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Dec 05

Housing in North Korea

North Korea is widely considered the worst place to live in the world. In reality, it is not as worse, but living in North Korea is just… very different than rest of world, life can be good as long as you do all what the government wants and obey stupid laws. While the industry is lagging several decades behind rest of world, the population is one of most educated in the world, reaching a level of order and discipline that should be example for any citizen of the outer world.
Apparently is a developed country, with high literacy rate, beautiful architecture and well-planned cities, but in 1990s after collapse of Soviet Union, the economy felt down and made North Korea one of the poorest countries in the world, and the single well educated country suffering by famine. They currently survive only because of foreign food aid.

Cities and housing

Pyongyang is well planned city with wide boulevards, some leading to nowhere, massive apartment buildings with huge spaces between them, and even more massive monuments, good public transport and low pollution.
Ryugyong Hotel is the tallest hotel in the world, having 105 floors, began in 1987 and abandoned in 1992, now still under construction, Rungrado May Day Stadium is the largest stadium in the world. Perhaps in attempt to show to the world that they are not a poor nation, but for me are money-wasting unnecessary projects which caused population to be poor.

Apartments blocks are massive like the South Korean ones, some looks to have more than 40 floors, they may have been the tallest public housing in the world until completion of 50 floors Pinnacle @ Duxton in Singapore in 2009 (further verification required).
Unlike South Korea and Russia which are dominated by rows identical buildings, Pyongyang have a vibrant skylines, old 4-5 storey walk-up and 8-10-storey blocks are  mixed up with newer, 20-40 storey high-rise apartment buildings. Towers are mixed up with traditional houses, for example Pipa-dong
Apartments are provided for free, this forum post says that average apartment size in North Korea is 150 square meters, but is unsourced and I do not believe. Measuring the blocks using Google Earth I can say that apartments are oversized but not as big, maybe around 100 sqm.
The apartments are quite spartan inside, compared with South Korean ones full of electronics. I would like to know what heating system they have!

If you are looking for North Korean apartment floor plans, you can check the Google Maps and try to discover under construction blocks (example location 38.96550 125.73750). No other forms of floorplans are available on internet… sadly.

See this video, inside of North Korean apartment, another video. also Kisu Faculty Housing
we do not know if the typical apartments are like that or that apartment was made more modern solo for propaganda.
Satellite photos shows that other cities are much worse than Pyongyang, some cities do not even have a single car driving around.

Pyongyang is one of the least polluted and least-jammed cities in the world
Typical Pyongyang skyline from top of Juche Tower

Traditional Korean houses vs Modern Pyongyang apartments
Houses in West Pyongyang Modern apartment block in Pyongyang Typical apartment block in Pyongyang Pyongyang East viewed from Juche Tower
More photos with beautiful buildings in Pyongyang on Skyscrapercity

Economy

The dictatorship government controls everything in the country, severely violating human rights.
There are no homeless people or beggary in North Korea, the government give housing and job for everyone. Citizens have no choice where to live, the government decide your home, only the healthiest citizens are allowed in Pyongyang, to give a good image to foreign visitors. Handicapped, disabled and retired people are sent to countryside.
People love their government for giving everyone free home, as well as free education, free health, free public transport, free goods, and so on… they do not know about open real estate market or home ownership.

North Korea self praise for having over 6000 km of railways, 80% of it being electrified, compared with only 3250 km in South Korea (according Wikipedia), but the north infrastructure is in danger state that slow down the trains while southern trains are running at 350 kmph in full safety.
There is no street lighting, except for monuments. See how black is North Korea viewed from satellite at night!

Roads in North Korea are estimated to be about 30000 km of which only 5% paved.

Some sources say that any citizen is allowed to own cars (but why the roads are almost empty? too poor to buy cars?), other sources say that all cars are owned by political elite and eligible businesses. North Korea have own car manufacturers, Sungri and Pyeonghwa, producing several hundred cars per year.
Various YouTube videos shows that roads are dominated by trucks (goods vehicles), Romanian Dacia (most common taxicab), Soviet Lada, some unknown Chinese cars, but more recently there are also many imported luxury European cars (why they import cars instead of raising local production?).
North Koreans got one car per 100 people, while the South Koreans got one car per 3 people. This keep pollution low and people healthy as they walk and cycle.

Media

Only government is allowed to operate radio and television. To prevent people access to information about outside world, radio and television sets should be registered at state department, where are sealed to receive only government stations, any manipulation to receive foreign broadcast leads to prison. Mobile phones were introduced in 2002, banned in 2004, reintroduced in 2008, and cannot dial out of country. Foreigners are not allowed to use mobile phone in North Korea, so they need to leave them at airports. Internet connection is banned for everyone except high ranked officials and some hotels. North Korea have own internet-like network, Kwangmyong, accessible only via dial-up, for free, filtered content from the Internet are placed on it. However, some people smuggled satellite internet terminals, which are confiscated and often resold to population by corrupt officers.
North Korea government occasionally broadcast foreign news selected to give impression that North Korea is “people paradise on the earth” while that rest of world is about poverty and violence.
However, too much info came from south so during 1990s the government had to admit that South Korea enjoy higher standards of living.
For example South Koreans launching video cassettes via hot air balloons over the DMZ, containing foreign news about 2011-2012 Arab world uprising or anti-regime news. Most population do not know the truth about outer world, they do not realize how bad is their government, to start a uprising.
North Korea government shows to the World media good images of their country, while tourists visiting North Korea posted the good areas of Pyongyang, on YouTube and various blogs.

Any person is allowed to visit North Korea as tourist, but few people are willing to do, however most of them returned with great memories. You are permanently attended by local guiders watching where you go and what photos do you take, supposedly photography is allowed only in designated places, however guiders are slightly corrupt and many photos and videos showing bad side of North Korea popped the internet. You are not allowed to roam through city, or interact with local people (but these guiders aren’t locals? Yes they are but are not allowed to tell you about their personal life).

But little info is know about how the life of normal North Koreans, where they live, what they eat, education and medical system, what forms of income they have and where can spend the money.

Look carefully at Kim Jong-il funeral, there are rumors that people who do not cry enough were jailed, but you can see that while the camera is aimed to people who cry, in background just few are crying. Apparently this has been directed for purpose of showing to local and foreign media that people loved their leader.
And yes, people actually LOVE their government, see video diary made by a north korean girl, criticizing capitalist system where the money rule everything.

Moranbong Band is the first music band from North Korea reaching international popularity. Is rumored that the girls forming the band are selected by, and the lyrics of their songs are written by Kim Jong-un.

Concentration camps

A lot of offences lead to prison, where you will be a slave forced to work and eventually die by starvation, hard work or torture. North Korea have the biggest ratio of imprisoned citizens in the world, by the far more than United States which is officially the country with most prisoners, because the North Korean government deny the existence of prisons so nobody knows exactly how many were imprisoned and how many died in prisons.

Mysteries, things that need to be clarified

I am curious how does look a DPRK geographic atlas. What they know about our world? I guess that they know that human live all around the earth, and natural features, as these info exists before communism installment, but they may be lied about technology level of rest of world. The government promote North Korea as the “Heaven on the Earth”, most citizens do not believe that there is a better life outside their country, that on the earth exist more advanced countries, that humans reached the moon, etc.
Do they know how many countries are in the world, or what is the world population, or which are largest cities? Probably they know about USSR as they was main economic partner, but how the Korean government explained to their citizens the break-up of USSR and the fall of communism?
On Pyongyang streets can be seen propaganda billboards showing koreans berating US soldiers, ripping American flag, etc

The claim that North Korea is totally isolated country is FALSE. The government do everything to prevent people access to foreign info, but in the same time they allow everyone to enter, tourists are main source of foreign info. Any foreign publication regarding North Korea is confiscated at customs, tourists are guided and not allowed to talk with locals, but the guiders themselves are locals, tourists can tell them foreign news and they can spread the news?

In Kaesong Industrial Region, South Korean companies employ North Korean workers. The south staff can talk with north workers, giving info about life in South Korea, especially as the language is not a barrier.
North Korea participated in Olympics, probably only sport teams are allowed by government to leave country, and are not allowed to tell to their families what they see overseas.
The government, when speaking to foreign media, deny the existence of prison camps, but the citizens do know their existence? These camps employ a lot of people to take care of inmates, their family relatives do not know where they are working?
What form of income does North Koreans have, and how they can spend the money? Since the government give a lot of things for FREE, including housing, internet connection to Kwangmyong, public transport, healthcare, etc… all these are free.
I am confused how does the (lack of) freedom of speak is working there .Probably they are taught to not talk each other about problems and not even tell about workplace to their families?

 

Let’s hope that some day, United Nations will bomb North Korea and kill the fucking Kim Jong-il kill all Kim family, to restore the human rights…
Even if Kim regime fall, Korea reunification is not possible without a big plunge of economy of the south, which South Koreans will not accept. The economy difference is much bigger than in case of East and West Germany reunification. North Korea will need a period of transition and massive investment, to be ready for reunification.

Sources

- Wikipedia
- Personal analysis of photos and satellite imagery
- The F.A.Q. / Rules of various travel agencies (beware, they hide bad things to attract tourists)
- Various travel blogs, photos and videos of tourists, for example Sue Wombat and Cezar Dumitru, romanian tourist in North Korea comparing with communist Romania (romanian language)

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