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Be Amazing: Visit North Korea

Whether you're looking to glow in the dark, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

Visit beautiful North Korea—because this way, somebody might actually be interested in your vacation slide show. And by "somebody," of course, we mean the U.S. State Department! Despite (and partially because of) the nearly 60 years of oppressive and increasingly crazy totalitarian leadership, the "other" Korea does have some fascinating tourist attractions—from the natural glory Mt. Paektu, a 9000-foot-tall inactive volcano, to creepy-but-impressive Mass Games, a sort-of communist half-time show extravaganza with a cast of thousands. But to see any of North Korea's sights successfully (i.e.,not in a gulag), there are a few tips you'll need to remember.

YOU WILL NEED

"¢ A love of adventure
"¢ A desire to experience new cultures
"¢ A way to figure out whether or not your room has been bugged

Tip 1: PRETEND TO BE CANADIAN

canadian-flag.jpgGranted, it's best not to lie on your official entry applications—we don't want to get anyone branded a spy. But, as you may have noticed, the United States and North Korea don't really have the best relationship right now and this animosity spills over into practical areas, like currency exchange. North Korea is one of the few countries in the world where flashing greenbacks will get you nowhere. Instead, you'll need to trade your dollars for euros before you get in country. Even then, don't expect to be able to trade euros for souvenir-quality North Korean wan; the government is touchy about letting foreigners have access to local currency.

Tip 2: GET PERSONAL WITH YOUR PROPAGANDISTS

Tour guides are mandatory in North Korea. Every group of visitors must have two state-authorized guides with them at all times. And while it's handy to have a couple of Korean-speaking locals around to keep you from getting lost, they'll also be keeping you from a few other things—like ever having any contact with an average North Korean. The guides are there to make sure you stick to the Kim Jong Il"“approved paths. For instance, they'll undoubtedly take you down to see the capital city's immaculate, art-filled subway . . . but you'll only ride from the Puhung station to the Yongwang station. In fact, since 1973, this one-way trip is all most visitors have ever seen, inspiring rumors that the rest of the system is dilapidated and abandoned. However, there are ways to charm your guides into complacency. Reportedly, they're big fans of chocolate and American souvenirs.

Tip 3: CATCH UP ON YOUR SLEEP

If you like the nightlife, baby, North Korea may not be the place for you. There are, according to Lonely Planetguidebooks, a grand total of 3 nightclubs in the whole country, and these are reserved for the small group of foreigners who live and work in Pyongyang. No casual tourists allowed. This fact probably doesn't bother most North Koreans, however, as they're not allowed out that late anyway. Citizens have compulsory political education classes every night after work and only get Sundays off. By the time the propaganda schools shut down for the night, curfew has already kicked in.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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