Truths About North Korea Too Dangerous To Show In K-Dramas

These are the harsh realities revealed by North Korean defectors.
IMAGE Courtesy Of Netflix

When it comes to information about the reclusive state of North Korea, the best intelligence agencies of the world, including the CIA, are uncharacteristically less informed. They heavily rely on South Korea for much of the intelligence regarding the North.

Popular K-Drama series Crash Landing on You (CLOY) gave us a glimpse of what life is like on the other side of the DMZ, thanks to its writer who is also a defector from the North.

The highly nuanced series offers accurate descriptions of North Korean life, but has held back from disclosing some of the actual horrors that go on in the country.

Interestingly, CLOY never mentions or shows pictures of the Supreme Leaders (Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un), which are supposedly posted as huge paintings or tarpaulins on most buildings in the North.

Here are some truths about North Korea that K-drama series may avoid showing on TV.


North Koreans subsisted on grass

"Today, I will introduce you to tasty and healthy ways to eat wild grass," said a female North Korean news anchor while dressed in traditional Korean attire.

It was 1996 and the North had been experiencing a prolonged shortage of food supply. People had been collecting grass in parks and roadsides for eating.

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In CLOY, the North is depicted as having relatively abundant food resources. Any form of meat is a luxury in the series, but what it doesn’t show is the state of subsistence of many North Koreans outside of Pyongyang.

In 2014, a North Korean defector revealed the government forced them to eat grass and soil as punishment. The revelation came as part of the United Nations inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea.

Jee Heon A, a female prisoner in North Korea who defected to the South, testified that, while they were doing forced labor in a field, they looked for a type of edible grass to eat because rations at the prison were not enough.


"We finished our work and we were about to pick up this grass or the plant that we knew we could eat, and then the guards saw us, and he came running and he stepped on our hands and then he brought us to this place and he told us to kneel,” Jee told the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights.

As punishment for the seemingly innocent act of attempting to eat, they were forced to eat the uncooked grass and the soil that came with it.

North Koreans are afraid to whisper or cry because they think the Supreme Leader can hear them

Yeonmi Park, another North Korean defector revealed in her moving speech in 2014 that people are afraid to whisper for fear that the Supreme Leader can hear them.

“When I was four years old, I was warned by my mother, not to even whisper, the birds and mice could hear me. I admitted it. I thought the North Korean dictator could read my mind,” Park said.


“My father died in China after we escaped North Korea. And I had to bury him at 3 a.m. in secret. I was only 14 years old. I couldn’t even cry. I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea.”

You could be executed for watching a Hollywood film or South Korean drama

North Korea likes to keep its people uninformed and clueless about the outside world, especially of the fact that it is decades behind its technologically advanced neighbor, South Korea. The Supreme Leader of North Korea regularly bombards his people with propaganda saying that the country is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, and is the fear and envy of Washington because of its nuclear weapons.

That is why anyone caught watching Hollywood or South Korean movies is executed on the spot.

“When I was nine years old, I saw my friend’s mother publicly executed. Her crime? Watching a Hollywood movie!” said Park in her speech.


International phone calls could also get you killed

In CLOY, Pyongyang residents are depicted as tech-savvy smartphone users, who make international phone calls in broad daylight. This is far from true.

North Korea considers it dangerous for its people to wield smartphones that can take photos and record videos of everyday life. It is also the only country in the world that executes people for making unauthorized international calls, according to Park. Any phone call will be treated suspiciously and is likely to be detected by the state.

North Koreans need permission to live in the capital

Several scenes in CLOY show characters from the countryside dreaming of a life in Pyongyang. All the residents of Pyongyang are people who have proven their loyalty to the Supreme Leader or those who have enough connections to afford it.

The truth is you need permission from the government before you can live in Pyongyang. The entire city is surrounded by roadblocks preventing people from entering it illegally.


Setting foot on Pyongyang illegally could get you arrested or killed (most likely the latter, since prisons in North Korea can’t even feed prisoners).

This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Candymag.com editors.









About the author
Mario Alvaro Limos for Esquire PH

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Today, I am sharing my mother's story. I wish my mother was a constant in my life, like an angel who guards you to sleep and comes right there when you called. But angels come back home too, in heaven where they always belonged, and my mother went back a little early. My mother died when I was 13 years old. My last memory of my mother: Letting go when you are not yet ready is a very cruel thing that one has to ever experience. It is a sudden wave of total sadness and desperation crashing into your very core.

On the 28th of July 2013, we went to a resort in Bataan for the employees’ getaway. My parents own a 7-11 franchise, and it had always been a tradition to give their store clerks a get-together every year. I remember very well the last breakfast I had with my mother. The Sunday morning sky was clear and sunny, and the sea was calm and tranquil as we ate our breakfast on a cottage under the tall palm trees. She shared with us a strange dream she had the other night. She dreamt about an unknown woman holding an ice pick chasing her down on a dimly lit street, then she woke up just before the woman could grab her arm. We never knew what that dream exactly meant and now, I wished I never knew its meaning. After breakfast, my family and our employees decided to take a swim at the beach. The day was nice. The morning air may be chilly but the sun’s kiss on our skins gave us warmth. It was perfect. Everything is fine and the tides are low which made it very enjoyable to swim. We swam a little farther from the shore and we stopped to the point where the water reached our shoulders. We were talking about the good things in life and reminiscing the good old days. Those are the things that I’ve always loved about my family because I never had a meaningless conversation with them.

A few moments later, we heard a panicking call for help from one of our store clerks. It was Rachel. She was struggling to keep her head above water. She was already drowning but the odd thing was, she was only a few feet away from us. At first, we thought she was just playing around until we felt the sand in our toes dissolving like powder. It felt like as if the seafloor submerged deeper. I remembered sighting the shore and it seemed so close yet very far away. We were all panicking at that time. No one knew how to swim except my mother so without having second thoughts she swam towards Rachel and called out to my father, “Yung mga anak mo! Dalhin mo sa pampang yung mga anak mo!” and I never thought I already heard my mother’s last words to my father. I was paddling like a dog, gasping for air, as I say a little prayer to God to take us all back to safety. I felt my father grabbing our swimsuits, trying to lift our bodies so we can breathe even though he was also struggling to keep himself alive. Once I felt my toes touch the ground, there came a veil of relief that covered my whole body. As soon as my father and my sister made it to the shore we started calling out for help. There were no lifeguards on duty at that time, no personnel, nor guards. I saw my mother already floating in her stomach. We sighted a boat sailing nearby, we waved our hands and called for their attention. They almost ignored us because they cannot comprehend what we were trying to relay but the good thing was a passenger in the boat noticed my mother and Rachel in the water.

My mother’s body was laid on the shore. She was unconscious and her whole body was pale as white. My father performed CPR but my mother couldn’t get the water come out of her mouth because the food she ate earlier got stuck in her throat and blocked the passage. A concerned tourist offered his car to deliver my mom in a nearby health center or a clinic of some sort since the hospital was miles away from the beach and she needs immediate care. My father told us to stay in the hotel room and prepare mom’s belongings so that if she wakes up she has fresh clothes to change into. My sister and I finished packing our things and waited for our father to pick us up from the hotel. I was crying and I couldn’t stop myself because I was afraid to lose my mother. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be if I lose her that day. Moments lasted until we heard a knock on the door and it was my father, crying, and apologizing to us. He hugged me and my sister tightly and saying, “Sorry, anak, sorry hindi na uuwi si mommy, sorry hindi ko nasagip si mommy”. And that was the moment I felt sinking into the ground. I never knew what to feel at first. I was numb because my worries were now actually a reality that I have to live in. I was at shock because I am now one of the kids in those cliche teleseryes who lost a mother at an early age. We went to the health center to settle everything. The clinic was very small and it sure did lack equipment. He told us to stay in the car. I wanted to see my mom, but I know he never wanted us to see her like that. I didn’t know what to feel. I was having high anxiety levels that my stomach is churning and I wanted to vomit. I got off the car and entered the health center to find the restroom. When I was finding my way around, I passed by the emergency room. I saw my mother lying in a foldable bed, lifeless, her hands dangling from the side of the bed, she has violet bruises on her skin, and her body was partially covered with a white towel.

That is when it sunk into me that she’s dead and never coming back. My father asked the others to just commute back to Manila because what we need right now is comfort from our family. The drive back home was one of the most painful memory I had as a kid. My father was in the steering wheel crying his eyes out. We drove from Bataan to Pampanga. We went home to my grandmother’s house, the nearest house that we can call “home” because how are we still going to be “home” without her?

Once we reached Pampanga, we stopped over to the gas station and my father made some calls to our loved ones to tell them that my mother passed away. He then called my aunt to help him arrange for the funeral. We got home and my grandmother hugged us and told us to get some rest. Already tired of crying, I went to sleep for a while. I woke up and for a second, I thought everything that happened the other day was all just a dream. That she was there in Manila, sitting on the couch reading some furniture magazine, waiting for us to go home. But that’s how cruel life is, right? I got up and weirdly, I felt sands in the bed. It was gray, just like the ones on the beach. I thought maybe it was just dirt but it was a fair amount to believe that maybe she visited us before she left. - ?

- The part of how I conquered the grief of her passing is shared in my personal blog. I felt the need to share my story with everyone since she's the woman I look up to. Feel free to visit my personal blog too when you have the time. I love writing my stories. Thank You! link: http://qkathreece.wixsite.com/kathreecequizon/post/breaking-waves

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