Kim Il-sung, who was the leader of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994, is technically still the leader of the country. He is referred to as ‘The Great Leader’ and holds the position of Eternal President of the Republic. His birthday is a national holiday, called the Day of the Sun, the country celebrated his 100th birthday in 2012. On the birthday of the current supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, all the children in the country get 1kg of sweets.
There are an estimated 34,000 statues of Kim Il Sung in North Korea - one for every 3.5km or one for every 750 people. The Great Leader’s epithets include Superior Person; Brilliant Leader; Unique Leader; Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have; Guiding Sun Ray; Shining Star of Paektu Mountain; Ever-Victorious, Iron-Willed Commander; Great Man, Who Descended From Heaven; Great Man, Who Is a Man of Deeds; and Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love.
Instead of Christmas, North Koreans celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong Il’s mother Kim Jong Suk.
There is a much-told story that when Kim Jong Il played his first ever round of golf he supposedly scored 11 holes in one. When British journalist Richard Shears visited North Korea and investigated the claim, he found that it was – of course – a myth, but also that it was a myth propagated by the western media, not by Pyongyang.
The claim originated when a Western journalist asked a club professional in Pyongyang whether Kim Jong-Il had ever played golf. The pro, under close scrutiny from security officials, claimed Kim was terribly good at golf and had scored five holes-in-one. After this was reported, the figure then got inflated to 11 holes in one, and further embellished by the claims that 17 armed bodyguards witnessed that he scored 38 under par, and that it was Kim's first ever round. But one North Korean propaganda expert said he'd never seen the claim from the country's propaganda machine and that golf was perceived as an upper-class sport, so even if Kim had played golf, the regime was unlikely to report the fact.
There is a species of begonia called Kimjongilia. It was bred specifically to adorn the tomb of the Dear Leader.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is ironically the world's most militarised area.
All of North Korea is a jail.
One of North Korea’s most successful exports is giant statues of African dictators. The Mansudae Art Studio Gallery has worked to make statues in Angola, Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo.
There’s a common theme: they like to depict dictators 'hailing a taxi'.
Fake US dollars made by North Korean counterfeiters are sometimes known as ‘superdollars’ due to their superb quality. Some experts say they were better than the originals, and it took sophisticated forensic analysis to confirm the bills as imitations.
Superb quality is also a feature of other North Korean contraband: its methamphetamine is supposed to be of extraordinarily high purity and its counterfeit Viagra is rumoured to exceed the bona fide product in its potency.
North Korea is almost entirely dark in satellite photos taken at night.
In a Pyongyang restaurant, don't ever ask for a doggie bag.
Lots of supposedly absurd North Korean propaganda may well be explained by translation problems. When it was reported that the 'sky grieved' when Kim Jong-Il died, we took it literally, but if Western media reported something similar, we'd assume it was a metaphor.
One North Korean TV show was called, ‘Let's Trim our Hair in Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle.' It promoted short haircuts, in case longer hair deprived the body of nutrients and damaged intelligence. Approved styles could be up to 5cm long and included ‘flat-top crew cut’, ‘middle hairstyle’, ‘low hairstyle’, and ‘high hairstyle’. Men over 50 could grow an extra 7cm to cover balding.
Questions in North Korean school textbooks include: ‘Eight boys and nine girls are singing anthems in praise of Kim Il-sung. How many children are singing in total?’ and ‘Three soldiers from the Korean People’s Army killed 30 American soldiers. How many American soldiers were killed by each of them if they all killed an equal number of enemy soldiers?’
There is a museum in North Korea called Museum of the Construction of the Museum of the Construction of the Metro.
In the 1990’s, all teachers in North Korea were required to play the accordion.
N. Korea produced a teacher’s manual about Kim Jong-un to be used in schools. It says he learned to drive when he was 3.
In Pyongyang you can visit Mini Pyongyang. It is a theme park that consists of scale models of Pyongyang’s monuments.
North Korea has the world's 4th largest army. 1.1 million out of a total population of 22 million.
Private cars are banned in North Korea. Any car is an official one.
North Korea had the largest decrease in carbon emissions in the world between 1990 and 2006.
Foreigners are not allowed to buy official North Korean newspapers.