The VICE News Capsule is a daily roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: North Korea’s crimes against humanity, the Street Child World Cup, Greenpeace activists arrested and 220 migrants detained in Thailand.
The VICE News Capsule is a daily roundup that looks beyond the headlines. Today: Colorado pot taxes, Ultra-Orthodox conscription, North Korea evading sanctions and protests escalate in Turkey.
An Interview with North Korea’s UK Spokesman
North Korea has been getting some fairly rank press in recent years. And in times of such deplorable slander from the “monopoly capitalist media of the West,” we must seek to heal these wounds of persecution, these sores of injustice, and hereby mount a unified resistance.
Oh worthy warrior of Mt Paekduleading the stout hearted partisans ofthe mighty KPRA to shatter the chainsof Japanese imperialism, shock brigade ofworld fascism, to dispatchthe murderous Japs to their doom
VICE: How did you acquire your position as UK spokesman for the KFA?
Dermot Hudson: I had been the chairman of Juche Idea Study Group of England and the vice president of the old Society for Friendship with Korea. I joined KFA in 2001, about six months after it was formed, and was appointed official delegate for the UK by the KFA International Organization Committee.
Have you met either Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un?
I did not meet them in person but saw them in the distance. I was within a couple 100 feet of Dear Respected Marshal Kim Jong-un, and I saw great comrade Kim Jong-il at a national meeting in April 2002. He looked younger than he was and moved very fast, with a dignified bearing. I have seen Marshal Kim Jong-un in the distance about four or five times. In April 2012, at a military parade, he waved at the crowd. He looked like a very happy person.
North Korea Is About to Freak Out
The US and South Korean (ROK) militaries have begun their annual military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. Among the largest and most important military exercises in the world, they have become a yearly spring ritual. Kind of like prom.
After all, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are costly annual spectacles that, each year, have a slightly different theme. What the events mean to you, how you prepare for them, and how badly you lose your shit over them says a lot about who you are and where you fit into the hierarchy of your peers. There’s even probably some taffeta involved.
But what makes the exercises so interesting is the wildly different strategic maneuvering they put on display—on both sides of the DMZ. The Korean War ended more than 60 years ago with a ceasefire agreement, but no peace treaty. That means the war, which resulted in more than 6.6 million military and civilian casualties—including 128,650 amongst US military personnel—never technically ended. And the large-scale military exercises regularly held on both sides of the border (they’ve been going on for decades) are incremental steps in the evolution of this conflict.
I Ate Dinner at Pyongyang’s Cambodian Outpost
Monivong Boulevard is a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So it’d be easy to wander by the low-profile restaurant that, at first glance, resembles any other Khmer food joint—if it weren’t for the billboard revealing that this restaurant has ties to the most repressive regime in the world. Welcome to “Pyongyang,” a little piece of North Korea in Cambodia.
It’s actually one of a dozen or more Pyongyang restaurants located all over Southeast Asia, all of which are owned and operated by the North Korean regime. Bona fide North Koreans staff the restaurants, which are widely believed to be laundering money and ferrying intelligence back to Kim Jong-un. TripAdvisor gives the one in Phnom Penh 3.5 stars.
I make a reservation for 7 PM and am sure to arrive on time —I imagine tardiness is frowned upon by totalitarians. Either despite or because of the fact that the restaurant is run by a dictatorship, the place is punishingly well-lit thanks to a ceiling covered in compact fluorescent bulbs. Maybe this is to help ensure no sneaky Westerners violate the ban on snapping photos.
Delivering Bibles to North Koreans Is Tricky Business
For decades, the international community has been trying to figure out how best to help North Koreans and eventually topple (or at least liberalize) the totalitarian regime they live under. Sanctions, threats, and aid from governments and NGOs have all failed to change the situation, but American Evangelical pastor Eric Foley says he has what the North Koreans need: Bibles, and lots of them.
Eric is the leader of Seoul USA, which he founded with his wife, Hyun Sook, in 2003. The organization is devoted to spreading the word of Jesus throughout Asia, particularly in North Korea, where Juche, the worship of the state, is the only faith tolerated by the government. Underground churches exist, but Christians face persecution. In 2012, a Korean American Christian missionary named Kenneth Bae was arrested on trumped-up charges and remains in prison today.
Establishing a traditional church mission in the country is impossible, so Eric has gotten creative: He attaches Bibles and religious tracts to 40-foot-tall hydrogen-filled balloons, then floats them over the border from South Korea. The balloons eventually deflate, falling softly with their precious, soul-saving cargo on the oppressed populace below.
North Korean Motorcycle Diaries
An Interview with the World’s Greatest Kim Jong-un Impersonator
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that’s true, the antics of one Hong Kong resident should be making North Korea’s babyfaced Supreme Leader’s head swell even wider than its default bulbous size. Since landing a deal to star as Kim Jong-un in an ad for Israeli hamburger chain, Burger Ranch, earlier this year, a Hong Kong-born Australian named Howard has been carving out a side career as a professional Kim lookalike.
Howard, who, by day, is a jobbing music producer and band booker, doesn’t give his last name publicly. Which is probably wise, considering North Korea historically has a bit of a penchant for abducting foreign nationals who’ve wronged them in some way, before trapping them there indefinitely. But after getting his break in the burger ad—in which he launches a nuke at Washington DC to show his disdain for McDonald’s, before eating an Israeli Burger Ranch patty and declaring: “How can I send the Israelis to hell with such a taste from heaven?”—global interview requests have been pouring in.
Howard agreed to give me his first proper interview to discuss how all this came about.
VICE: Hi Howard. When did you first realize you strongly resembled one of the world’s most famous tyrants?
Howard: When he first came on the scene, just before his dad Kim Jong-il introduced him and promoted him to the head of the army or something. I thought, Man, that’s my face. Apart from that, I didn’t think too much about it. Then a few people pointed it out and I thought about impersonators elsewhere making cash, and realized I could do that, too.
How did you make the world aware of your uncanny similarity?
I got that stupid haircut—it’s fucking horrible—and I already owned one of those Mao suits. Back in 1997, I wore it for the Hong Kong handover parties. Also, I’ve got his body shape and I eat a lot so I’ve got a double chin—no need for props. I took some photos, uploaded them to Facebook, and an Israeli production house found me. They were producing a commercial for the competitor of McDonald’s, Burger Ranch.
I’ve seen the ad on YouTube—it’s a fine debut performance. Can you explain your part for people who aren’t familiar with it?
They specialize in kosher burgers for Orthodox Jews who don’t eat meat with cheese. The night before my shoot, they hired the best Barack Obama impersonator, called Reggie Brown, [who made another video in the series about] how the president has one of McDonald’s “Big America” burgers, which is a one-inch-thick meat patty. My role was to say, “Fuck you, Obama, we’ve got the better burgers at Burger Ranch.” And I blow him up.