7 Things I learned reading North Korea's newspaper

The Japanese are reporting that Kim il Jong has been dead since 2003. The UN thinks North Korea is slipping into a "serious food shortage"¦that is causing millions of people to go hungry." But what does North Korea think? I spent a week (July 21-Aug. 1) monitoring the Korean Central News Agency, which offers readers the world from the vantage point of the North Korean government. Here's what I learned:

1. Kim Jong Il is loved around the world (and has the gift baskets to prove it)

Picture 18.pngThe KCNA is quick to point out the many bouquets and floral baskets Dear Leader receives.  "General Secretary Kim Jong Il was presented with a floral basket and a congratulatory letter by the military attaches corps here on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the victory in the Fatherland Liberation War," KCNA reported. "They were handed to an official concerned by Miguel Angel Gala Valiente, military attache of the Cuban embassy here."
On July 31, "General Secretary Kim Jong Il was presented with a floral basket by the delegation of Japan-Korea Friendship Linking with Juche on a visit to the DPRK."

Also, "A bouquet from the Russian Embassy was laid at the Monument to Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War" on July 25. KCNA did not report what other bouquets arrived for Kim Jong Il in the week. The paper is limited by space to choose the highlights.

2. Korea is under attack from Japan

Since the end of World War II, Japan has followed a pacifist constitution. They've also had a steadily shrinking population of young people who are largely engrossed in video games and manga. But according to the North Korean media, that's just what Japan wants the world to believe.

In reality, KCNA reveals, "Japan is making desperate efforts to seize other countries' territories with an aim to reinvade not only Korea but other countries around it"¦Â  It is the unchanged wild ambition of the Japanese militarists to reinvade Asia and dominate the world."

Picture 20.pngKCNA finds the "pretext for reinvading Asia" in a planned change in Japanese textbooks: Since 1954, the South Korean coast guard has occupied two rocky islets about 200-square meters in area. Referred to as Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan, its sovereignty is currently in dispute. Asiaenews has reported, recently that, "the Japanese government decided to include its sovereignty claim over Dokdo"¦in the curriculum handbook to be used at junior high schools beginning 2012."

Of course, this hasn't gone unnoticed by the KCNA. "This clearly proves that the moves of Japan to grab Tok Islet [Dokdo], part of inviolable territory of Korea, have reached the phase of its implementation," KCNA reported, quoting "a public statement" made by "a spokesman for the History Society of the DPRK."

3. North Korea cares deeply about South Korea

KCNA is unstinting in its coverage of South Korea and its President Lee Myung-bak. From the people to their labor unions, to their political parties, the KCNA refers to South Koreans as "the Lee Myung-bak group," or occasionally, "the group of traitors."

The paper doesn't exactly maintain an objective voice. When President Lee lifted a ban on American beef, an unpopular move that led to massive demonstrations and candle-lit vigils in Seoul, KCNA offered this analysis:

"The deplorable situation created by the opening of south Korean market to American beef is a product of the U.S. arrogant and high-handed acts to force unconditional servility and submission upon the south Koreans and, at the same time, a natural outcome of the Lee group's treacherous policy." KCNA continued, "This time the U.S. forced south Korea to open its markets to American beef by using its colonial stooges who have neither elementary national conscience nor an iota of self-esteem. It is as clear as noonday that it will bring bigger misfortune and sufferings to them in the days ahead."

4. The U.S. regularly forgets our anniversary

Did you make special plans on July 27? North Korea did. It was, after all, the 55th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War. But if history gives North Korea lemons, it makes lemonade.

"The 55th anniversary of the victory in the great Fatherland Liberation War was significantly celebrated across the country," KCNA wrote. "Amid the playing of songs such as "˜Our General Is Best' and "˜General Employs the Art of Compressing Space' the participants in the parties enthusiastically danced with the feelings of gratitude to General Secretary Kim Jong Il, the peerlessly illustrious commander who has wisely led the anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. confrontation struggle with the great Songun politics."

"When the war broke out, the world community worried whether the nearly two-year-old DPRK would withstand the aggression of the U.S. imperialists who had been proud of "˜having won' more than 110 wars. But it witnessed marvels from the first days of the war," KCNA's coverage continued. "The KPA made a brilliant achievement of liberating Seoul, the bulwark of the enemy, within three days following the start of the war. [Kim Jong Il's] strategies and tactics were all unique, that could not be conceived with existing military knowledge and formula.

5. North Korea has Impeccable Manners

Picture 21.pngYou might get the wrong impression about North Korea if I don't point out that most of the news the week I monitored KCNA consisted of greetings that Kim Yong Nam sent to various people around the world: "to the president of Benin on the occasion of the 48th anniversary of the independence of his country"; "to the President of the Swiss Confederation, on the occasion of its national day"; "to the President of the Republic of Peru, on Monday on the occasion of the independence day," among others.

Meanwhile, "the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea sent a message of greetings to the National Executive Committee of the People's Democratic Party of Nigeria on the occasion of its 10th founding anniversary."Â  And "Kim Yong Il, premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK, on July 24 sent a congratulatory message to Tillman Thomas upon his assumption of office as Prime Minister of Grenada."

6. North Koreans enjoyed the lazy days of summer

No less committed to penetrating local coverage than in its unrelenting bashing of South Korea, Japan and the United States, KCNA revealed that "folk sports and amusement games" were held at the Taesongsan Pleasure Ground on July 30 "on the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of promulgation of the Law on Sex Equality."

The following day, the world learned, via KCNA, that "the Okryu Restaurant on the bank of River Taedong flowing through Pyongyang has been updated to suit the modern aesthetic sense while preserving its original looks."

And on a lighter note, KCNA reported that "water sporting activities are brisk in the DPRK in the July-August months for water sports. The sea bathing resorts, swimming pools and wading places across the country including the recently facelifted Majon Recreation Ground and newly built Sariwon Open-air Swimming Pool are crowded with working people and school youth and children these days."

7. They've kept a dying language alive

With one of the estimated 7,000 world languages disappearing every two weeks, you have to be impressed by a people that manages to keep one of them, not only alive, but flourishing. I don't mean the Korean language. I mean the particular dialect introduced by V.I. Lenin and which is now used only by North Korea's leaders and a handful of others around the world:

"Shortly ago, the puppet minister of Defence of south Korea at a session of the "˜National Assembly' openly let loose malignant and reckless remarks labeling the DPRK "˜biggest principal enemy'"¦

"The puppet defence minister's recent balderdash cannot be construed otherwise than an undisguised treachery of going against the desire of the nation for reconciliation, unity and reunification and the trend of the times as it revealed once again the true colors of the Lee Myung Bak group"¦"

It's wild stuff. But after a week of monitoring the Korean Central News Agency, I realized this is far tamer than most of what I find on the internet.

David Holzel doesn't speak Korean, but he does know a smattering of Marxist-Leninist. You can read more of his writing here.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Words
Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know
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For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.

1. VAGARY

From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.

2. SELCOUTH

An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.

3. FERNWEH

Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.

4. DÉPAYSEMENT

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Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.

5. DÉRIVE

Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.

6. PEREGRINATE

To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.

7. PERAMBULATE

Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.

8. NUMINOUS

The Grand Canyon
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This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.

9. PERIPATETIC

The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).

10. WALDEINSAMKEIT

You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)

11. SHINRIN-YOKU

In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.

12. SOLIVAGANT

In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.

13. YOKO MESHI

This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.

14. RESFEBER

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You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.

15. FLÂNEUR

Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.

16. GADABOUT

This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.

17. HIRAETH

Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”

18. YŪGEN

The karst peaks of Guilin, China
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This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.

19. SCHWELLENANGST

Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.

20. COMMUOVERE

Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.

21. HYGGE

This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

22. HANYAUKU

Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.

23. SMULTRONSTÄLLE

A patch of wild strawberries
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This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.

24. DUSTSCEAWUNG

This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.

25. VACILANDO

In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”

26. LEHITKALEV

Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.

27. KOMOREBI

Sun shining in the woods
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This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.

29. TROUVAILLE

Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.

30. ULLASSA

Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.

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