Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

North Korea’s cultural life

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Tania Branigan visited Pyongyang for The Guardian and wrote a long article on North Korean culture.  Most of the information is familiar to long-time DPRK watchers, though there were a few nuggets of information I had not heard before.  I have posted these below:

But who knew that The Da Vinci Code was a hit in this strictly controlled city? That Céline Dion is a karaoke favourite? Or that the mass performances are not only a tribute to the leadership and motherland, but the way that many young people find partners?

Few foreigners see this city at all. Around 2,000 western tourists visited last year, plus perhaps 10 times as many Chinese visitors. The expatriate population, excluding Chinese and Russian diplomats, and including children, stands at 150.

There are certainly signs of change here: Air Koryo has new planes and three gleaming airport buses to ferry passengers from runway to terminal. Last week a vast new theatre opened, as did an apartment complex, although it may be destined for officials. The 105-storey Ryugyong hotel – more than two decades in construction – is finally glass-sheathed and due to open in 2012. That year will mark the 100th birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. But it is hard to see how it can achieve its pledge to become “a great, powerful and prosperous nation” by then – even given the Stakhanovite industrial efforts lauded in its newspapers.

Pyongyang is lucky: no one is plump, but nor is there noticeable emaciation. Dr Andrei Lankov, associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, says the official income in Pyongyang is around 3,000 won a month, but many have ways of making money on the side and – unlike other North Koreans – its residents receive subsistence food rations. Most top those up at markets that are legal though never formally acknowledged (officials insist that “everything is public”). At the turn of the year, the government embarked on currency reforms to eradicate an increasingly independent group of “kiosk capitalists”. But wiping out hard-won savings caused highly unusual public discontent and even, reportedly, unrest.

You can read the full article here:
The cultural life of North Korea
The Guardian
Tania Branigan


Chongryun on YouTube?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

UPDATE: As noted in the comments and in this post, Uriminzokkiri is run by the North Koreans, not the Chongryun.


The pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean community in Japan (Chongryun, Chosen Soren) has apparently opend a YouTube channel named “uriminzokkiri” (“On our own as a nation”) where they are uploading pro-DPRK and DPRK-made videos.

The Chongryun operate a number of web pages on behalf of themselves and the North Korean government (, Naenara,,, and more) all of which host video content.  So why open a YouTube account?  All these web pages are blocked in South Korea—so I am wondering if South Korean readers see these YouTube videos? 

UPDATE: Gag notes the following in the comments: “The ‘uriminzokkiri’ account is presumably run by the website of the same name, which links to it. The homepage lists two email addresses on, so I doubt that it’s run by the Chongryon either. (, which is in Japanese, has an email address on its own domain.)

I wonder also whether it is just a matter of time before the US Justice Department/Treasury Department goes knocking on YouTube’s door.  If this account is sponsored by the official Chonryon organization, the US government might have a problem with that.  I suspect, however, that the account is “maintained” by a “private” individual so that it cannot be construed as engagement in a business trade with the DPRK.  In the past, on line chat services owned by Yahoo and Linkedin have been asked to close accounts of individuals in sanctioned countries like the DPRK.  

As of now, the account hosts nearly 40 videos.  Unfortunatley not a single one is of the North Korean evening news.  The North Korean news is usually posted on, but has not been updated since July 26. Rather than running 10 pages poorly, they might consider consolidating and running 2 pages well!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has apparently registered an account with the iconic U.S. video-sharing site YouTube, uploading clips that praise the isolated regime and defend itself against accusations that it attacked a South Korean warship.

The name in Korean means “on our own as a nation” and was registered July 14.

The uploaded footage contain regurgitations of official cant that honor the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, and the usual South Korea bashing. The Aug. 2 upload contained an elaborately produced three-minute clip lashing out at South Korea’s foreign minister.

Another clip, uploaded the same day and also produced in Korean, ridicules Seoul for its failure to stop the U.N. Security Council from placing Pyongyang’s denial in its statement deploring the deadly March sinking of the Cheonan warship.



DPRK rewrites RoK pop song

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

The Daily NK has obtained video footage of the manager of the cafeteria at Pyongyang Moran Exhibition Hall, playing guitar and singing. The song is a South Korean song, Maze of Love, which was popular during the late 1980s.

The video clip was taken by a Chinese tourist earlier this year.

Aside from its entertainment value, it shows how widespread South Korean songs are in North Korea. Indeed, according to a source from Pyongyang, popular South Korean songs are sung in many big restaurants in Pyongyang. However, in order to avoid trouble with unexpected inspections, they sing the songs with different lyrics. Naturally, they add contents of loyalty or love for Kim Jong Il.

The Chinese person who provided The Daily NK with the video footage explained, “When she sang about the General (Kim Jong Il), we took no notice because we know their system well. We applauded only her performance; playing guitar and singing.”

The following are the new, North Korea-themed lyrics to the song:

I went up Mt. Baekdu to see where the morning light comes from.
I noticed when I saw the sunrise, which opens the sky and the land.
Sunshine lightening my tiny heart!
Even at the end of the earth, eternally,
The shining features of our General, raising Mt. Baekdu!

I realized up here where love comes from.
I realized when I saw the magnificent sunrise, a rising fireball.
Sunshine lightening my frozen heart!
Even at the end of the earth, eternally,
The shining features of our General, raising Mt. Baekdu!
The power decorating my hope, my future!
Even at the end of the earth, eternally,
The shining features of our General, raising Mt. Baekdu!

Read the full story here:
K-Pop with a Kim Jong Il Spin
Daily NK


CNC – Juche’s industry power

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

For those of you who have recently visited the DPRK or who spend too much time perusing or reading KCNA, you are undoubtedly aware of the DPRK’s recent emphasis on something called “CNC”.  I had no idea what CNC was, so I began collecting as much information as I could find on the net and I have posted it below.

Here is the Wikipedia page for CNC.  For those of you in China, here is what it says:

Numerical control (NC) refers to the automation of machine tools that are operated by abstractly programmed commands encoded on a storage medium, as opposed to manually controlled via handwheels or levers, or mechanically automated via cams alone. The first NC machines were built in the 1940s and ’50s, based on existing tools that were modified with motors that moved the controls to follow points fed into the system on paper tape. These early servomechanisms were rapidly augmented with analog and digital computers, creating the modern computed numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools that have revolutionized the design process.

In modern CNC systems, end-to-end component design is highly automated using CAD/CAM programs. The programs produce a computer file that is interpreted to extract the commands needed to operate a particular machine via a post processor, and then loaded into the CNC machines for production. Since any particular component might require the use of a number of different tools—drills, saws, etc.—modern machines often combine multiple tools into a single “cell”. In other cases, a number of different machines are used with an external controller and human or robotic operators that move the component from machine to machine. In either case, the complex series of steps needed to produce any part is highly automated and produces a part that closely matches the original CAD design.

That description is not nearly as helpful as this video on CNC: Click here (Might not work for readers in China).

The Asia Times ran a story which included a short history of CNC in the DPRK:

The name of the game is CNC – Computer Numerical Control – machine tools that have revolutionized the design process and said to be developed in the DPRK and already exported, for example, to China. Top exponents are the Korea Ryonha Machine Tool Corporation and the Taean Heavy Machine Complex. CNC billboards are all over Pyongyang. Inevitably CNC has its own dedicated patriotic song (no music video yet). Here are the lyrics, as translated by Andray Abrahamian, a doctoral candidate at the University of Ulsan in South Korea:

If you set your heart on anything
We follow the program making the Songun era machine technology’s pride
Our style CNC technology


CNC – Juche industry’s power!
CNC – an example of self-strength and reliance!
Following the General’s leading path
Breakthrough the cutting edge

Arirang! Arirang! The people’s pride is high
Let’s build a science-technology great power
Happiness rolls over us like a wave

So the narrative of building a “socialist paradise” is now being supplanted by the narrative of developing and producing state-of-the-art technology to, as the Pyongyang Times indelibly put it, “improve the people’s living standard on the word level”. This is how the DPRK is mobilizing its people to “open the gate to a thriving nation in 2012”. South Korea, watch out.

By way of luck, I managed to obtain a copy of the DPRK’s CNC song. You can download the MP3 by right clicking here.

UPDATE: A reader did find this DPRK karaoke version of the CNC song complete with lyrics (in Korean).  Watch it here.

UPDATE 2: A reader also sends in this acoustic version of the CNC song (YouTube).

If you are itching to know what the DPRK’s CNC machines look like, here is one display at the Three Revolutions Museum in Pyongyang:

cnc1-thumb.jpg cnc2-thumb.jpg cnc3-thumb.jpg

Click images for larger versions

And here is some CNC propaganda that has appeared around Pyongyang:

cnc-prop-1.jpg cnc-prop-2.jpg cnc-prop-3.jpg cnc-prop-4.jpg

Click images for larger versions

UPDATE: here is an additional photo taken by an anonymous tourist:



UPDATE: Here are some CNC postage stamps:



UPDATE: And CNC made part of the 2010 Mass Games (You Tube at the 1:25 mark). See a photo here.

KCNA has published plenty of news stories about CNC.  You can see them here courtesy of the Stalin Search Engine. CNC was first first mentioned on January 15, 2002 (KCNA) .  One phrase that is frequently mentioned is that thanks to innovations like CNC the DPRK is “Pushing back the frontiers of science”.  Indeed North Korean economic policy seems hell-bent to do just that.  Hopefully we will soon see them change their policies to “push back the frontiers of ignorance”.

CNC machines are produced by the Ryonha Machine [Tool] Factory (KCNA) and they have been widely promoted in the official media (here, here, here, here, and here for example).  It appears also that the Ryonha Machine Tool Factory has partnered up (with someone) to form a JV company which focuses on international trade, the Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation. Here is a PDF flyer of their products taken from the KFA web page, and some of the items they are selling can be seen here and here.

They Ryonha Machine Joint Venture Company, however, seems to have a history that might scare away many potential customers.  According to the US Treasury Department:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated eight North Korean entities pursuant to Executive Order 13382, an authority aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery vehicles.  Today’s action prohibits all transactions between the designated entities and any U.S. person and freezes any assets the entities may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

“Proliferators of WMD often rely on front companies to mask their illicit activities and cover their tracks,” said Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI).  “Today’s action turns a spotlight on eight firms involved in WMD proliferation out of North Korea.  We will continue to expose and designate these dangerous actors.”

Today’s action builds on President Bush’s issuance of E.O. 13382 on June 29, 2005.  The Order carried with it an annex that designated eight entities – operating in North Korea, Iran, and Syria – for their support of WMD proliferation.  The President at that time also authorized the Secretaries of Treasury and State to designate additional entities and individuals proliferating WMD and the missiles that carry them.

Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID), which was designated in the annex of E.O. 13382, is the parent company of two of the Pyongyang-based entities designated today, Hesong Trading Corporation and Tosong Technology Trading Corporation.  These direct associations meet the criteria for designation because the entities are owned or controlled by, or act or purport to act for or on behalf of KOMID.

Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, also named in the annex, is the parent company of the remaining six Pyongyang-based entities designated today.  These entities include Korea Complex Equipment Import Corporation, Korea International Chemical Joint Venture Company, Korea Kwangsong Trading Corporation, Korea Pugang Trading Corporation, Korea Ryongwang Trading Corporation, and Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation.

As subsidiaries of KOMID and Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, many of these entities have engaged in proliferation-related transactions.

I have been unable to locate the Ryonha Machine Tool Factory on Google Earth. If anyone has any pointers, please let me know.

Here is a list of factories the DPRK claims to be using CNC technology:

Amnokgang Daily Necessities Factory (KCNA)
Amnokgang Gauge and Instrument General Factory (KCNA)
Cholima Steel Complex (KCNA, Naenara)
Chonma Electrical Machine Plant (KCNA)
Feb 8 Vinalon Complex (KCNA)
Hamhung Wood Processing (KCNA)
Huichon Machine Tool Plant (KCNA)
Kangdong Weak Current Apparatus Factory (KCNA)
Kanggye General Tractor Plant (KCNA) (Underground)
Kanggye Knitted Goods Factory (KCNA)
Kanggye Wine Factory (KCNA)
KimChaek Iron and Steel Complex (KCNA)
Kusong Machine Tool Factory (KCNA)
Kwanmobong Machine Building Plant (KCNA)
October 10 Factory (KCNA)
Pukjung Machine Complex (KCNA)
Pyongyang Cornstarch Factory (KCNA)
Rakwon Machine Complex (KCNA)
Ryongsong Machine Complex (KCNA)
Sinuiju Spinning Machine Factory (KCNA)
Suphung Bearing Factory (KCNA)
Sungri Motor complex (KCNA)
Taean Heavy Machine Complex (KCNA)
Taedonggang Brewery (KCNA)
Tahungsan Machine Plant (KCNA)
Unsan Machine Tool Factory (KCNA)

I know the locations of many of these factories but not all.  If anyone has any information on their coordinates, please let me know.


Most DPRK defectors watched ROK media

Monday, June 14th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

More than half of North Korean teenage defectors viewed South Korean movies and dramas when they were in the communist country, a survey said Monday.

According to the survey conducted last month by Yoon Sun-hee, a professor for Hanyang University, 79 of 140 students, or 56 percent, in Hangyeore Middle and High School said they watched South Korean films and TV programs in North Korea.

North Korea reportedly strictly bans its people from viewing South Korean broadcasts and films.

Hangyeore, located in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul, is a school for North Korean defectors founded in 2006.

Among the respondents, 57 students said they saw South Korean movies on DVD and 43 claimed to have watched videotaped dramas, while 15 watched broadcasts on TV, the survey showed.

It did not say how the students had obtained the South Korean DVDs and videos, or gained access to the broadcasts.

Forty students said they could see the South Korean programs whenever they wanted and five watched them everyday, when asked how often they had seen the banned films.

The survey also showed that 21 teenagers said they had watched the programs once a month, six said once a year, while seven students experienced the South Korean material only once during their lifetimes in North Korea.

According to the survey, most of them said South Korean films and dramas were “interesting,” although they had to view them secretly in the reclusive country.

“It’s hard to make generalizations but the results are surprising,” said Prof. Yoon. “The result itself indicates that North Korea is more open than we expected.”

“The study shows that North Korean teenagers tend to protest against the regime and also enjoy their lives,” she added.

Some 125 respondents were living near the North Korea-China border, while 15 others were living closer inland, including Pyongyang.

Read the full story below:
More than half of young N.K. defectors watched S. Korean TV programs: poll


DPRK art troup performs in Beijing

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

According to Yonhap:

A North Korean remake of the Chinese opera A Dream of Red Mansions will premiere in Beijing next month, a Chinese-language daily reported Thursday.

The Hong Kong-based Takungpao said the staging of the Chinese classic of the same title, also known as “Hong Lou Meng,” by North Korea’s national Phibada (Sea of Blood) Opera Troupe will be staged in the Chinese capital city from next Thursday through Sunday.

A Dream of Red Mansions is a masterpiece of Chinese vernacular literature, written between 1749 and 1759. It is one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels.

The North Korean version of the opera reportedly debuted in the North last year as part of celebrations marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two allies.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have been directly involved in updating the 1961 version created by his father and the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung. Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders watched the original version of the North Korean performance, newspaper reports from that era show.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported last October the North Korean leader and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao watched the Chinese opera remade by North Korean artists at the Pyongyang Grand Theater, during the latter’s visit to North Korea. China’s Ministry of Culture donated costumes for North Korean artists involved in A Dream of Red Mansions.

The Takungpao report said more than 200 North Korean performers will visit Beijing for the staging of the opera, the largest foreign theatrical company to visit China in recent years.

The newspaper said that the leading and supporting actors are well-known stars in North Korea, most of them educated at the Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory (Satellite image here), a higher educational institution for music named after a North Korean composer.

Kim Il-hwang, who stars as the protagonist Jia Baoyu, is the grandson of Kim Jong-hwa, who also played the protagonist in the 1961 version, according to Takungpao.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean version of classic Chinese opera to premiere in Beijing
Kim Young-gyo


North Korea’s revolutionary operas

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I was looking at the Koryo Tours web page and found the following information on North Korea’s revolutionary operas:

In the DPRK there are five revolutionary operas, all created in the early 1970s, which have been termed in North Korea as ‘immortal classics’.  In order of production date these are; Sea of Blood, The Flower Girl, A True Daughter of the Party, Tell O’ the Forest! and The Song of Mt. Kumgang. These operas are still performed to this day and on the occasions that performances take place it is even possible for tourists to attend the shows, the performing language is of course Korean but when foreigners are in attendance English language supertitles are beamed onto a wall beside the stage so that the narrative can be followed by visitors. All operas are full-scale, large cast efforts with amazingly high production values and these 5 shows have sustained their popularity over the decades. All of them of course contain strong political messages that reflect the issues concerning the country at the time of their writing up until the present day and people of all ages attend the shows frequently. For complete information on what comprises and constitutes a Revolutionary Opera and what characteristics and values it must have then there is only one book to read; On the Art of Opera by Kim Jong Il.

I have posted descriptions of the five operas below (each also from the Koryo Tours web page):



US religionists perform at Pyongyang Friendship Festival

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

UPDATE:  According to the band (via Christian Post):

“Made many friends. We performed twice and were awarded for the performance of Lifesong,” he added Monday. “We also recorded the Korean song, White Dove, in their studio in Pyongyang.”

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Christian Post:

Contemporary Christian band Casting Crowns will again participate in North Korea’s annual Spring Friendship Arts Festival but this time won’t be the only U.S. Christian group there performing.

The Grammy Award-winning band will be joined by the Annie Moses Band (AMB), a five-sibling ensemble whose ages range from ten to 24.

“In early December we received an official invitation from the North Korean government to perform in the Spring Friendship Arts Festival,” AMB lead vocalist and violinist Annie Wolaver told The Christian Post on Friday.

“We have been praying for many years that the Lord would open doors for us to tour overseas. We had some grand visions of playing Celtic jigs in the Scottish highlands, but instead He opened a door that was entirely unexpected,” she reported.

Two years ago, Casting Crowns was invited to perform at the 25th Annual April Spring Arts Festival with help from Global Resource Services (GRS), which has worked in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the official name of North Korea – for more than a decade.

The annual Spring Arts Festival reportedly emphasizes artistic exchange and promotes peace and good will.

According to GRS, the band was well received and even drew praise from the vice chairman of the festival, Jang Chol-sun, who expressed his hope that groups like GRS, Casting Crowns and the people of North Korea can work together to bring unity and peace.

Here is a web page by Jason Carter who performed in this show some years ago.

Read the full article here:
Casting Crowns to Return to North Korea for ‘Friendship’ Festival
By Josh Kimball
Christian Post


North Korea Google Earth

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered v.16
Download it here


The most recent version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth) has been published.  Since being launched, this project has been continuously expanded and to date has been downloaded over 32,000 times.

Pictured to the left is a statue of Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This statue, as well as many others identified in this version of the project, was built by the North Koreans. According to a visitor:

From the neck down, the Kabila monument looks strangely like Kim Jong Il: baggy uniform, creased pants, the raised arm, a little book in his left hand. From the neck up, the statue is the thick, grim bald mug of Laurent Kabila (his son Joseph is the current president). “The body was made in North Korea,” explains my driver Felix. In other words, the body is Kim Jong Il’s, but with a fat, scowling Kabila head simply welded on.

This is particularly interesting because there are no known pictures of a Kim Jong il statue.  The only KJI statue that is reported to exist is in front of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang.  If a Kim Jong il statue does in fact exist, it might look something like this.

Thanks again to the anonymous contributors, readers, and fans of this project for your helpful advice and location information. This project would not be successful without your contributions.

Version 16 contains the following additions: Rakwon Machine Complex, Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Manpo Restaurant, Worker’s Party No. 3 Building (including Central Committee and Guidance Dept.), Pukchang Aluminum Factory, Pusan-ri Aluminum Factory, Pukchung Machine Complex, Mirim Block Factory, Pyongyang General Textile Factory, Chonnae Cement Factory, Pyongsu Rx Joint Venture, Tongbong Cooperative Farm, Chusang Cooperative Farm, Hoeryong Essential Foodstuff Factory, Kim Ki-song Hoeryong First Middle School , Mirim War University, electricity grid expansion, Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (TSLG)” is also known as the “Musudan-ri Launching Station,” rebuilt electricity grid, Kumchang-ri suspected underground nuclear site, Wangjaesan Grand Monument, Phothae Revolutionary Site, Naedong Revolutionary Site, Kunja Revolutionary Site, Junggang Revolutionary Site, Phophyong Revolutionary Site, Samdung Revolutionary Site, Phyongsan Granite Mine, Songjin Iron and Steel Complex (Kimchaek), Swedish, German and British embassy building, Taehongdan Potato Processing Factory, Pyongyang Muyseum of Film and Theatrical Arts, Overseas Monuments built by DPRK: Rice Museum (Muzium Padi) in Malaysia, Statue de Patrice Lumumba (Kinshasa, DR Congo), National Heroes Acre (Windhoek, Namibia), Derg Monument (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), National Heroes Acre (Harare, Zimbabwe), New State House (Windhoek, Namibia), Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument (Gaborone, Botswana), 1st of May Square Statue of Agostinho Neto (Luanda, Angola), Momunment Heroinas Angolas (Luanda, Angola), Monument to the Martyrs of Kifangondo Battle (Luanda, Angola), Place de l’étoile rouge, (Porto Novo, Benin), Statue of King Béhanzin (Abomey, Benin), Monument to the African Renaissance (Dakar, Senegal), Monument to Laurent Kabila [pictured above] (Kinshasa, DR Congo).

North Korean defectors learn media isn’t always best guide to life in South

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Herald Tribune
Lee Su-hyun

After she defected here from North Korea in 2006, Ahn Mi Ock was shocked to learn that most South Koreans lived in small apartments and had to struggle to buy one.

Ahn, 44, had fully expected that once in the South she would enjoy the same luxurious lifestyle portrayed in the television dramas she had watched on smuggled DVDs. It had not occurred to her that the fashionably dressed characters sipping Champagne in the gardens of stylishly furnished houses were not, well, average South Koreans.

That disappointment aside, she and many other North Korean defectors find themselves plunging into the unaccustomed wealth of South Korea’s entertainment and news media, fascinated by the astonishingly free flow of information and critiques of political leaders, but also searching for tips as to how to navigate this strange new society.

“When I first came here, I was glued to the TV screen every waking moment,” said Ahn, a former art teacher who now works in a restaurant.

Most newly arrived North Koreans spend up to three months at government settlement centers, taking crash courses in capitalism and democracy. They are also taught basic skills like how to use ATMs and home appliances.

But many say they still feel insecure about moving into the real world. With no previous exposure to a free press and 60 years of separation between the South and the North, they sometimes feel they are speaking different languages.

“I was so surprised when I first saw a music video here and didn’t understand a word of a rap song – in Korean,” said Yu Chong Song, 27, who is studying Chinese at Dongkuk University.

That’s where close study of South Korean media comes in.

Recent defectors say that in North Korea, the typical resident might watch half an hour of television news about how Kim Jong Il, the national leader, spent his day. They might spend another hour watching popular dramas, often involving the fate of the nation – assuming the electricity supply allows.

As for newspapers, the 20 former North Koreans interviewed said home delivery was only for the privileged. Those who did have access said the contents were boringly predictable, and that a better use of newsprint was for rolling cigarettes.

But in their first 6 to 12 months in South Korea, they said, they spent at least three hours a day watching television: talk shows, reality shows, quiz shows. (When they first arrived, they had few acquaintances and no jobs, and so had a lot of time on their hands.)

They said they paid closest attention to news and dramas, because they thought these provided the most useful portrayals of South Korean society. The hope was that by using television to study the differences between the two countries before daring to face actual South Koreans, they could reduce the chances of embarrassment.

Kim Heung Kwang, 49, a former computer science teacher who now works in an organization that finds jobs for defectors, said it was only by watching a television movie that he learned that a host should offer his guests a drink.

“Not only must I offer something to drink,” he said, “but ask if they want coffee or tea and whether they want sugar or milk, and then how many spoonfuls.”

Still, there are limits on media study as a learning tool. It is not always clear how much of what they are viewing is truly representative of South Korean life, and how much is fantasy.

“I stopped watching television dramas, because it was getting in the way of my relating to the South Korean people,” said Kim Heung Kwang, who said he still was not sure whether South Korea was a place where mistresses were bold enough to tell their lovers’ wives to get lost.

Ahn, for her part, was concerned about how her 19-year-old daughter might cope with the lust-consumed South Korean men, who apparently devote much of their daily routine seeking unencumbered romance – or so television dramas had led her to believe.

To alleviate their confusion, a Newspaper in Education program to encourage young people to read was introduced a year ago at Setnet High School, an alternative school for North Korean defectors. There, they can ask an instructor to explain concepts they encounter in newspaper pages.

“What is business and sales?” asked Park Jeong Hyang, 18, during a Setnet class.

“Amateur? Is that something to do with sports?” asked Mah Gwang Hyuck, 23.

“Can you explain what marketing is again?” asked Kim Su Ryun, 18.

Especially troublesome are the loan words, mostly derived from English, used in almost every sentence, and South Korean words not used in the North. But perhaps even more difficult to understand is the media’s role in South Korea.

The defectors express shock that the media can point a finger at a head of state. “I don’t know how President Lee Myung Bak can continue running the country after getting so much criticism,” said Cho Eun Hee, 23, a Setnet student.

All those interviewed agreed that freedom to challenge the government is desirable but felt uncomfortable seeing so much of it.

“Television even broadcasts scenes of politicians fighting in the National Assembly. That can’t be good for the image of the country,” Ahn said.

Still, Kim Heung Kwang saw some merits. He was impressed to see his modest apartment complex featured in a television news report about tenants of a nearby prayer house complaining about construction noise. He was familiar with the dispute and felt the reporters were relaying the facts fairly.

Cha Eun Chae, 20, said that in North Korea, there was no way of knowing how the economy was performing, because every story was upbeat: “They would always say, ‘The harvest was good this year.’ But we saw our neighbors starving.”

Over time, as the newcomers learned to read and understand them, the local media became more relevant to their everyday lives. Noticing that self-promotion is important in South Korea, one university student aspiring to a career in business scrutinizes newspaper columns and editorials for hints.

“I want to learn how to articulate my ideas while accommodating others’ opinions,” he said. “And I see that in the way editorials here are written – for example, on the controversy over embryonic cloning.”

Not everyone succeeds in applying media models to interaction with South Koreans.

Kim Keum Hee, 38, who works as a cleaner at a public bathhouse, tried to mimic a hotelier she had seen in a television drama.

“But I just couldn’t do it,” Kim said. “I’m still not used to being friendly when I don’t mean it.”