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9 Highlights from GQ's Kim Jong Il Expose

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By Keith Wagstaff

In 1982, a man calling himself Kenji Fujimoto flew to North Korea to teach young chefs in Pyongyang how to make sushi. He would eventually become Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef and close confidante, staying by the Dear Leader's side for 11 years.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson interviewed Fujimoto in Saku, Japan, for a story in this month's GQ. In it, Fujimoto confirms that Kim Jong Il was as eccentric, unpredictable, and dangerous as the world thought he was.

If you have time to spare, it's definitely worth delving into this fascinating 8,040-word article. In the meantime, here are some of the more interesting revelations:

1. Fujimoto would fly to Beijing to buy Big Macs for Kim Jong Il
Seeing as high-quality ingredients were scarce in North Korea, Kim Jong Il would have Fujimoto fly all over the world to bring him foreign delicacies, including Iran for caviar, France for wine and cognac, Denmark for beer and ham, and Beijing for an American specialty: The Big Mac. Mostly, however, he would fly to Japan for fish.

2. Nobody could call Kim Jong Il by his name
Fujimoto had no idea who Kim Jong Il was until he saw his picture on the front page of a newspaper:

The next day, Fujimoto was talking to the mamasan of his hotel. She was holding a newspaper, the official Rodong Sinmun, and on the front page was a photo of the man in the tracksuit. Fujimoto told her this was the man he'd just served dinner.

"She started trembling," Fujimoto said of the moment he realized the man's true identity. "Then I started trembling." [GQ]

The reason Fujimoto didn't know who he was serving? Nobody called Kim Jong Il by his name. The government officials who associated with him called him "Jang-gun-nim," meaning "honored general," or risked disappearing. Fujimoto, who didn't speak Korean, would translate that into Shogun-sama, or "super shogun."

3. Kim Jong Il loved Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and Iron Chef
Kim Jong Il apparently loved watching California's 38th governor in action, watching and discussing Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with Fujimoto while they both drank Bordeaux. The Dear Leader was also a big Iron Chef fan, stockpiling VHS tapes of episodes and asking Fujimoto about ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and Kobe beef.

4. Fujimoto escaped North Korea because Kim Jong Il wanted to try uni
Kim Jong Il became suspicious of Fujimoto after he had been detained by Japanese officials while in Tokyo on a fish run. Despite this fact, Fujimoto was able to convince the North Korean dictator to let him return to Japan to bring back something he had never tried before:

In March 2001, Fujimoto casually mentioned to Kim Jong-il that he had a new Iron Chef video, an episode Kim had never seen. When they watched it together, Kim discovered the episode's "mystery ingredient" was one he'd never tasted before: sea-urchin roe, or uni. When Kim asked about uni, Fujimoto described it as the most exquisite delicacy in the world, one whose creamy texture was both oceany and sweet. It could only come from Rishiri Island, off Hokkaido, and only an experienced sushi chef could discriminate good uni from bad. [GQ]

While at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to buy uni, Fujimoto stopped to eat a bowl of ramen, then ditched his North Korean minders in the crowd and escaped into the city.

5. Kim Jong Il kept young North Korean girls in his "Joy Division"
Kim Jong Il's "Joy Division" brigade consisted of North Korean girls taken from their homes before the age of 16 to provide entertainment, give massages, and perform sexual acts. Once "recruited," they were trained how to sing and dance and sent abroad to learn how to give massages. Depending on Kim Jong Il's mood, they could be ordered at any moment to "sing sentimental songs, disco dance, strip naked, or hold spontaneous boxing matches."

6. Kim Jong Il ate only perfectly shaped rice
Fujimoto described to GQ's Johnson the institute Kim Jong Il founded to prolong his longevity, which included inspecting his rice:

Its staff of 200 approved every element of Kim's diet. Each grain of Kim's rice was hand-inspected for chips and cracks — only perfectly shaped rice, grown in North Korea, was approved. According to Fujimoto, the rice had to be cooked over wood harvested from Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain where, North Korean propaganda claimed, Kim was born under a double rainbow and a newly born star. [GQ]

7. Kim Jong Il had a motorized boogie board
Kim Jong Il, who apparently wanted the fun of moving through the water without the exercise, had a motorized boogie board he would ride in his underground Olympic-sized swimming pool decorated with gold tiles in his image.

8. Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un liked to drink … a lot
Both father and son would challenge people to drinking contests. Parties, which could go on for as long as four days, would get so wild that they would sometimes lead to "head shaving, drunken pranks, gunplay." Kim Jong Il had a 10,000-bottle wine cellar and reportedly had a cognac habit that cost him $700,000 a year.

9. Kim Jong Il's funeral procession might have been inspired by In the Line of Fire
Once while watching the 1993 film In the Line of Fire, one of the 30,000 DVDs in his library, Kim Jong Il told his staff to watch as Clint Eastwood's character and seven of his Secret Service agents walked alongside the president's limo with their hands on the chassis:

"This is the best scene in the movie!" he announced. He turned to his secretary and pointed at him. "This is how you protect me," he said. Then he shouted at his security team, "You have to protect me as the Secret Police in the movie do!" [GQ]

Fujimoto noticed a similar formation in 2011 — when watching Kim Jong Un and seven others walking alongside a limo in Kim Jong Il's funeral procession.

Read the entire article at GQ.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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