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Getting drunk with friends till dawn, going on dates to the cinema, playing too many video games. While these might sound like run-of-the-mill adolescent coming of age exploits, these activities took on a rather different form for Jimmin Kang in North Korea. Drinking with friends was overshadowed by the fear of talking about the regime, going to the cinema was blighted by not being able to kiss in public and having to watch one film six times because nothing else was showing. Video games were confined to an interminable cycle of Mario Kart played on 80s consoles.
However, on this particular day, even these past-times were off limits. For one day, everything in the hermit kingdom is closed and a surreal fist-pumping military parade takes place across the capital city of Pyongyang.
Born in , Kang grew up in the eerie, grey, concrete streets of Pyongyang. Living in a small, ordinary flat in a downtown area of the totalitarian metropolis with his mother, father and sister, Kang spent his days working for the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League and evenings playing pool with friends. Outside of office hours, Kang would then find ways to watch American and South Korean films under the radar of the authorities, watching everything from American action movies with Stephen Seigel to films with Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
Kang also passed the hours with his girlfriend. In the week they would go on walks alongside the riverside and on the weekends they would go the cinema. However, there was a limit to the intimacy of these dates. Inevitably, young people found ways of being intimate with each other. Watching pornography was another sexual activity which was a no go. Some people have pornography but if the government found them they would go directly to a camp.
Homosexuality is another taboo in North Korean society, so much so that Kang says there was no concept of it, let alone a word for it. After a long shift at work, Kang would often wind down with friends over beers or Suji, Korean vodka. Women are allowed but no children. It just looks like a normal bar but there is no music. Despite coming from a middle-class family, for the most part, he says other activities were out of reach due to costliness. While there were arcade type places where he would play video games, he says it would quickly get boring because the consoles were so outdated.