My observations of North Korea
Entirely rebuilt from the devastation of the bombs in the Korean war, Pyongyang is a city of
wide boulevards, many large imposing buildings and monuments (many were built to
compete with the rest of the world), futuristic buildings and pastel coloured apartment blocks
that look rather ‘tired’. There are many large poster sites with pictures of the Eternal President,
Kim Il Sung and his son, the Eternal Chairman and General Secretary of the People’s Working
Party, Kim Jong Il.
The streets are exceptionally clean which may be a result of disipline and the number of police
and military around. The pavements had very few people, but those that were there seemed
to be striding along purposefully. The photo of the pavement below was taken at 9am.
The roads are wide with little traffic and on my trip to the mountains the road was three lanes
in each direction and, standing still for a few moments, I saw only 4 cars.
All North Korean’s have free living accommodation, free education and free health care. They
don’t pay any taxes. They can ask to live in an area where they work. I asked where all the
money came from for the government to pay for this but my guides didn’t know or wouldn’t
give an opinion.
I asked several times about the average salary of a worker but
never got an answer. I was told that, if a sportsperson wins a
gold medal, he is given a house and car. Whether he/she can
afford to maintain it and pay for petrol is a different matter!
I asked where Kim Jong Un lives – the reply was “in all of our
houses and in our hearts. He has given many houses and things
I asked where he actually resides himself – the reply was “I don’t
know. No-one knows”.
Tourists are not allowed to possess the local Won currency. They can use EUR, CNY or US$.
The preferred is the Euro. I asked to see some of the local money and was discretely shown a
single note. I asked to see more notes but was not shown – either the guide was reluctant to
show me or he didn’t have any. At the time of my visit the exchange rates were:
1 CNY = 130 KPW (Korean People’s Won) / 1 EUR = 1007 KPW / 1 GBP = 1142 KPW
I asked to go to a local supermarket to buy some large bottles of water as I don’t like to buy
the small single-use 500ml bottles, which are bad for the environment. The request was
denied and I was told to buy small bottles in the restaurants or hotel.
I asked how the citizens felt about the money being spent on the missiles and the reply was –
“We don’t have any missiles, only guns - and all testing is now complete”. I said no more on
the subject but wondered if they saw TV coverage of the parades in Kim Il Sung Square. During
Kim Jong Un’s seven years of rule, he has conducted six big parades, introducing a series of
ballistic missiles that he eventually test-launched in defiance of United Nations resolutions.
There are 2 types of Farms – State and Co-operative. State farmers are paid a small salary
whilst co-operative farmers are paid in rice that they can eat or sell. The rice payment is
according to the number of accumulated hours worked. Every province has 10 co-operative
farms. State farms have more machines.
The main crops are rice – planted in May/June, barley – planted in March, cotton and potatoes
that are grown in the mountain areas.
Relations with the Americans
The North Koreans are very anti the Japanese (due to 40 years of occupation) but also have a
great hatred of the Americans. My guides told me that the Americans had invaded North
Korea and that’s what started the Korean war, which is a different version to that known
The government has actively portrayed the United States as an aggressive invader, willing to
brutally murder every man, woman, and child in North Korea. Research says “After North
Korea invaded South Korea, the Americans dropped tons of explosives on North Korea. The
leader Kim Il-sung realized that fear of this barrage of American firepower had quickly become
a major factor in his citizen's lives and decided to use it as a propaganda tool against the
United States and to support his regime. His government concocted a vision of the Americans
as blood-thirsty murderers hell bent on carrying out the genocide of the North Korean people.
To extend and exacerbate this fear, the North
Korean government created the Sinchon
Museum of American War Atrocities to
commemorate a ‘claimed’ massacre of North
Korean citizens by American troops. Though
there is no evidence to support their assertion
of American war crimes in the area, the North
Korean propaganda in the museum depicts
Americans torturing and killing thousands of Korean civilians.”
Ironically, it was the US and Japan who contributed most of the imported food to North Korea
after the famine. In 2001 the US contribution was close to 300,000 tons. Japan was the largest
donor through the World Food Programme with 500,000 tons of rice and the Republic of
Korea donated 100,000 tons.
Currently Americans are banned by President Trump for visiting North Korea, which is,
perhaps, to their benefit.
The Juche Idea
Juche meaning "self-reliance" is the
official state ideology of North
Korea, described by the
government as "Kim Il-sung's
original, brilliant and revolutionary
contribution to national and
international thought". The Juche
idea means that man is the master
of his own destiny and encourages
the Korean masses to act as the
"masters of the revolution and
construction" and that by becoming
self-reliant and strong, a nation can
achieve true socialism.
It became the state ideology and
sole guiding principle of the
government following the rise of a
one-party communist state in the
country following World War II.
According to the Juche ideology, it is
through subordination to a great
leader that the masses can achieve
self-reliance. The Kim family stands
at the center of this.
Officially the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea (DPRK), it shares
land borders with China, Russia and
South Korea (along the DMZ).
UN figures estimate over 25 million
people and I was told that 3 million
live in Pyongyang. and that there
are 9 provinces and 200 counties.
80% of the land is mountainous
with the highest peak, Mount
Paektu, the most sacred mountain,
I was told that North Kores was rich
in gold and silver. However, I have
since researched that:
• It has the 22nd largest coal
reserves in the world and is the
leading exporter of anthracite.
• It’s the 18th largest producer of
iron in the world.
• They produce about 80 million
tons of limestone per year almost
completely from local production.
About 75% of the limestone
produced is locally consumed in
cement production and 14% in the
manufacturing of steel products
and the rest is used in the milling
• It’s one of the leading producers
of zinc in the world. The country has
a capacity to produce 400,000
metric tons of nonferrous metals.
Of that amount, 77% is accounted
for by zinc and the rest by lead.
• There is a significant amount of
magnesite resource. Daeheung
Mine is thought to be the largest
magnesite mine in the world.
• North Korea is estimated to hold
2,000 metric tons of gold reserves,
valued at $87 billion. The Daebong
Mine produces over 150 kilograms
of gold annually.
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