When Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, isn’t busy setting off missiles and laughing gleefully at cameras, his day-to-day life is more mundane than might be expected.
North Korea is on everybody’s lips in 2017 after no fewer than 10 missile launches this year, some of which skirted dangerously close to other countries—including one in March that landed just 186 miles off the coast of Japan.
Across Asia and in the wider world, the concern is that Pyongyang will attach a nuclear warhead onto a long-distance missile—something North Korea claims to be able to do (even if it has not been independently verified). North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) may even be able to reach Alaska, which has prompted the United States to step up pressure on its only ally, China, to either increase sanctions against Pyongyang or be sanctioned itself.
The case of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old who was sent back from North Korea after spending a year in prison in a coma and who died upon his return to the U.S., has radically increased tension between President Donald Trump and Pyongyang. Trump called Kim Jong Un “irrational”; in return, North Korea’s state media said Trump was a "psychopath."
When he isn't sparring with Donald Trump or supervising missile launches, how does Kim Jong Un spend his week?
At home with the family
Kim Jong Un usually appears in photographs surrounded by adoring children, the military or his advisers, but is rarely seen with his wife. Ri Sol-ju, 27, married Kim in 2009. Very little is known about her; experts debate the date of her birth. It’s not known if Ri Sol-ju is even her real name.
Her family is from the political elite, and she is believed to have a Ph.D. in science. There has been much speculation about Ri in foreign media. Some say she is actually singer Hyon Song-wol, famous for tunes including “Excellent Horse-Like Lady,” and that the North Korean propaganda machine is simply trying to hush up her past.
Aiden Foster-Carter, an expert on North Korea and honorary senior research fellow in Sociology and Modern Korea at Leeds University, attributes the secrecy around Kim Jong Un to life in North Korea being on a “need-to-know basis.” “We’ve actually seen his [Kim Jong Un’s] wife more than Kim Jong Il [his father] because he had a very complicated love life,” explains Foster-Carter.
It’s believed Kim Jong Un has a daughter, born in 2012, called Kim Ju-rae, but little is known about the child. In 2013, NBA star Dennis Rodman returned from North Korea and confirmed that Kim Jong Un has a baby girl, but if she exists she has not yet been formally introduced to the nation. North Korean tradition holds that the children of leaders are not to be introduced formally until they are adults, which was the case for both Kim Sung Il and Kim Jong Un, explains Foster-Carter.
Where does he live?
The Ryongsang Residence, known by locals as “Central Luxury Mansion,” is in Pyongyang, and is huge: 4.6 square miles. Facilities at the palace include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, banquet facilities, a running track and athletics field, a shooting range and stables. Satellite images show the house also has a giant waterslide.
But Kim has plenty of alternatives to the Ryongsang palace, should he wish to leave the capital.
In 2013, Kim Jong Un chartered a $7 million, 95-foot luxury yacht around the North Korean coastline during a tour. He also calls a palatial complex on the coast near Wonsan his home. Rodman described Kim’s life in Wonsan as a “seven-star party,” and that it's like going to “visit Hawaii except [Kim] is the only one there.”
Foster-Carter tells Newsweek,“You certainly couldn’t describe him as a workaholic like his father, so I imagine he spends more of his time relaxing rather than being in the center of politics.”
What does he do during his week?
The state newspaper Rodong Sinmun has a special section detailing “Supreme Leader Activities,” which is meant to give the impression that Kim Jong Un is devoted to his people. His public life revolves around parades, factory visits and discussing missile launches, according to the paper.
“Lavish photographs accompany the activities Kim is purported to be undertaking. And we know a lot, from defectors, [about] what these factory openings and other occasions are like. Bluntly, they’re scared when they find out the leader is coming to visit,” says Foster-Carter.
“On a practical level, production usually has to stop for a few weeks to ensure that Kim’s visit is incredibly smooth. They also used to have this thing in North Korea called the 'Midas Touch.' Anything Kim Il Sung touched had to be taken out of operation and put in a glass case.”
Factories of note he has visited over the last few months include a dental hygiene factory, a giant catfish factory and a mushroom processing plant. Kim has also given advice at a kimchi factory on how to increase its yield.
At the dental hygiene factory, Kim also imparted some important advice. Rodong Sinmun reported: “[He said] the factory makes a positive contribution to the promotion of the people's health, which is viewed seriously by him. He then gave an instruction to be regarded as a guideline in management of the factory.”
Kim also attends parades, many of which celebrate his family and the overthrow of imperialist aggressors (the United States).
What does he spend money on?
A U.N. report in 2014 found that Kim likes luxury living. He buys bottles of alcohol which cost the state $30 million (£20 million), electronic goods costing $37 million and watches which cost another $8.2 million.
In public, he dresses demurely in black or white overalls, smocks or military attire, but in private, it’s high-end fashion all the way. The report estimates that the total state spending on luxury goods rose from $300 million a year, under Kim Jong Il, to $645.8 million in 2012.
He eats his favorite food
In 2012, Kim Jong Un reportedly became so fat that he developed a cyst on his ankle and required surgery to remove it.
And Kim’s love of cheese and wine is no secret. The U.K.’s Metro reported that Kim Jong Un had to retreat from public life after eating too much Emmental cheese, after a large shipment of it arrived from Switzerland.
“Kim Jong Un certainly seems to enjoy the good life,” says Foster-Carter.
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