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15 Bizarre "Facts" An American Learned From His North Korean Tour Guide

Sometimes the facts just don't add up.

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Meet Hong, a government approved tour guide in North Korea.

Matt Longmore

Matt Longmore recently returned from a brief foray into “The Hermit Kingdom”—arguably one of the most reclusive and isolated countries in the world, where antagonistic indoctrination toward most of the outside world (particularly the United States) begins before pre-k.

While it is possible for outsiders to visit North Korea, doing so is severely controlled. Matt was expected to follow his government selected minder Hong at all times. Although reprimanded several times a day for unintentional, seemingly absurd offenses and prohibited from exploring the city on his own terms, Matt gained an unsettling glimpse into a beguiling, dystopian world where propaganda signs replace advertisements and wide, methodically planned streets remain all but devoid of traffic.

1. 100% of Americans Hong has met leave North Korea feeling ashamed of their nationality.

Matt Longmore

This propaganda sign on a street in Pyongyang, loosely translated, says, “Wipe the US imperialists off the face of the earth!”

2. South Korea is a puppet government of the United States. If South Koreans had their way, they would defect to North Korea.

Matt Longmore

The Korean Demilitarized Zone is, although the name doesn’t suggest it, the most heavily militarized border in the world.

3. Too much thinking is bad for one's health.

Matt Longmore

Hong's response after asking her opinion about what the next step would be between North and South Koreans if the United States vacated the peninsula.

4. The Pyongyang metro system surpasses metro systems in other great cities of the world. It is also the easiest to use because it only has two lines and one interchange station.

Matt Longmore

Tourists are only permitted to visit two of the 17 stations, located 360 feet underground.

6. Kim Jong Un hadn’t been seen in weeks because he was facing fatigue after tirelessly working to improve the lives of all Koreans.

Matt Longmore

The Supreme Leader finally resurfaced after disappearing from the public eye for six weeks. It is speculated he has gout, due to his rich diet of imported foods and substantial weight gain.

7. It is wrong for foreigners to make eye contact with North Koreans.

Matt Longmore

Hong chose not to respond to a followup question about the morality of North Koreans making eye contact with foreigners.

8. North Koreans never forget to wear their “Kim Pins” over their heart.

Matt Longmore

The pin bears the image of Kim Il Sung (occasionally alongside son, Kim Jong Il). The North Korean cult of personality is not officially recognized by the government, but penalties often follow those who don’t show proper respect to the Kim family.

12. The Ryuyong Hotel will open next year.

Matt Longmore

This skyscraper has been under construction since 1987. Many architects and media have named it “The Worst Building in the World” and “The Hotel of Doom.”

But there’s always hope that after a quarter century, next year’s the year!

13. North Korean healthcare is the best in the world. It’s free and available to all.

Matt Longmore

According to the World Food Program, one-third of North Korean children are chronically malnourished and stunted.

14. For the safety and security of foreign visitors to North Korea, it is necessary to confiscate passports upon arrival, screen electronic devices brought into the country, and inspect cameras for sensitive material at departure.

15. Hands in pockets, partially-zipped jackets, and bowing with the neck rather than the back are all deeply insulting blunders when facing statues of anyone from the Kim family.

Matt Longmore

Note from the author: It should be acknowledged that the views of this tour guide don’t represent all (or likely even the majority) of North Koreans. Hong comes from a family of loyal party members. Her father’s government connections afforded her a favored university education. As a tour guide, she has access to three meals a day and a moderately comfortable place to sleep each night. In these regards, her life is undeniably more privileged than most North Koreans. That said, even Pyongyang’s elite lack access to internet, foreign media, international communication, or a passport.

While it’s easy to find amusement in the inanity (and outright lies) of the "facts" presented during a visit to North Korea, it’s also troubling to consider their origins. It is a disturbing testament to the power of indoctrination that such an accomplished young woman as Hong who interacts with foreigners for a living can remain so stalwart in her dedication to a despotic regime responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of her compatriots and abusing millions more.

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