AM on the same days. Air Koryo is the only 1-star (worst) airline on Skytrax’s list. (Yes, you can fly in on this airline – but only as part of an official tour group. Another option is to go check out the jointly controlled truce village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas, which has regular one-day bus tours from Seoul). The airline does operate internal flights as well.
Where does the flag (next picture) come from? It came into being in 1948 when the country was founded as a result of the post-colonial settlement handed down by the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR). The Korean War between the north and South Korea of 1950-1953 in which some 54,000 US personnel were killed is sometime called The Forgotten War (from the US perspective). And today I learned that M*A*S*H (popular 70s-80s TV series) stands for 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, South Korea, so it depicts the Korean War and NOT the Vietnam War.
Food? Frequent food shortages. Basic food is rationed, while one can buy canned meat or a small amount of vegetables either from a store or farmers’ market. The local specialty liquor is insam-ju, Korean vodka infused with ginseng roots. Spicy food seems to be is short supply; there is no kimchee (spicy cabbage, found everywhere in South Korea, as in the picture I took at a shop at Seoul’s international airport). No candies or sweets for children.
Language? They speak Korean, much the same as in South Korea. From Wikipedia (I will have to research what the heck this means) ‘The genealogical classification of the Korean language is debated by a number of historical linguists. Most classify it as a language isolate while a few consider it to be in the Altaic language family. The Korean language is agglutinative in its morphology and SOV in its syntax’. Ooh, sounds complicated. I love it !
Cell phones? There has been cell phone service since 2008 and reportedly 60% of Pyongyang residents and many ordinary citizens now have phones. (And some even have iPhones). An Egyptian company was contracted to help build out the infrastructure.
Defections. I think the last picture I snapped from NHK TV shows the latest defectors in 2011 that were found by the Japan Coast Guard – a wooden boat carrying nine people, three men, three women and three boys. The group had been sailing for five days towards South Korea but drifted towards the Noto Peninsula. The first famous defection occurred shortly after the signing of the armistice ending the Korean War, on September 21, 1953, when then 21-year-old No Kum-Sok, a senior lieutenant in the North Korean air force, flew his MiG-15 to the South. No was awarded the then immense sum of $100,000 and the right to reside in the United States.