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  • Here at the Infographics Institute we've done  a number of videos about North Korea and its  

  • leader Kim Jung Un. That's required endless  cups of coffee and lots of research. Yes, Gary,  

  • the interns are still mad about you hogging the  white chocolate creamer. [Narrator clears throat.]

  • During our many hours of perusing  news stories about the DPRK,  

  • we began to notice something interestingThough an article would be about something else,  

  • it would happen to mention a detail which  provided insight to daily life in North Korea.  

  • We found these snapshots of  ordinary moments fascinating.  

  • We wanted to dig a little deeper and try to  figure out how teenage life is in North Korea.

  • Just like everywhere else, issues  of class and wealth play a role  

  • in the lives of teens in North Korea--although  the gulf between the haves and have nots  

  • is much wider than in several other countriesAside from having lots of moolah, citizens  

  • are part of the elite when they have notable  political, government, and military connections.

  • A large part of being a teenager is  figuring out your sense of style,  

  • how you like to dress and your identityIt's not easy to do that when you live in a  

  • repressive country.You may have seen posters for  allowedNorth Korea hairstyles on the internet.  

  • While it's not true that North Korea forces  citizens to have a particular hairstyle,  

  • the government does encourage people  to have state approved hairstyles.

  • Many teens are exposed to makeup, fashion and  a variety of hairstyles thru foreign movies and  

  • music. South Korean skin care routines are popular  too. Little makeup and skincare is sold in shops,  

  • most devotees purchase their goods at the  Jangmadang or local North Korean markets  

  • that sell everything from food to household  products to clothing. These marketplaces also  

  • sell illegal products smuggled into the country  such as USB drives containing western movies,  

  • music and South Korean soap operasas well as makeup and foreign clothes.

  • While there are not any official  appearance rules that we were able to find,  

  • North Korea places a strong emphasis on  a tidy, clean and appropriate appearance.  

  • Assuming they have the money to  purchase expensive smuggled goods,  

  • in private North Korean teens experiment  with a variety of non permanent looks.  

  • However, publicly women wear minimal makeup  such as lightly tinted lipstick--never red,  

  • because as one defector explains, wearing red  lipstick is unimaginable in North Korea because  

  • the color red represents capitalism. It is  unacceptable for males to wear any makeup.

  • Fashion is definitely a subtle form  of resistance. Due to the widespread  

  • influence of foreign media and young  citizens willing to push the boundaries,  

  • in recent years North Korea's unspoken rules  regarding appearance have loosened slightly.  

  • Citizens now wear brightly colored clothing, some  even dare to wear jeans and ladies fairly short  

  • skirts. However, the prevailing attitude  depends on where one is in the country.  

  • Fashion acceptable in Pyongyang may  not be acceptable in a small village.

  • Wearing too much makeup, skimpy clothing or too  tight clothes may cause citizens to run afoul of  

  • the Gyuchaldae or fashion police. The Gyuchaldae  patrol pedestrian areas making sure that  

  • everyone's appearance is 'suitable'. If caught  with an 'inappropriate' appearance the fashion  

  • police issue punishments. Common punishments  involve public humiliation--offenders are made  

  • to stand in the middle of a town's square  and endure harsh criticism from officers.  

  • Also, short stints of hard labor and  fines are also given as punishment.

  • What's school like for a North Korean teen? In  the DPRK education is entirely controlled by the  

  • government. Kindergarten, primary and secondary  schooling are free and all citizens are required  

  • to attend--North Korea is surprisingly progressive  when it comes to the education of women.

  • After kindergarten, primary schoolknown as thePeople's Schools,”  

  • is attended from the ages of 6 to 9. Then from  10 to 16, pupils attend a secondary school  

  • which may concentrate on a specialty such as  music, art, economics or foreign languages.  

  • Children of the elite may go tosecondary school which focuses on  

  • training them for leadership positions or  to be officers in the Korean People's Army.

  • North Korea claims that their school  system is top notch. According to UNESCO,  

  • North Korea's literacy rate for people  15 and older who can read and write  

  • is 98-100 percent. But then againthis statistic is self-reported.

  • Throughout the school years, all information  taught to students is carefully censored.  

  • Many subjects are taught in a way that  promotes allegiance to Kim Jong un and  

  • the Kim family. Other commonly taught  propaganda is military nationalism  

  • and Juche or the North Korean  concept of self-sufficiency.

  • While school for city dwellers and the elite may  be well funded by North Korean standards, reports  

  • have leaked out of underfunded rural schools with  not enough resources and poorly trained teachers.

  • In recent years, students have been forced  to cover school costs such as workbooks  

  • or helping to heat their school in the winterImpoverished families have a hard time coming  

  • up with money to pay school fees and teens  sometimes drop out. While more middle class  

  • families are able to hire tutors for their  children as an alternative to school--which  

  • can actually be cheaper than school fees, poor  kids are left in the lurch. The dropouts take  

  • menial jobs to survive. The government seems  to turn a blind eye to dropouts, especially  

  • since their work often provides supplemental  money and food to keep poor households going.

  • After finishing secondary school at age  17, citizens must serve in the military.  

  • Men are conscripted into the military  for 10 years and women for 6 years,  

  • until age 23. Conscripts can be drafted into elite  special forces depending on their social class,  

  • or if they have outstanding athletic abilities.

  • There are exemptions to joining the military  though. Teenagers with good grades from elite  

  • families may be invited to sit for entry  exams at one of North Korea's universities.  

  • If they are accepted, they may delayshorten or even bypass military service.  

  • Certain skilled workers and technicians may  also bypass or shorten military service.

  • Many North Korean teens don't have a lot of free  time. When they aren't at school or studying,  

  • many teens work, helping their families to  make ends meet. The types of jobs available  

  • to teens are mainly informal work  such as selling charcoal door to door,  

  • selling smuggled goods in the marketplace or  tutoring and childcare for younger children.

  • During their free time, if teens are lucky  enough to live in an area that has a cinema  

  • and they can afford it, you might find them  at the movies. However North Korea cinemas  

  • only have 1 or 2 screens and often have  the same few movies showing for months.  

  • Some of the larger cities have a bowling alleyarcade or mini golf, but it's quite expensive  

  • and the average middle class teen may visit such  places infrequently. The same for roller rinks  

  • and ice skating arenas, but they're expensive too  and since so few of them exist, they stay crowded.

  • Teens who are donju or part of the 1% may receive  an allowance. That may not sound like a big deal,  

  • but in a country where in 2018  the official salary is roughly $10  

  • USD a month, it is. Having an allowance makes for  a great social life. Donju teens most likely live  

  • in the capital of Pyongyang. They hang out  at 24 hour coffee shops and drink lattes,  

  • which at $4 USD a drink, is incredibly out  of the reach of most North Korean citizens.  

  • They also frequently visit water theme parks, ski,  

  • hang out in pool bars and have gym membershipsThey may eat out both at fast food restaurants  

  • and fine dining where they eat expensive cuts of  steak, an unimaginable luxury for most citizens.

  • Like everywhere else, teens hang out with  their friends--in the park or at home.  

  • They may play video games on older consoles  that they've bought on the black market.  

  • Newer game systems that require online  access aren't suitable as home internet  

  • access in North Korea is virtually non existentFriends also get together and watch foreign,  

  • often western movies on DVD or flash  drives also purchased from smugglers.

  • It's extremely common for North Koreans to  pass around flash drives containing videos,  

  • music and news. In fact, as a way to educate  North Korea about the world, various activist  

  • and religious organizations smuggle USB  sticks with subversive media into the country.

  • North Korean teens do have to be careful who they  trust and share media with. In the spring of 2018,  

  • a group of teens in the Ryanggang Province were  arrested and stood public trial. Their crime?  

  • Dancing and distributing K-pop music. Six teens  ages 16 and 17 were convicted. Four of them were  

  • found guilty of "anti-national" conspiracy and  received a year of labor. The sentence for the  

  • other two teens is unknown, however all were sent  to an offenders' institution after the trial.

  • Ironically, about 2 weeks later several K-pop  bands visited Pyongyang to perform for Kim Jon  

  • Un and North Korean government officialsUltimately, this case is a sad, yet perfect  

  • illustration of how North Korea is run. Kim  Jon Un and government officials at the top  

  • can do whatever they like, but they will punish  ordinary citizens if they try to do the same.

  • The repressive nature of North Korean society  causes anger, depression and disillusionment  

  • among its people. Many citizens turn to  drugs and alcohol to mitigate the pain.  

  • In 2016, an institute interviewed  defectors about life in North Korea.  

  • Many of the defectors said that around  30% of North Koreans, including teens,  

  • are addicted to drugs. While it's hard to gage  how accurate this claim is, in the winter of  

  • 2019 North Korea began making a concerted  effort to crack down on teenage drug abuse,  

  • especially use of opium, which is readily  available. There have been a few incidents  

  • where a roving band of high teens causeddisturbance or brawled in the street with police.

  • North Korea's drug issues are a problem of their  own making. For many years the production of  

  • opium was a state-run industry where North Korea  sold drugs on the international black market as  

  • a way to get around sanctions. Middle school  students were mobilized to harvest poppies  

  • and produce opium powder on poppy farms. It was  only evitable that citizens would begin to try  

  • the product. In 2013 North Korea implemented  a death penalty for illicit drug manufacture.  

  • In recent years they have also created harsh  laws targeting drug runners who sell to minors.

  • Dating in North Korea is somewhat taboo. Societyespecially older people frown upon it. Young women  

  • are expected to remain chaste, marry young and  then have lots of children for the sake of the  

  • great nation. There is no sex education taught  in school. Porn is illegal and if caught with it,  

  • a citizen will be sent to a reeducation  camp. College campuses have strict rules  

  • against dating. Arranged marriages are still  common in North Korea, but increasingly due  

  • to the influence of foreign movies, it's  becoming more common to marry for love.

  • Teens get around society's disapproval by having  group dates and assignations. When couples go  

  • out alone, there's no public display of affectionEven just holding hands is not acceptable. However  

  • some parents turn a blind eye to their teens  dating as long as they don't shame the family.

  • Correspondence passed between sweethearts  to set up dates can be tricky, especially  

  • if the parents do not approve. The majority  of North Koreans don't have telephones.  

  • Although, increasingly cell phonesespecially smartphones are popular.  

  • It;s estimated that about 25% or 6 million  people in North Korea have a cell phone.

  • Locally made smartphones are  popular with teens of the Donju,  

  • but as they are rumored to cost upwards of  $400 USD, rarely do ordinary citizens own them.  

  • They can't be used to call overseas or connect  to the internet. Instead they connect to the  

  • country's internal, state-run intranet on 3G.  Despite the intranet, for apps, North Korean  

  • smartphone users have to visit a physical store  where they can download apps approved by the  

  • North Korean government. Aso it's rumored that  the government accesses them to spy on people.

  • Recently business has begun to boom  for smugglers of Chinese-made phones.  

  • Using smuggled phones, North Koreans  can not only call locally but stay in  

  • contact with relatives who have defected  to South Korea. Apps such as WeChat are  

  • used to bypass having calls monitored  by the Ministry of State Security (MSS).

  • More and more as the youth of the DKRP become  aware of the outside world, they're changing North  

  • Korean society. There's only so long that Kim Jong  UN is going to be able to rule with an iron fist.

  • Now, you should totally  keep the watch party going

  • How do North Korean soldiers stack up against  US soldiers? Check out our comparison here:

  • How has life changed for  teenagers over the last century?

Here at the Infographics Institute we've done  a number of videos about North Korea and its  

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What Is Life Like For A North Korean Teenager?

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/02
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