Love & Lust in North Korea

October 19th, 2012

Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.

Jae-young grew up in North Korea but now lives in the South, and is happy to tell you all about her past. So if you have a burning question for her, get in touch and send us your questions. This week, Alex H. of the UK asks the following:

How do love and relationships function in North Korea?

While you might not think it’s possible, love exists in North Korea just like in any other country, and people are free to have relationships. However, the norms and social perception of relationships are different to things in South Korea and other parts of the world.

Romance and relationships in North Korea tend to be quite different depending on the province they take place in. Countryside areas tend to be very conservative – there can be quite a lot of problems for a North Korean girl if she gets pregnant before she is married, particularly in these kind of rural communities. But we don’t have as many problems in the urban centers, where attitudes are quite different. Here kissing is viewed as quite normal (although not so much in public), and you even find the odd girl who has had a child before marriage. Sex before marriage does take place, but it is not that common.

Although everyone has some idea about what happens when you’ve been dating someone for a while, the way relationships develop in North Korea is far less agreed upon, as it is hard to find scenes on TV or in movies where people physically express their love. As a result, you don’t find many couples willing to express their affection in public or in front of other people, who regard such behavior as awkward. When I first came to South Korea, I was so surprised at seeing couples kissing and cuddling on TV or in public places, but now I’m getting used to it.

My parents married for love. My grandmother (on my mom’s side) didn’t approve of their marriage but they ended up getting married anyway and went on to have me. This always interests me, because their relationship grew at a time when North Korea was highly conservative and yet it still succeeded.

Although this is changing slowly, until very recently the country did not have mobile phones, and still doesn’t have the internet. So, unless you were making your plans in person, you’d have to write letters to each other if you want to organize dates. I used to help one of my best friends, acting as a ‘correspondent’ for her and her boyfriend, delivering letters between them whenever they wanted to meet. This is so common in North Korea that there is even a song called ‘Bbukkugi’ (cuckoo) about this kind of love story.

When I wasn’t there to help out, he would visit her house and make a signal outside that only she could recognize. But everything was made easier by the fact that both sets of parents knew about the relationship, allowing them to visit each other at their houses before getting married. I heard they had the first kiss in high school.

When I ask my other North Korean friends about their relationships, there are so many different answers. One of them had no boyfriend back home, but another had so many relationships that the stories she told never ceased to amaze me. I enjoy listening to her story’s since I myself was quite behind on the relationship thing in my life in North Korea. She used to brag to me about going on dates to theme parks, historical sites, the battlefield, and our local park, she was even given gifts like a necklace, watch, or ring.

Like I say, I was quite late with all this stuff. When I think about my first love, all I remember is that my heart went pit-a-pat when I saw him for the first time. My love was a military guy and I found him very attractive in his uniform.

We met during the holidays (the only time the soldiers could leave base), and I got to know him through singing and dancing together. He came out quite often near my area because of his higher position. Fortunately, my parents liked him as well. However, it was obviously not as easy for me to contact him as it is for girls in South Korea. Even now, I still remember holding hands and walking around the river with him. It was not a long relationship, but whenever I see guys in military uniform, they look very attractive to me because of him!

In short, I believe love and human nature is the same anywhere you go, regardless of whether you are in South or North Korea. All it comes down to is a difference of expression.

Got A Question?

If you’ve got a question then you can find out how you can get it answered by visiting our “Ask a North Korean” page here. We’re already sending the best of your questions to Jae-young who is hard at work responding to them all!

Artwork by The Morning Skyrail

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About the Author

Jae Young Kim