Capital | Pyongyang
Population | 24,457,492 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 120,540 SQ KM
Official Language | Korean
Holidays | Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)
Currency | Won (KPW)
Time Zone | UTC +9
Best Time to Visit | May, for May Day and the Arirang Mass Games
Connecting with the Culture | Feeling the full force of North-South tension along the Demilitarized Zone at Panmujeom. Taking in pristine mountain views in the stunning resort of Kumgangsan. Walking (with minders) amid Pyongyang’s architectural wealth, and grabbing a few solo moments shopping in Department Store No 1. Revisiting the past at the ancient Korean capital of Kaesong. Exploring the far north and Korea’s highest peak and holy mountain Paekdusan.
Read | widely—there’s not a lot of factual material in print or on the web, and people are rarely ambivalent about North Korea.
Listen | to the beat of the marching feet of the world’s fifth largest army.
Watch | Forever in Our Memory, a 1999 film that deals with the starvation of up to three million North Koreans during the 1990’s.
Eat | bibim naengmyeon (cold noodles), or the Korean menu on an tour.
Drink | soju (rice wine) or nokcha (green tea)
In a Word | Juche (self-reliance)
Characteristics | The Great Leader (the late Kim II Sung) and his son, The Dear Leader (Kim II Jung, AKA The Great Leader; Confused? So are we.); cult of personality; the 38th parallel; Cold War 21st century style; kidnapping, nuclear tests, rapprochement, border tension.
Surprises | There’s an Internet café (just one); the current Great Leader has only uttered six words in public (‘Glory to the people’s heroic military’), and is said to own 20,000 movies
NEWS ABOUT NORTH KOREA:
Fighting words: North Korea Threatens South Korea
(HN, 4/18/12) - North Korea threatens South Korea with `Special Military Action', escalating the war of words between the 2. Pyongyang is now threatening “quick action” against its neighbor who last week after N. Korea's failed missile launch, unveiled a missile of its own saying its capable of quickly striking any target in the North. On Monday afternoon KCNA, the state news agency interupted regular programming reading a not so normal announcement saying a `special operation' would reduce to “ashes in 3 or 4 minutes” the supporters of South Korea's president using "unprecedented peculiar means & methods.” Pyongyang blames President Lee for insulting the North as the country was mourning its late leader, Kim Jong Il, who died in December. North Korea often uses aggressive language in its dictums. But some analysts say the latest message may could preclude some sort of attack; tho there seems to be no suggestion of a mobilization of North Korea's military. Since 1953 when an armistice was signed ending 3 years of devastating warfare. The 2 Koreas have never signed a peace treaty, have no diplomatic relations & exist with 50,000 US troops between them. (Read more at KCNA)
After Failed Rocket Launch, North Korea Puts on Fireworks Display, Mass Dance Party
(Video Ria Novosti)
(HN, 4/10/12) - Following North Korea's failed rocket launch thousands staged a mass dance party & watched a grand fireworks display that drew a storm of applause from spectators on the streets of Pyongyang. The fireworks concluded the "Day of the Sun" - North Korea's highest holiday celebrating the birth of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung who died in 1994 after giving power to his son Kim Jong-Il, who suffered a fatal heart attack last December & who then gave his own son Kim Jong-Un power over the impoverished but nuclear-armed nation. The dance started with "My Homeland", a tune supposedly composed by Kim Il-Sung himself.
Other songs touted the virtues of Vinalon, a domestically-made synthetic textile, as an example of the regime's juche (self-reliance) philosophy; & another number sang the praises of Computer Numerical Control, the subject of a propaganda drive to boost industrial production & revive the ailing economy. "Let's be at the cutting edge of modern technology!" it implored. Most songs - "Hurrah for Generalissimo Kim Il-Sung" & "Safeguard Supreme Commander Kim Jong-Un with our Lives" - focused on the Kim dynasty, whose members are said to have near-supernatural powers in official propaganda. Other celebratory performances were in the centre of the square featured young women in colorful leotards on roller skates, jugglers, & acrobats on seesaws. On Sunday the square was the venue for a military parade featuring thousands of troops & some 880 pieces of weaponry. (Read more at Times of India)
North Korea Prepares to Flex Muscles
(HN, 4/6/12) - North Korea appears to be preparing for a 3rd nuclear test after its controversial rocket launch of a 30-meter high Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station situated in Cholsan County of North Phyongan Province & what the country says is a weather satellite for the nation's `economic development' scheduled for later this month between April 12th & 16th to mark the100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, North Korea's founder, which falls on April 15th. South Korea intelligence officials said new images showed piles of earth & sand at the entrance of a new tunnel at the Punggye-ri site, where 2 nuclear blasts were previously conducted in 2006 & 2009. Pyongyang insists the planned rocket launch is intended to put the country's "technology of space use for peaceful purposes on a higher stage."
Nevertheless, the US & its allies view the satellite launch as an excuse for testing a missile & Japan & South Korea have already threatened to shoot down the rocket if it violated their air space. Earlier Monday, North Korea brought foreign news agencies to Sohae Satellite Station, ignoring international concerns & warnings. The US has since suspended delivery of planned food aid to North Korea, warning the potential rocket launch will be in direct violation of UN resolutions that prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology stemming from 2005 & 2009 agreements of the 6-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia & Japan. Some airlines plan to change flight paths to avoid the rocket should it be launched. Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines, & All Nippon Airways are changing routes connecting Tokyo to Manila, Jakarta & Singapore, & the US to Seoul.
US suspends food aid to North Korea over announced rocket launch
(HN, 3/26/12) - The US has suspended food aid to North Korea, as Pyongyang refuses to cancel its scheduled rocket launch. North Korea says it has nothing to do with nuclear tests; instead the launch's purposes are absolutely peaceful, as the rocket will just take a weather satellite into orbit for scientific purposes. "This planned launch is highly provocative because it manifests North Korea's desire to test & expand its long-range missile capability," said Peter Lavoy, Acting US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs. According to the agreement signed by the 2 countries in February, the US provides food aid to North Korea if it partially freezes its nuclear activities & agrees to a missile test moratorium.
Earlier in the week US President Barack Obama, speaking to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in next-door Seoul, South Korea said, "North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations". The launch is scheduled for between April 12-16; dates specifically chosen to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's late founder & Great Leader. North Korea has been unable to produce adequate food for its people since it suffered a famine in the 1990s, & the U.S. has not sent food assistance since 2009.
North Korea to halt nuke enrichment, missile tests in exchange for US aid
(HN, 3/1/12) - North Korea says it is ready to halt missiles tests, disable its nuclear reactors & allow IAEA observers into the country in exchange for a 240,000-metric-ton food aid package from the US, agreeing to meet demands to disable its nuclear reactors & stop nuclear testing at Yongbyon. The US made the offer last week during talks in Beijing. Once specialists from the IAEA have inspected uranium enrichment facilities, the deal can be finalized, the US says. In 2009, the IAEA inspectors were asked to leave Yongbyon after 6-party talks broke down. While working on its nuclear program North Korea has been unable to feed its people and has relied on international aid. Moscow has praised the efforts of all parties to revive the talks. (Read More at RT)