The first American to study in North Korea has given an eye-opening account of what life is really like inside the hermit kingdom.
In 2016 journalist Travis Jeppesen spent a month living in the capital of Pyongyang, where he stayed at the ‘palatialâ but âemptyâ Sosan Hotel.
He said both plumbing and electricity were scarce throughout the country, while he saw cats and dogs, including Yorkshire Terriers, caged in zoos.
Every housing block came with an official spy to relay information back to the government while citizens were awoken every morning at 5am to an instrumental version of the North Korean song ‘Where Are You, Dear General?â
He told the New York Post: ‘Itâs very, very haunting, and very bizarre. It reminds you that Dear Leader is with you everywhere you go at every moment.
‘The hallways were dark. There was no plumbing really in the bathroom. It hit home that this is a really poor third-world country. Everything is very bare-bones.â
Jeppesen, who lives in Berlin, studied Korean at the Kim Hyong Jik University of Education and was both horrified and fascinated by what he saw.
Once the 36-year-old saw an elderly woman selling candy and ice cream outside the zooâs entrance picked up in a ‘violent struggleâ and carried away by two policeman.
He tried to watch where they went but eventually lost them, and was certain it ‘didnât end wellâ for the woman.
Foreigners were assigned two ‘guidesâ to accompany and monitor them every time they were in public, and the daily evening news is a ‘fawning rundownâ of Kim Jong Unâs schedule.
He was convinced his hotel room, phone and computer were bugged, adding to the psychological stress he already felt about being watched every minute.
Jeppesen,author of the new book See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey Into Kim Jong Unâs North Korea, also struggled with the fact he couldnât contact his family or partner back home, having not bought the SIM card for foreigners as he didnât want his emails spied on.
‘Psychologically, it was very difficult and stressful. It had all these weird side effects,â he said. There were moments when I finally was alone and nobody was watching me, yet it felt creepy because I was so used to being watched.â