Ten surprising things you may not know about North Korea


It’s currently the year 106, the roads are empty and there are only four TV channels — welcome to North Korea.


While there’s plenty of controversial hoo-ha to discuss and widespread structural violence and famine to address — here are 10 weird and surprising facts about one of the world’s most culturally isolated countries.


1. The country uses its own calendar — It’s currently the year 106

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Image: (stephan)

Rather than basing time on Jesus, from 1997 North Korea adopted the Juche Calendar, which is based on the birth of Kim Il-sung (April 15, 1912).

So it’s currently the year 106.


2. North Korea is not a communist country

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Image: Driver Photographer

The country is technically a ‘democracy’ and holds polls every five years.

There’s a small Catch 22there is only one name on the ballot


3. There are only four TV channels

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Image: Thomas M Rosner

As of late 2015, there are now four television channels in North Korea (an upgrade from the previously three).

All are state-owned and centrally run to control the content reaching North Korean citizens — there is a news channel, two educational channels and the newly introduced sports channel.


4. The country boasts stunning female traffic police, with almost no working traffic lights and empty highways

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Image: John Cant

The road system in North Korea is rather unusual — there are almost no working traffic lights.

Instead the country boasts an army of smartly dressed, good looking female traffic cops (believed to be handpicked by dictator Kim Jong-un), who stand in the centre of intersections and provide directions to the occasional vehicle.

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Image: Taver

Public transportation connecting the main towns is nearly non-existent as citizens need permits to go from one place to another even within the country. Therefore, roads are practically empty.

Children and groups of people regularly play and have picnics in the middle of the roads — they are so quiet.


5. There is a resource shortage — Reports say human faeces is used as fertiliser

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Image: United Nations

While it sounds like a satirical news headline, apparently it’s true — due to lack of fertilising resources and a South Korea chemical embargo, Kim Jong-Un has introduced a brutal regime.

Workers and schools have quotas to fill when it comes to the production of human waste — reports were released saying neighbours try and steal each other’s waste in order to sell it off for themselves.


6. Marijuana is …legal?

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Image: Kynan Tait

While the lack of sources available to the outside world makes this difficult to confirm, according to multiple reports from defectors, visitors and experts, cannabis is effectively legal/at least tolerated in the country/has a law that is largely unenforced.


7. The country’s conventional military forces are weak

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Image: Stefan Krasowki

North Korea’s percentage of active military personnel and reserves in terms of its population is very high.

But while its global military rep is renowned, its military power actually lacks in comparison to countries like the US.

The 1980s saw North Korea as a strong military force, but their equipment now is mostly the same as they had back then — the country is now outclassed by other nations’ military resources (they have over 4,000 tanks but some are still from WW2 days).

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is the main thing deterring South Korea and the US from any serious first-strike.


8. There’s a nationwide crackdown on Western culture — No jeans or piercings

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Image: (stephan)

In a fight against the Western world — its culture and fashion, Kim Jong-Un has reportedly told citizens they are not allowed to don piercings or Western clothing, including jeans. 

While the ban is a nationwide crackdown on citizens it focuses primarily on the North Hamgyong province and Yanggang province bordering China.

Rimjin-gang, a North Korean news website supported by AsiaPress, reported groups of youths loyal to Kim Jong-Un have formed ‘inspection units’ to target supposed capitalist tendencies such as length of skirts, the shape of shoes, other clothes, and hairstyles.


9. North Korea is home to the world’s largest stadium

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Image: (stephan)

The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which was completed in 1989.

It’s total capacity of 114,000 makes it the largest stadium in the world.


10. Almost nobody from South Korea moves to the North

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Image: M Roach

Almost 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea, whereas only a handful of South Koreans have gone to the North.


Featured Image: Jen Morgan


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