10 Things We Learned About Kim Jong-Un From His Classmates

NICHOLAS YEO/AFP/Getty Images
NICHOLAS YEO/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is one of the great agitators in modern political culture. Known for being temperamental—he is said to have executed his uncle for plotting a coup—and unpredictable, Kim has helped give his country the reputation of being a wild card that can capture the attention of the world’s superpowers.

Like any powerful leader, Kim was once just a bright young man with homework. At the behest of his father, former supreme leader Kim Jong-il, Kim was schooled in a Swiss boarding school between 1998 and 2000, and the media has often turned to his former classmates to uncover details about his teenage personality. No one has yet discovered his doodled-on yearbook or a prom photo, but his peers did have some other insights. Here’s what we know about Kim Jong-un’s formative years.

1. HE LOVED HIS AIR JORDANS.

Young Kim probably never dreamed he would one day be hanging out with former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman, but it must have been some kind of life goal: The 17-year-old was obsessed with basketball in general and the Bulls in particular, devoting an entire room in his apartment to memorabilia. Kim also spent time penciling sketches of Michael Jordan and was said to favor Air Jordans both on and off the court.

2. HE HAD AN ALIAS.

Not wishing to be identified as the son of Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim registered with the Swiss school Liebefeld Steinhölzli Schule under the name Pak Un. He claimed to be the son of a North Korean embassy employee in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Both teachers and students alike noticed that Kim’s parents never showed up for school functions.

3. HE LIKED ACTION MOVIES.

In 2009, friends of Kim’s related to The Washington Post that Kim was slightly socially awkward, particularly around girls; when he wasn't watching basketball, he was usually watching action movies and using his Sony PlayStation. Kim played combat games and reportedly enjoyed the filmography of Jackie Chan.

4. HE HAD AN ENTOURAGE.

Kim’s presence was unique in the Swiss school for his entourage: At any point, a small number of Koreans appeared to be acting as servants, bodyguards, or assistants for Kim. Two employees would videotape his basketball games. Friends thought it was “strange” but wrote it off as “a Korean thing.”

5. HE OVER-SHARED.

Despite the lengths his family went to keep his real name a secret, Kim couldn’t always help but share that his father was the leader of North Korea. According to classmate Joao Micaelo, Kim once announced his heritage during a conversation with him. Micaelo thought Kim was lying. “Normally the children of people like this, they don’t go to a normal school,” Micaelo told CNN in 2010.

6. HE WOULD NOT TOLERATE COLD SPAGHETTI.

Friend Micaelo often visited Kim at his apartment, which was located at the Korean Embassy’s headquarters. While he noted that Kim was typically a little reserved, he didn’t see any flash of anger until the Embassy’s chefs served the two of them lukewarm pasta one evening. “He spoke to the servants in a manner that was quite sharp,” Micaelo told The Telegraph in 2010. “I was surprised because it was not how he normally was.”

7. HE FAVORED TRACK SUITS.

Like Tony Soprano and his father before him, Kim tended to dress for comfort, not presentation. His wardrobe apparently consisted heavily of Nike track suits, which he wore to class.

8. HE WASN’T THE SMARTEST KID IN CLASS.

Although Kim was two years older than most of his classmates because he wasn’t as proficient in German, he still struggled to keep up academically. In 2012, The Telegraph reported that Kim missed 75 days during his first year of school and 105 days his second, flunking natural sciences and getting minimum passing grades in most other subjects.

9. HE GORGED HIMSELF ON SWISS CHEESE.

Prone to bragging about how much he can eat and drink, Kim may have developed an appetite for gastronomic excess during school. He was reportedly so fond of Swiss cheese that he later deployed his personal chefs to a French culinary school to try and replicate the medium-hard Emmental he had enjoyed while he was a student. Kim is said to have gained 90 pounds from 2012 to 2016, though it's unknown how much of this was a result of his cheese intake.

10. HE TOTALLY VANISHED.

Kim still had a partial school year to finish out when he abruptly disappeared in 2000. He offered no forwarding address nor any indication that he might be leaving. “We thought he was ill or something and would soon be back,” former classmate Nikola Kovacevic told The Washington Post. “I hope he is a good dictator, but dictators are usually not that good.”

All images courtesy of Getty Images. This post originally appeared in 2017.

Celebrate the Encyclopedia Britannica's 250th Birthday by Checking Out Its First Edition Online

Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While those gold-embossed, multi-volume sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica were a feature of many an American childhood, the origins of the venerable reference work actually lie in Scotland. Two hundred and fifty years ago—on December 10, 1768—the first pages of the Britannica were published in Edinburgh. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Library of Scotland has put a rare first edition of the encyclopedia online.

The first edition was the brainchild of printer Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell, and the editor William Smellie. It was published in 100 weekly sections over three volumes (completed in 1771), but explicit engravings of midwifery scandalized some subscribers, and were ripped out on the orders of the Crown. The entries of the first edition—some of which ran to hundreds of pages—reflect the biases and preoccupations of their time: woman is defined as "the female of a man," while there are 39 pages devoted to horse diseases. Nevertheless, the work was a significant accomplishment that drew on at least 150 sources, from essays by famous philosophers to newspaper articles. It also featured 160 copperplate engravings by Bell.

The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

In a statement from the National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Curator Robert Betteridge said, "By the 20th century Britannica was a household name throughout the English-speaking world, and what is especially interesting about this publication was that it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint. The first edition emphasized two themes—modern science and Scottish identity, including ground-breaking and controversial articles on anatomy and Scots Law."

The first edition (which includes those ripped-out midwifery pages) will appear as part of an exhibit on the Scottish Enlightenment at the National Library of Scotland this summer. For now, you can view all three volumes of the first edition, from "A—the name of several rivers" to Zygophyllum, a genus in botany—online here.

[h/t American Libraries]

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

iStock.com/567185
iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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