In all the world, the day-to-day existence of a North Korean commoner is unique. The totalitarian dictatorship leads the league in human rights abuses. Healthcare is a luxury, famine has killed millions, and the feisty, little man at the center of the government is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous people on the planet. Of course, for all the horror that the world believes is going on in North Korea, there’s still so little we know for sure thanks to a relentless stream of propaganda coming from the country that insists everything is just fine. Of course, anyone with half a brain knows that isn’t the case, but evidence of that fact is rare. Over the course of the last several decades, some intrepid photographers have risked life and limb to smuggle honest pictures of North Korean life. Here, for your consideration, are some of the best photos along with some facts about one of the most brutal regimes on planet Earth.
1. North Korea Is About the Size of Pennsylvania
And it’s capital city, Pyongyang, has about as many residents as Chicago.
2. North Koreans Can Defect, For a Price
That price is $8,000 US, a laughably unattainable sum to most North Koreans.
3. North Korea Is on its Own Time Zone
It’s called Pyongyang Time after the North Korean capital and it runs about 30 minutes behind South Korea.
4. North Korea Claims to Have a 100 Percent Literacy Rate
Take that for what you will, though.
5. Bill Gates Is Worth Five Times More than NK’s Average Gross Domestic Product
The country earns about $16 billion a year. The Microsoft founder is worth about $84 billion.
6. There Are About 16,000 Miles of Road in North Korea, But Only About 450 Miles of It Are Paved
7. They Were Noted As the Most Corrupt Nation in the World
Technically, they tied with Somalia, but still …
8. On Average, North Koreans Born Since World War II Are About Two Inches Shorter Than Their South Korean Counterparts
This is due to the drastic difference in healthcare and nutrition in either country.
9. Only About 20 Percent of North Korea Has Workable Farm Land
10. Weed Is Legal in North Korea
Because it’s hard to revolt when your short-term memory is totally shot.
11. Adult Men in North Korea are Forced to Copy Kim Jong Un’s Unique Hairstyle
And women are encouraged to mimic Un’s wife.
12. In North Korea, It’s the Year 104
The calendar is based around April 15, 1912, the supposed birth date of Kim Il-Sung, North Korea’s first and least insane despot.
13. There Are Almost Zero Working Traffic Lights
Which means there are A LOT of traffic cops standing around.
14. At Night There Are Almost Zero Working Electric Lights Outside Pyongyang
15. The Average Resident of the United States Makes About $50,000 … That’s About 25 Times the Average Income of a North Korean Resident
16. Kim Jong Un Has Formed His Own State-Sponsored Girl Group, the Moranbong Band
Yeah, they’re exactly as weird as you think they are.
17. North Korea Punishes Its Criminals for Three Generations
When someone gets sent to a work camp, their entire family for three generations — their grandparents, parents, and children — are also sent along with them.
18. North Korea Has Set Up an Entire Fake Village to Give the Impression of Internal Prosperity
It’s called Kijong-dong, or “Peace Village” and it was built after the end of the Korean War right in the eye line of South Korean troops. According to the South Koreans — and in spite of North Korean reports of prosperity in the village — Kijong-dong is a complete sham. There is no glass in the windows and the lights operate on an automatic timer.
19. Like a Lot of Dictatorships, North Korea Likes to Hold Sham Elections Every 5 Years
The ballots only have one option on them.
20. They May Not Have Tons of Electricity, But North Korea Still Has Three Amusement Parks
Or “People’s Pleasure Grounds.” They’re mostly empty because no one can afford to actually go there. One Vice reporter actually said the park’s owners called in a bus of people who were ordered to populate the park and “look like they were having A+ fun.”
21. Visiting Kim Jong-il’s Body Is the Most Popular Thing to do in the Entire Country
It’s probably free.
22. North Korea Is Home to the World’s Largest Stadium, The Rungnado May Day Stadium Which Has More than 150,000 Seats
23. North Korea TV Only Has 3 Channels, Two of Which Are Only Available on the Weekend
In spite of the fact that Kim Jong-un has a reputation for loving Western Culture, his people are only fed a little bit of propaganda. That’s why the residents are known for smuggling in South Korean soap operas — so they’ll have something to watch.
24. Kim Jong-il Kidnapped a South Korean Director to Make NK Propaganda Films
His name was Shin Sang-ok, one of the most famous directors in the South Korean film scene. In 1978, he along with his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, were kidnapped and forced to make films over a seven-year period before they managed to escape.