AKA Tony Arkitect
My Journey Down the Rabbit Hole that is DPRK
Like many people who follow Weightlifting, I've always been fascinated by the athletes of the DPRK. We know nothing of their training, their facilities, or their recruitment processes. We see no videos of training highlights, get no interviews with athletes about their hobbies or goals, and know basically nothing about their local competitive circuit, or international team selection process. Like the rest of nearly everything that happens in North Korea, the rest of the world is shut out and cut off.
Previous to the World Championships in Houston, I knew little about North Korea other than what I saw in the interview, and a google article I read after the movie came out to find out if the North Korea was really as the movie depicted. It wasn't until I walked into the venue on my first day on the first day of the championships and saw the DPRK team walking through the hallway to the auditorium that it occurred to me that I had never even seen a person from North Korea. This idea may seem obvious or apparent to most, but it really hit me like a ton of bricks. There are a lot of countries with residents I have never, and likely will never see or meet, but that's more a matter of happenstance or simple economics. But here, in America, were a group of people who's countrymen were simply not allowed to leave their own borders.
I jumped at the opportunity to get a picture with any of them. Not simply because they are tremendous athletes, but also because I felt like I was seeing a unicorn. This was probably amplified that I live in a part of the country where there isn't much diversity to begin with.
The rest of the week I waited anxiously each day to see the DPRK athletes take the competition platform. They were fierce competitors, technically sound, wickedly fast, and as was demonstrated by Rim Jong Sim who battled through the clean and jerks after injuring herself in the snatch. There were a wide variety of cultures represented in Houston and it was a great experience to sit among them, watch their athletes compete, see the interactions between coach and lifter, and hear the cheers of their fans and supporters in their own unique ways, but for me the DPRK stole the show.
I spent some time chatting with Nat of Hookgrip, and the topic of the North Koreans came up. He told me how he'd been giving them some HG gear every once in a while when he would see them at various competitions. He told me even during these interactions, they were some what reserved, and hesistant, but his relationship with them seemed to be opening up. I envied him in that moment, and suddenly found in myself a great desire to know more about the country and its people.
This entire experience was compounded by the Korean exhibits at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, which we visited during our down time while in Texas. I realized that I had no idea about Korea's history, how North and South Korea came to be. How our own policies and actions have effected the country and its current status. As soon as I got home I put together my wishlist of reading material and audiobooks. Currently I have 5 audiobooks, and 8 hardcopy books on the subject of Korean history, North Korean history and the current state of the DPRK. If anyone is interested in any of the audiobooks, please PM me, and I'd be happy to share them with you.
As a business owner and a head coach/team manager my free time is very limited. It will take me quite some time to get through all the material, but from the first chapter of the first audiobook, my entire world was shattered by the words I was hearing. Over the next week, chapter by chapter, my mind was continually disintegrated by what I was learning. Sure, everyone knows that North Korea "sucks" and that its leaders are "evil dictators" but the depth to which the corruption, disparity and inhumanity ran was well beyond what I had expected, and it only fueled my interest in the country and its people, but admittedly it has shifted. It went from daydreaming about secret elite training facilities, to wanting to know the extent of the atrocities committed against the North Korean people and potentially what I can do about it.
Perhaps the book I started with Dear Leader gave me an even more unique perspective, because I foound out after the fact, that it was written by one of the highest profile defectors to ever leave the country. His knowledge of the infrastructure of the party gives an extremely rare insight in into the inner workings of one of the most controlling governments every to exist. I'll more in depth about this as my own studies continue but here are some of the more fastening tidbits I've learned so far.
Not only can North Korean people not leave the country, they aren't even allowed to leave their respective provinces. In the book Dear Leader, the author, a high ranking Cadre in the Workers Party needed government permission to travel about the country.
More than 2.5 million Koreans have died from famine since the 90s
There are several labor camps within North Korea. One is the size of Washington D.C.
There is no media from the outside world allowed inside the country. Posesion of such is considered treason, and punishable by death.
There is a rule of "guilt by association" that extends to 3 generations. Let's say your grandfather was accused of treason, you, your parents, and your grandparents would all be sent to labor camps. The original "guilty party" would likely be executed, while the rest of you would be sent to a "re-education camp." Through starvation, beating, and indoctrination they will make sure no one in your family ever speaks even the slightest critique of the Workers Party or the Kim Dynasty.
Even those who are higher up and thus somewhat priveliged (by North Korean standards) are highly compartmentalized in their work so as few people as possible can have a complete picture of the goings-on of the government
Defecting is extremely difficult, so much so I'm amazed that people have even done it. The Demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea is impossible to cross. It's littered with landmines and its borders are heavily guarded by the military. The only option is the Tumen River that separates the DPRK from China. The only problem is, if you manage to leave your province, make it to a border town, cross the river without getting shot, you end up in the Chinese country side, far from Beijing where the South Korean embassy is located. There are Chinese soldiers that have check points in the country side to pick up DPRK defectors, and they WILL ship you back to North Korea where you and likely your whole family will be executed. Since it costs money to get any where in China, most North Koreans are stranded in the country side, and if they aren't caught by Chinese soliders are often caught by kidnappers that capture Korean women and sell them off as sex slaves to Chinese locals. To make matters worse, once the DPRK government figures out who you are, they report to the Chinese government that you've defected, and often lie and say you're wanted for murder in North Korea. Most Chinese locals want nothing to do with North Korean refugees since they can get arrested by the Chinese government for helping a North Korean. If some how you do manage to make it to the South Korean embassy, it's heavily guarded by Chinese police. It's a miracle anyone makes it out of the country.
The outlandish rumors about what the North Korean people believe about Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are mostly true. North Koreans are taught in school that Kims don't feel pain or have to use the bathroom. Kim Il Sung's birthday is year 1 on the North Korean calendar. During the peak of the famine in the 90s they basically told the North Korean people to "suck it up" and that the Great Leader was traveling around the country to support the people, and was getting by on only a bowl of rice a day.
The Labor camps are especially brutal. The food is even more sparse and the detainees, including the children are worked to the bone. The children are often humiliated by being made to crawl around on all fours like animals, or stand naked in in the yard with their hands behind their heads for hours on end. Even if prisoners are in the "redeemable" group (meaning they may some day be released) many of them die of starvation, hypothermia, or disease while in the camp.
Last edited by FFF; 12-26-2015 at 10:35 PM.
AKA Tony Arkitect
There is much more, but you're probably better off just reading a book or two about it. The really fucked up thing, is this stuff is happening today in the modern era. This isn't some history lesson out of a book about the world of yesterday. I haven't quite reached the "why" or "how" this can be a reaility in 2015, but from what I understand so far it's twofold: Firstly, the DPRK government is extremely secretive. Even the prison camps are disguised as Army barracks, and when you visits North Korea you are very limited to where you can travel. You will mostly be kept in the capital of Pyongyang which is the most modernized and affluent part of the entire country. Secondly, it's possible that the US and the UN both view North Korea as "stable" and don't really want to disturb the bees nest. In the Middle East there are factions regularly attempting acts of terror in the outside world. This isn't really the case of North Korea, as much as they keep the outside world from coming in, they also don't do much to meddle with those ouside of their country either. Their sworn enemies are the USA and Japan, and to some extent South Korea an China as well (even though China is technically an ally). They had an initiative where they would send agents out into the world to kidnap foreign children and then brainwash them to become DPRK double agents. When that program mostly failed, they began an initiative where in which they would send beautiful DPRK women out into the world to become impregnated by foreign men, making it easier for them to train the children to become spies for North Korean, but not look Korean in appearance. Aside from that, there haven't been many large or public provocations towards outside nations in recent history.
I'll update this thread with new things that I learn that I find particularly interesting as well as which books I'd recommend reading and those that aren't worth the time. I'll field questions (if there are any) but I'm not an expert, just someone with an itch that really needed to be scratched which led me down a very interesting path.
DPRK: An intriguing hermit kingdom. I've read a couple books and watched a few documentaries. Would love to read even more. I'll have to check out your reading list in greater detail which I saw you posted.
Thanks for this, and keep posting interesting stuff if you feel so inclined. I can never know enough about that place.
Very interesting and thanks for posting this. North Korea sounds much worse than imaginable. It's incredible that such a society exists in 2015.
How did the people that managed to defect, defect?
But would you believe me if I told you i've been there...
I've traveled across the world, and being there felt like a world of its own, not even comparable to 'third' world countries.
...don't have to go to the bathroom. Ha ha. Probably long ago, heard the phrase "thinks his own his sh!t doesn't stink" from the US somewhere...and confused because backwards NK, and thought it was a compliment or something And then in typical North Korean one-ups-manship fashion....our Leader doesn't even sh!t.
It'd be funny to know some of the genisis of this stuff (crap).
AKA Tony Arkitect
There are many ethnic Koreans living in China, some of which are sympathetic to North Korean refugees. They sometimes provide shelter, money or travel to help them make it to Beijing and eventually South Korea. Unfortunately many just end up stuck in China living as homeless or peasants. If you aren't a high value member of the North Korean Workers Party, the NK government doesn't give as much of a shit about you, so neither will the Chinese authorities. I'm not entirely sure how they get into the guarded embassy though. In the book Dear Leader he purposely omits that part and says he can't say how they did it, because if he did, it would effect other North Koreans from being able to do it as well. The South Korean government is interested in defectors because they bring up to date and current information about inside the DPRK.
Originally Posted by ScottPeterson
That's incredible. When did you go and for how long? What was the nature of your trip? Can you tell us more about it?
Originally Posted by Zayah
Ha yes, two very different things!
Originally Posted by mbasic
I actually think it isn't super hard to get into North Korea these days. There are tourist groups, basically.
I guss the Vice videos are obligatory:
There's also a series where they travel to North Korean work camp located in Siberia, I think. It hints as to how the North Korean economy works.
AKA Tony Arkitect
Yes, many people travel to North Korea. They are somewhat welcoming as visitors. It's all part of their propaganda though. They parade you around the not shitty locations. I've heard Pyongyang referred to as the "The greatest museum of modern communism" or something to that effect.