Kim Jong Il lived mostly in a seven-story palace in Pyongyang with its own karaoke machine. He is said to have had three computers in his office. He once said “Without computers one cannot escape ignorance and stupidity.” He reportedly spent two hours a day using the Internet. Madeline Albright said the last thing he said to when she visited Korea was to ask her for the U.S. State Department’s e-mail address.

Intelligence reports suggest that Kim maintains about 15 palaces and retreats, four in the Pyongyang area alone, and several of which are gigantic castle-like, granite structures that appear to be reachable only by underground railways. The prime residence near Pyongyang includes a racetrack and a giant waterslide and has its own underground station invisible to spy satellites. Equally puzzling is the vast Hwangju palace — the family’s mountain retreat, where several railway lines disappear from the surface into tunnels. [Source: New York Times, Leo Lewis, The Times, January 2009]

Poor eyesight kept him from reading many books, newspapers and reports. Instead he relied on television for information. He is said to have been something of a news and televison junkie. In addition to watching South Korea televison he also watched NHK from Japan, CCTV from China and CNN. Since he doesn’t speak Japanese or Chinese or very good English it believed that he had someone with him to interpret the foreign broadcasts. He also reportedly kept a team of translators on call that could interpret any foreign-language book he wanted to read.

Associated Press reported after his death in 2011: Kim's personal sushi chef for a decade, claimed “Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and that, in addition to sushi, Kim ate shark's fin soup — a rare delicacy — weekly. "His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning. The longest lasted for four days," the chef, who goes by the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, was quoted as saying. Kim is believed to have curbed his indulgent ways in recent years and looked slimmer in more recent video footage aired by North Korea's state-run broadcaster. [Source: Associated Press, December 19, 2011]

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker: Kim Jong Il was ferried about in his fleet of Mercedes-Benzes, from one grand palace to another, where Chinese, Japanese, French, Russian, and Korean food was always available for feasts that sometimes went on for days. One of the more mouthwatering accounts of life in Kim's court is by his former Japanese chef, “who wrote “Kim Jong Il's Cook — I Saw His Naked Body”“. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, August 22, 2005]

Kim Jong Il's “needs were met by large numbers of carefully selected young women, assigned to their special tasks. There were masseuses and girls trained to cater to the Leader's specific sexual demands, and there were singers and dancers... On one occasion, according to Hwang, Kim punished his guests, all high Party officials, for not applauding enough after a dance performance. On another, recounted by the Japanese chef, he ordered the girls to strip naked and dance with his guests. Anyone who dared touch one of Kim's private dancers, however, would be regarded as a thief. According to Hwang, one of Kim's secretaries went home after a night of drinking and told his wife about the Dear Leader's debauchery. She wrote an earnest letter to Kim's father, asking how a man who led such an immoral life could safeguard the happiness of his people. She was arrested and led to a palace where Kim Jong Il was carousing. Kim ordered her to be killed as a counter-revolutionary, but as a special favor allowed her husband to shoot her on the spot.”

Daily Life of Kim Jong Il

By many accounts Kim Jong Il was a workaholic. He reportedly slept fours a day and often stayed up al night and slept four hours during the say. He issues memos and orders from his busy office at all hours of the day and has been called a micromanaging Caligula who likes to make decision on everything from gifts given to staff members on national holidays to nuclear weapons policy.

Michael Elliott wrote in Time: “Kim is no fool. Those who have met him describe a man who is smart and has a supreme sense of self-confidence, almost as if the movie buff aspired to be a director, shuffling everyone else around at his command. And though North Korea can seem one of the places most isolated from world affairs, Kim is said to keep abreast of events by trolling the Internet and watching TV.” [Source: Michael Elliott, Time, April 26, 2004]

James Brooke wrote in the New York Times: “North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il prefers coffee to tea and doesn't mind being called comrade'' instead ofGreat Leader,'' a Russian official who spent a month on a train with the reclusive communist.” It has also been reported that Kim doesn't like anchovies on his pizza and insists that the grains of his rice be absolutely uniform in size and color.. [Source: James Brooke, New York Times, December 3 2002]

When ever he moved around North Korea, Kim Jong Il was accompanied by concentric rings of security details and was shuttled around in the midst of an elaborate system of dummy cars, boats, and trains.

There were many accusations of profligate indulgences. In October 1997, at the height of the North Korean famine that left maybe two million dead, a Japanese newspaper reported that he ordered 66,000 bottles of French wine, 1,900 boxes of canned meat and 20 cartons of chocolate.

Kim Jong Il's Wealth

By some estimated Kim Jong Il’s appetite for luxury consumed 20 percent of North Korea’s budget. He reportedly had access to about 100 royal villas. The Mansions Special Volunteer Corps has essentially a harem of thousand of women picked for the beauty. Some American experts on North Korea, believe Kim Jong Il has salted away more than US$4 billion in Swiss bank accounts. He not only took money from the North Korea treasury he reportedly used forced labor to mine gold in North Korean mountains and had the gold deposited directly into his account. According to the KCIA, the trafficked in gold ingots has earned Kim Jong Il US$2 billion.

Kim ordered 200 Class S Mercedes in 1998 for a total cost of US$20 million. On a special train ride through Russia Kim brought along two armored Mercedes and a “staff” of beautiful women that serenaded him. His beverages of choice during trip were Bordeaux, Burgundy and Hennesy Paradis cognac at US$650 per bottle. He consumed 20 course dinners. Kim has also imported pizza ovens and two Milanese chefs to teach his staff how to make pizzas. [Source: Newsweek, January 13, 2003]

Kim Jong Il reportedly kept a villa in Switzerland (where his son Kim Jong-un was educated) and has five other villas in Europe, plus one in Russia and one in China. A former bodyguard has said that one of his homes by the sea is outfit with a swimming pool that has it own wave-making machine. Kim Jong Il reportedly liked to swim around on a body board accompanied by a female doctor and nurse. He is also reported to have 30 luxury cars.

Kim Jong Il’s Interests and Hobbies

Kim’s interests, included professional cars and foreign films. He reportedly produced several North Korean films, mostly historical epics with an ideological dramas. According to intelligence reports Kim Jong Il was a mentally-unstable binge drinker who liked to drive through the streets of Pyongyang at high speeds, shooting out traffic lights. He also imported Western porno films, enjoyed watching NBA basketball games on TV, sometimes served wine with a live snakes in it, drove a motorboat at terrifying speeds, and enjoyed playing with battery powered cars. He is said to have known NBA basketball well enough to know the difference between and zone and man-to-man defense.

Kim Jong Il He also enjoyed hunting, fishing, horseback riding and racing around on jet skis. His favorite breed of horses was Russian Orlovs. He reportedly liked to ride them very fast. Once after South Korean actress Choi Eun Hee, who was abducted to North Korea and spent eight years there before escaping, told Kim he should play golf to get some exercise he laughed, "All right. I'll make some golf courses and from now on I'll play golf." According to official propaganda, Kim Jong Il once shot a 38-under par 34, including 5 holes-in-one, at the Pyongyang Golf Club. In the process he knocked 25 strikes of the single-round world record set by American golfer Al Geilberger in 1977. [Source: Peter Maass, New York Times Magazine, October 19, 2003]

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: Kim “has built a stable of 100 imported limousines, as well as an entourage of women who are trained in ''pleasure groups'' to service the leader sexually. Kim imports professional wrestlers from the United States, at a cost of US$15 million, to entertain him. And when he decided to build a film industry, he did what Hollywood studio heads could only dream about — kidnapped foreign directors and actors and forced them to work for him. His wine cellars contain more than 10,000 French bottles. He flies in chefs from Italy to prepare pizza. Meanwhile, his people scrounge for edible roots. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, New York Times, August 7, 2005]

This kind of behavior sets him part from dictators in other countries. ''For all the immense privileges enjoyed by . . . those who ruled the Soviet Union and China, they did not aspire to a live a life completely alien to their countrymen,'' Jasper Becker wrote in his biography of Kim Jong Il. ''They did not show signs of a consuming desire to emulate the tastes of a jet-set billionaire.''

Kim Jong Il Parties

Kim Jong Il was known as something of a playboy before he became supreme leader. According to an often heard report he imported a bunch of beautiful young Swedish women to keep him entertained. Not one is sure what these women actually did but during the late 1980s they danced nearly topless at a party for eastern Bloc diplomats to celebrate Kim's birthday. Although Kim did not attend it is believed he watched the proceedings from a closed circuit television.

Kenji Fujimoto told the Washington Post he attended a “pleasure party” in 1994, shortly after Kim Jong Il became leader, is which he ordered his top aides to dance to American disco music under strobes lights and a disco ball and told a group of young women to strip naked. “Kim Jong Il told the women to take off their clothes,” Fujimoto said and then Kim Jong Il said to his aides, “You can dance, but don’t touch. If you touch you are thieves.” “Mr. Kim himself would not dance,” Fujimoto continued. “Kim Jong Il liked to watch.”

Kim Jong Il like to have beautiful women sing before him and his court. Sometimes he would ask the singer to box with other women. There were also reports of Kim stripping to his underwear and conducting an orchestra and watching wild animal fights with his friends. He also reportedly put together “pleasure teams” that included women bands that girated in front of guests drinking Eternal Youth rice liquor.

Partying with Kim Jong Il

Peter Maass wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “In a memoir she wrote with her husband, ''Kidnapped to the North Korean Paradise,'' the South Korean actress Choi Eun Hee “recalls being woken one morning at 5 at the guarded villa where Kim had placed her. Her controller told her to get dressed quickly, but wouldn't say why. Within minutes, a Mercedes arrived at the villa and whisked her into central Pyongyang, to a building used for Kim Jong Il's parties. [Source: Peter Maass, New York Times Magazine, October 19, 2003]

''As I entered,'' Choi wrote, ''I was assaulted with the pungent odor of alcohol. Farther inside, I saw quite a spectacle. Forty or 50 people apparently had partied all night. The men were drunk, and there were several women I had never seen before.'' They perked up when the actress arrived. She was prevailed upon to have a drink, then another and another. The Dear Leader was not in mint condition; his eyes were bloodshot, and his speech was slurred. He had apparently been drinking all night long.

“''A band was performing in the front of the room,'' Choi wrote. ''All the girls were in their 20's. Kim Jong Il, drunk, gave a string of requests. Songs changed according to his request. The girls looked tired. He asked me to conduct the band. I declined, but then the others joined in on the request: 'Comrade Choi, our beloved leader doesn't let just anybody conduct the band. It's a great honor. Do it.'''

“So she did it. She soon felt ill from the alcohol, and Kim Jong Il ordered one of the women to take her to a room upstairs to rest. She fell asleep on a sofa, but was soon woken by a senior party official. ''I felt lips on my cheek,'' she recalled. She slapped the official and told him to get lost.

“Accounts of this sort gave the impression, outside North Korea, that Kim Jong Il was no more competent to take charge of his homeland than Hugh Hefner. Now, however, his bacchanalian ways are being viewed from a different, subtler perspective. As anyone who has spent time with South Korean or Japanese politicians knows, boozing and womanizing are an integral part of their political culture. Your drinking buddy is your political ally. It is the equivalent, in Tokyo and Seoul, of jogging with George W. Bush. Bonds are forged; loyalties, rewarded.

'Pleasure Brigades' of Kim Jong il

Kim Jong Il was reportedly entertained and received sexual services from a group of attractive young men known as the Pleasure Brigade or Pleasure Squad. This troupe of 2,000 or so dancing girls, were recruited from the country’s high schools as teenagers to perform at dictator’s 32-odd villas and palaces. Each pleasure group was composed of three teams: a “satisfaction team,” which performed sexual services; a “happiness team,” which provided massage; and a “dancing and singing team.”. [Source: Ian Vandaelle, National Post, December 20, 2011]

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul's Dongguk University told the National, the young women in the Pleasure Brigades were employees of the state whose work in many cases equated to other forms of mandatory service, such as military duty. "Unlike a capitalistic country, [Pleasure Brigades] are managed on a state level," Mr Koh said. "They are not only for Kim Jong Il, but also for other senior cadre. They serve at official functions of the ruling class." [Source: Sunny Lee, The National, January 28, 2010]

Sunny Lee wrote in The National: “It is not known how many women work in this way for Mr Kim and the rulers, but various South Korean media estimate 2,000. Apart from sexual services, the women provide massages and dance and sing. Mi Hyang” — a North Korean defector who said she was a Pleasure Brigade Member and published an account of expereince online — described how she was recruited. "I was 15 when two officers in their forties visited my school. They inspected all the female students and put aside some of them, including me, and made a detailed record of my family history and school record. I was asked whether I ever slept with a boy. I felt so ashamed to hear such a question.

“"Those over 165cm [tall] are excluded because Kim Jong Il is short," she said, adding that the candidate's body should not have any scars or blemishes and their voice should be soft and feminine. They also undergo a thorough medical examination. Across the country, 30 to 40 students are chosen annually as final candidates, including 15 males who serve as farmhands or household servants to Mr Kim. The new recruits undergo six months of training before they are "interviewed" by Mr Kim, who then decides whether he likes them. If they are chosen they can serve him until the age of 25, when they retire from duty. Before Mi Hyang met Mr Kim, she was required to write a pledge of allegiance with blood from her finger vowing to "To serve loyally".

“During their service to Mr Kim, which usually lasts 10 years, servants are not allowed to contact their families. Mi Hyang's service was cut short when her family was accused of treason and ordered to be executed. Mr Kim, she said, instructed that she not be killed. "I was told that he gave an order not to kill me. Perhaps, I owe him my life," Mi Hyang said. Shortly after that she fled. Mi Hyang said she never slept with Mr Kim. She also said he gave her a new name. "He said my original name sounded like a countryside girl and gave me a new name, 'Mi Hyang', which has since been registered in all my official records."

Being Kim Jong Il’s Guard

Lee Young-guk is a former Kim Jong Il guard who defected to South Korea. John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “For 10 years, until 1988, Lee was a personal bodyguard for Kim Jong Il, working among the phalanx of trained killers who protected the future North Korean dictator, infamous for, among other things, his fetishes for handguns, imported caviar and foreign-made limousines. Lee oversaw the enigmatic strongman's younger years as a leader in training, observing a privileged life played out inside grim fortresses and hideaway villas. Eventually, Lee came to detest what he now recalls as a farcical leader who enjoyed unparalleled luxury while his impoverished nation starved. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2011]

“He watched high-ranking officials hide behind trees rather than face the mercurial "Dear Leader," who was so fearful of duplicity that he constantly switched limousines, so fussy that he demanded his favorite perfume sprayed throughout his villas. Displeasing Kim could mean imprisonment, as it did for the guard sent to a gulag for using one of Kim's favorite ashtrays. "As time went on, I saw the real evil," recalls Lee, who defected to South Korea in 2000 and wrote a tell-all book two years later about his experiences. "He's a man who is not qualified to be a world leader."

“For Lee, guarding Kim meant a sort of imprisonment inside a gilded jail. Forbidden from visiting home, he harbored a constant fear of Kim's spies, placed within the ranks of those serving him. When Lee finally emerged from the bubble, he realized the lie the regime plays upon its people. Years later, Lee still has trouble sleeping. He says he drinks to excess to snuff out memories, like one of his Marlboro cigarettes. "He has the tail of a tiger," Lee says. "But if he lets it go, all his evil and wrongdoing will be discovered. The tiger will bite him."

“Lee first met Kim Jong Il on a snowy morning in 1979 when an American-made Lincoln Town Car rolled up outside a lavish residence in Pyongyang, the capital. Barely 18, a poor boy from the countryside, Lee had spent two years training for an elite assignment, surviving national tryouts to join 120 bodyguards who oversaw Kim's every move.

On that morning, the brash leader-to-be emerged with a friendly, if innocuous, greeting. "What's going on?" he said, patting Lee on the shoulder, directing him to spread salt on the icy driveway. "I was scared to be in the presence of this heavenly creature," he recalled. "And here he was talking so casually to me, this young, very neat, very pretty man."

“Lee rose at 5:30 every morning, and his every thought was of his boss, who liked to shoot his guns in the countryside, leaving his bodyguards to collect the kill for dinner. "He was a good shot, always playing with his gun," Lee says. "He said you only got better by practicing." Along with other guards, Lee feasted on such imported scarcities as mandarin oranges, bananas and pineapples, not to mention bear and tortoise meat. With his sumptuous lifestyle, the younger Kim quickly gained weight and began wearing his famous loose-fitting safari suit to cover his bulging belly.

“Among underlings, his mere presence inspired anxiety. Pressing a button in his limo, Kim would set off a series of red lights at his residence that announced his approach. That's when some officials would run for cover rather than face the junior leader. Once home, Kim surrounded himself with sycophants such as a small group of elite women who entertained him with talk of politics and economics. Guards were sometimes punished, such as the one who used the ashtray in Kim's private elevator. Kim proclaimed the man "haughty" and sent him and his family to prison, Lee recalled.

“Over the years, walled off inside Kim's inner sanctum, never leaving Pyongyang, Lee was led to believe that the quality of life among average North Koreans had vastly improved from the hardships he knew as a child. But those assumptions were dashed in 1988 when his cousin landed a job as a driver, and because of Kim's rules against having more than one family member in his employ, Lee chose to leave his insider's job.

Japanese Magician, Body Doubles and Tanks Around His Palace

Tenko Hikita, a Japanese magician known as Princess Tenko, was invited to North Korea in 1998 and 2000 to perform magic shows and attend Kim's private dinners. It was reported that she met Kim in 1998 but she denied this in interviews. She said that the purpose of her visit was to perform at the Friendship Art Festival held in Pyongyang and to meet Korean artists. She again visited North Korea in 2000 and performed for Kim Jong Il. She was asked to stay in North Korea but refused. She was one of the few foreigners invited to attend Kim’s funeral but she declined.

Kim Jong Il uses at least two lookalikes copying himself at some public events due to fears for his safety, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported in 2006. According to Associated Press: The lookalikes have so strikingly similar appearances to the reclusive leader that even North Korean officials accompanying the fakes don't know it, Yonhap said, citing unidentified South Korean intelligence officials. "As far as I know, at least two Kim Jong Il lookalikes fill in for him for some lower profile official events to reduce the chances of Kim being exposed to terrorist attempts," an official was quoted as saying. [Source: Associated Press, September 29, 2006]

“Kim also sends the fakes when his health is bad and he doesn't want to look weak in front of his people, another official was quoted as saying. The lookalikes had plastic surgery and were trained to speak and behave like Kim. They are of the same age, same height and with the same bouffant hairstyle and pot belly as Kim, the officials were quoted as saying. The South's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, declined to confirm the report. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also believed to have had a number of lookalikes taking his place at public events.

In March 2011, heavy-weapons, including tanks, were deployed around Kim Jong-il’s residences in Pyongyang, out of fear that the Arab Spring anti-government protests in the Middle East could spread to North Korea. A senior official of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) confirmed media reports that Kim has fortified his residences during a closed-door session of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee. According to the Korea Times the official said that “Kim Jong-il has placed tanks and many other weapons around his residences for fear of a similar situation,” when asked about the impact of the collapse of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. [Source: Lee Tae-hoon, Korea Times, March 6, 2011]

Kim Jong Il’s Travels and Fear of Flying

Kim Jong Il rarely travels abroad. In addition to his time in the Soviet Union and China and occasional trips there, he traveled outside of North Korea officially only once — to briefly study in Malta. Before 2000, Kim Jong Il's last visit outside of North Korea was in 1983: a trip to China. Kim Jong Il told South Korean media executives; “Why should I go abroad when everyone comes to see me?”

Kim Jong Il told Kim Dae Jung at the summit, “I’m not so great as to be called a recluse. The fact is, I have made secret trips to such countries as China and Indonesia. I have been here and there without people knowing.”

Kim Jong Il is afraid of flying. His last flight was on a trip to Bandung, Indonesia when he was 23. He traveled in Russia on a long 21-day train trip to Moscow in 2001 and went on shorts trips to destinations in Russia not far from North Korea in 2002 and 2011, shortly before his death. He went to China in 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, twice in 2010, and 2011.

Kim Jong-Il's fear of flying was caused by a 1976 helicopter crash that seriously injured him according to Ingolf Kiesow, who served as Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang from 1979 to 1982. In an interview published in the Japanese weekly Shukan Gendai, Kiesow said: "I have met Kim Jong-Il up close several times. A close look exposed a scar from the top of the forehead to the pate. It was the scar of a serious injury, which he suffered when he boarded a helicopter and got involved in its crash inside North Korea toward the end of 1976." [Source: Japanese diplomatic writer Masayuki Koike, a long-time friend of Mr Kiesow. June 17, 2003]

Kim Jong-il's Trains

Kim Jong Il used six luxurious trains with 90 carriages outfit with grand reception halls, conference rooms, opulent living quarters and high-tech satellite communications centers and , according to a South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, and there are 19 stations across North Korea that exclusively serve his trains. Associated Press reported: The newspaper “said the information was obtained via US spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and the testimonies of North Korean defectors. But South Korea's National Intelligence Service and the U.S. military command in Seoul said they were unable to confirm the report. The paper said Kim uses the trains when he visits army units and factories or travels abroad and that each armoured train has modern communications equipment, such as satellite phones, enabling the leader to obtain briefings and issue orders while travelling. [Source: Associated Press, November 9, 2009]

“Kim's train travels at less than breakneck speed, said the paper, usually 37mph (60 kph). To cope with any attempts to harm the North Korean leader, his train travels between two others, with the first running ahead to check the safety of railway lines and the second to carry a retinue of security agents and followers, Chosun Ilbo said. The paper quoted an unidentified source as saying security measures on the trains were boosted after an explosion in 2004 that killed about 160 people and injured 1,300 others. The blast in Ryongchon, near the border with China, was believed to have been caused by a train laden with oil and chemicals hitting power lines. But the explosion occurred hours after Kim reportedly passed through the station on his way home from a three-day visit to China, sparking speculation it might have been an assassination attempt.

Leo Lewis wrote in he Times: Previously gathered intelligence reports suggest that Mr Kim maintains about 15 palaces and retreats, several of which appear to be reachable only by underground railway. The prime residence near Pyongyang has its own underground station invisible to spy satellites. Equally puzzling is the vast Hwangju palace — the family’s mountain retreat, where several railway lines disappear from the surface into tunnels. The main purpose of the trains is believed to be the execution of the Dear Leader’s punishing domestic schedule inspecting factories and military facilities — official duties that he appears to perform still with vigour despite reports that he suffered from a debilitating stroke” in 2008. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, January 2009]

Kim Jong Il’s Train Trip to Moscow

Kim Jong Il traveled to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railroad in a private train in the summer of 2001. The entire trip took 24 days. Kim Jong Il traveled in an armored rail car given by Stalin to his father. His personal train was preceded by another train to make sure no mines or explosives placed on the track exploded under Kim’s car and followed by a third train to make sure no one commandeered a train and rammed Kim Jong Il’s train from behind. Trains stations were cleared of passengers and other trains were stopped when Kim Jong Il train came passing through.

Kim Jong Il boarded the train on a red carpet, ate 4-hour, 15-course meals with silver chopsticks and had cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy wine and live lobsters flow to the train. The entourage included four young female “conductors” who bowed deeply for a long time when they entered a room with Kim Jong Il in it and entertained Kim Jong Il and his companions with Russian and Korean songs. One car was a meeting room with flat screen televison used for showing videos and checking the trains position visa satellite. Another held two bullet proof Mercedes.

On the trip Kim Jong Il talked about how beautiful the women were in Paris discos and railed the Bush administration’s Korea policy. On the AIDS epidemic in Africa he said, “Many countries just exaggerate their disasters to get more aid from the international community.” In Omsk he visited a tank factory, model pig farm and spent almost an hour peering through a microscope at a collection of poems in the world’s smallest book.

Kim Jong Il made a shorter trip in Russia in the summer of 2002. In Vladivostok he consumed cold vodka and beet and cabbage soup with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Hanging Out with Kim Jong-il on His Train

James Brooke wrote in the New York Times: “Konstantin Pulikovsky, a rare foreigner who has spent time with North Korea's secretive leader,” said “Kim Jong Il is a fun guy. Drinking wines imported from France, nibbling on gourmet meals with silver chopsticks, and joining in rousing choruses of old Soviet songs with ''beautiful lady conductors,'' North Korea's remote ''Dear Leader'' emerges in flesh and blood from the pages of a new memoir by Mr. Pulikovsky, the representative of President Vladimir V. Putin in Russia's Far East. [Source: James Brooke, New York Times, December 3 2002]

Called ''Orient Express'' and published in” the fall of 2002" in Moscow, the 200-page snapshot-laden book prompted a diplomatic protest from North Korea and teeth gnashing in Russia's Foreign Ministry. It draws heavily on a confidential report prepared by a Russian Foreign Ministry notetaker on board during Mr. Kim's leisurely one-month train ride across Russia in the summer of 2001.

“Mr. Kim has given few speeches at home, has rarely traveled outside his isolated nation, and has granted no interviews to Western reporters. ''I am the object of criticism around the world,'' Mr. Pulikovsky quotes Mr. Kim as saying during one meeting on the long train ride. ''But I think that since I am being discussed, then I am on the right track.''

North Korea's Premier Personal Shopper

Kim Jong Ryul’s job was procuring luxury items for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and their families and associates. Julia Damianova wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “For 20 years, the mechanical engineer and onetime army colonel who went to college in the former East Germany purchased industrial goods, luxury Mercedes-Benz cars and weapons for the North Korean leadership. His shopping list also included such sensitive items as mass spectrometers that can be used, among other purposes, in identifying uranium and plutonium particles. Kim spoke fluent German, English and Japanese, having learned the latter, he says, from watching TV. Young, intelligent and well educated, he was the perfect person to send on lavish shopping sprees to Europe. Vienna was the ideal hub for business dealings in Germany, Switzerland and France, he says. [Source: Julia Damianova, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010]

“Through intermediary companies, he even bought goods from the United States, including the spectrometers, which are on the Nuclear Suppliers Group's list of restricted, dual-use equipment, and pistols that North Korean leaders ardently collected. "They all knew this was for North Korea," he says, speaking of the middlemen he worked with. But his offers were difficult to resist, he says, because he paid in cash, 30 percent over the usual asking price. At the same time, he says, he was secretly making a Western-style profit for himself. Without the knowledge of his comrades, he generally kept about 3 percent of the money from each deal, setting up a secret account in the Austrian private bank Schoellerbank, where he eventually amassed about US$300,000. In October 1994, Kim says, he fled to Austria, faking his death and going into hiding.

Malcolm Moore wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In his book, “At the Dictator's Service, “ Kim Jong Ryul “recounts the luxury in which North Korea's leaders live. Using the code name Emil, Kim travelled through Europe on a diplomatic passport and with a suitcase full of cash, procuring cars, planes, guns and special food for both Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il. The goods and money would be channelled through Vienna, to take advantage of banking secrecy, lax trade rules and minimal checks on aircraft. [Source: Malcolm Moore, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2010]

“Mr Kim said the North Korean leaders had dozens of villas, some of which were built underground, that were stuffed with chandeliers, silk wallpaper and expensive furniture. He said some of the villas were equipped with special ventilation systems in case of a nuclear attack. He said Kim Il-sung would "only eat foreign food". He added: "In Vienna, there was a special attache, a friend of mine, who only procured special foreign food for the dictator." Troupes of chefs would be sent from North Korea to Austria to study how to cook.”

Kim Jong Il and Drinking and Smoking

Kim Jong Il reportedly drank a bottle of cognac a day and had a massive liquor cellar with over 10,000 bottles and particularly copious amounts of Johnnie Walker Scotch and Hennessey XO cognac. Steve Glain wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Kim Jong was the world's largest single buyer of Hennessy's top-of-the-line cognac for two years in a row. It is estimated that the North Korean leader imported between US$650,000 and US$800,000 of cognac a year.

Kim Jong Il favorite cognac was 50-year-old Paradis, which sold for about US$630 a bottle in the early 2000s. One South Korean official said that the Dear leader used the liquor to "influence the whole country." Kim was also believed to possess of couple bottles of Hennessy No. 1, which can only be purchased through private bidding as it is served at the world's most exclusive restaurants.

Choi Eun Hee, the South Korean actress who was abducted and brought to North Korea, wrote in a memoir that Kim served her a bottle of liquor that contained a snake "moving about and looking like it was belching". Kim’s sushi chef said he loved the Japanese beer Asahi Super Dry and had boxes of it shipped over by the Man Yong Bong ferry from Japan and reportedly became irritated when the supply was disrupted by political issues that stopped the ferry from operating.

According to a Swedish diplomat Kim was out of the public eye from 1977 to 1978 due to "his indulgence in alcohol". As he got older, he less. A guest to a banquet he hosted in 2000 said he led several toasts, insisting that his guests gulp their drinks down while he took only a sip of his own drink. He told his guest that his doctors told him that he needed to cut back on his liquor intake. He later stuck mostly to red wine, usually Bordeaux of Burgundy. But during a landmark meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 he was observed downing 10 glasses of wine.

Kim also is said to have smoked three pack of Rothmans a day. He reportedly quit that habit completely in 2003 and promptly encouraged his people to do likewise.. All members of the military were required to quit with him. Smokers, he pronounced, are one of the 'three main fools of the 21st century', along with people ignorant about music and computers. His son, leader Kim Jong-un has often been photographed with a cigarette in his hand. After giving up smoking, Kim Jong Il is said to have still indulged in expensive cigars.

Kim Jong Il and Food

A Japanese sushi chef who worked for ten years in North Korea wrote a tell-all book “I Was Kim Jong Il’s Cook” under the pen name Kenji Fujimoto. He told the Washington Post, Kim “particularly enjoyed sashimi so fresh that he could start eating the fish as its mouth is still gasping and the tail is still thrashing. I sliced the fish so as not to puncture any of its vital organs, so of course it was till moving. Kim Jong Il was delighted. He would eat it with gusto.”

Fujimoto said that he was sent around the world to find delicacies for Kim Jong Il: caviar from Iran, mangos and papayas from Thailand, pork from Denmark, melons from China, fresh fish from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. He said he was once sent on a special trip to Tokyo buy US$100 worth of Kim Jong Il’s favorite rice cakes, with mugwort inside. Fujimoto calculated that each bite-size cake ended up costing about US$120. Kim even sent envoys to Beijing to bring back McDonald's hamburgers, he said. The chef escaped from Pyongyang by saying he needed to go to Japan to stock up on sea urchin for a special new dish (for a long time he kept his whereabouts secret because he was worried about being assassinated by North Korean spies.

Kim Jong Il apparently had a fondness for pizza, Portuguese oranges, Pakistani camel's thigh and Russian bear paws. He imported pizza ovens and brought in pizza chefs from Italy and had them teach North Korean chefs how to make pizza. One of the chefs said he had to participate in a “brainwashing” session on the elimination anchovies after some officials complained Kim’s dishes were too salty.

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times in 2004: “So insatiable is the appetite of the “Dear Leader” for sushi that he regularly defies medical advice and secretly asks for the fattiest fish to be brought to him. Mr Kim is particularly fond of shark’s fin and eats it several times a week prepared in a different recipe.” Fujimoto “describes the great satisfaction of cooking for a man who would drink soup from the serving tureen if he liked it enough: “He was a gourmand and would love trying any new type of food, but he carried his own case full of pills. I think there was medicine for the heart, liver, stomach and so forth. The chefs were told what had been banned by the doctors, but he couldn’t resist mackerel and tuna. He would give me the order for these in English so people around him didn’t understand.” [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, July 8, 2004]

Kim Jong Il: A Gourmet Not a Glutton

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Kim Jong Il “has spent an incalculable chunk of his nation's limited wealth feeding himself. His library has thousands of cookbooks and texts on gastronomy. Chefs have been flown in from around the world to cook for him. An institute in Pyongyang, the capital, staffed by some of North Korea's best-trained doctors, is devoted to ensuring that Kim eats not only the most delectable but also the most healthful foods - all the more important for the 5-foot-2 Kim, whose weight once pushed 200 pounds. "The purpose of the institute is 100 percent to prolong the life of Kim Jong Il," said Seok Young Hwan, a physician who worked there and later defected to South Korea. He said 200 professionals were working just in the division that handled Kim's diet. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2004]

“Former North Korean diplomats who were stationed abroad have told South Korean intelligence that they were asked to send each country's delicacies to Pyongyang for Kim's consumption - among them such exotic items as camel's feet, said a South Korean biographer, Sohn Kwang Joo. Kim insists that his rice be cooked over a wood fire using trees cut from Mt. Paektu, a legendary peak on the Chinese border, according to a memoir written by a nephew of Kim's first wife. He has his own private source of spring water. Female workers inspect each grain of rice to ensure that they meet the leader's standards.

“The leader's obsession with food apparently dates to his boyhood. Like many children, he was a fussy eater. Researchers found a note written by a teacher in 1952 - the height of the Korean War - detailing how to feed the 10-year-old heir to the North Korean leadership. (Kim's tastes at the time ran to more humble Korean dishes such as bean-paste soup and cabbage-wrapped rice, according to the note.) Jo Yung Hwan, a South Korean scholar, says Kim's preoccupation with food grew after the death of his mother when he was 7. Jo was particularly struck by an account of a Japanese waitress who claimed that Kim as an adult liked to have food put in his mouth as if he were a child. "That kind of behavior comes from lack of motherly love," Jo wrote in a 1996 psychological study of Kim.

“Kim is believed to have moderated his ways on the advice of his doctors. He reportedly quit smoking in 1999 and lost weight. He switched from cognac to red wine. "He was really obese. We recommended that he eat more traditional Korean foods and natural herbs that were good for the heart and veins," said Seok, the doctor who worked as a researcher at the Long Life Research Institute in Pyongyang. The institute, founded in the 1970s to oversee the health of the North's founder, also commandeered exotic foodstuffs for Kim Jong Il that were supposed to have medicinal properties. These included blue-shark liver from Angola and a lion extract procured in Tanzania.

Konstantin Pulikovsky, the Russian official who accompanied Kim on the train in Russia, said his menu usually consisted of 15 to 20 dishes. Pulikovsky emphasized, however, that Kim was not a glutton but a gourmet. "His dining is very moderate and modest. He would take only a little, as if to taste it," wrote Pulikovsky. "You get the feeling that he knows what's what in culinary matters." Kim's sushi chef also was impressed with his boss' knowledge of cuisine. "You should enjoy a meal first with your eyes, second with your nose and third with your tongue,” Kim liked to say.”

Enjoying Delicacies and Pretty Girls with Kim Jong-il on His Train

“The Russian wrote, ''Kim Jong Il can be called a gourmet.'' ''It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine,'' he wrote of the specially outfitted train that carried Mr. Kim. The North Koreans made sure that live lobsters were shipped to the train to provide Mr. Kim with fresh delicacies during the tedium of crossing Siberia. Cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy red wines were flown from Paris. Even President Putin's private train ''did not have the comfort of Kim Jong Il's train,'' Mr. Pulikovsky wrote. [Source: James Brooke, New York Times, December 3 2002]

“Impressed with the brown bread at a Khabarovsk restaurant, North Korea's leader had an aide fly 20 loaves to Pyongyang so that it would be fresh on his arrival. On a stop at Omsk, the North Korean rejected a plate of barrel-salted pickles, dismissing the offer as shoddily marinated cucumbers from Bulgaria, not prepared in the authentic Russian style. ''Then they served tiny pelmenis, kopeck-size, in a small frying pan baked under cheese and mayonnaise,'' Mr. Pulikovsky wrote, recalling crestfallen faces on the Siberian hosts at the arrival of the Russian meat dumplings. ''Kim Jong Il picked at them with a fork and said: 'What kind of pelmeni are these? They should be big, boiled and in broth.'''

“With meals on the train stretching sometimes for four hours or more, entertainment often took the form of singing Russian and Korean songs. The North Korean leader, who had left his wife back in Pyongyang, particularly enjoyed the charms of four young singers, who were introduced as ''lady conductors,'' Mr. Pulikovsky wrote. When his government ministers came into his office, ''they bent deferentially in a deep bow and remained like this until there was a hardly visible sign from their commander that they could straighten their backs,'' wrote Mr. Pulikovsky.

Making Pizza for Kim Jong-il

Hugh Levinson wrote in the Seoul Times: “Few foreigners get close to Kim Jong-il. But one Italian chef got close enough to make his pizza. The call came in the middle of the night, just as Ermanno Furlanis, a computer expert and part-time chef at the Pizza Institute in northern Italy, was trying to get to sleep. The call came from a top chef at a swanky hotel. He had been contacted by some foreign diplomats who wanted experts for culinary demonstrations "in a communist country in the Far East." That country was North Korea. It was the start of a bizarre adventure into the corridors and kitchens of power, which Mr Furlanis has recounted for a BBC Radio 3 documentary. [Source: Hugh Levinson, Seoul Times, August 11, 2006]

“A few days after the call, he found himself and a group of fellow chefs on their way to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. He was whisked through the city to a gleaming, empty clinic, for a complete medical check-up. They conducted X-rays, an electrocardiogram and a brain scan, and took magnetic resonance imaging, urine samples and a sizeable blood sample. "I was by now worried out of my mind," said Mr Furlanis. "Here was proof that we were completely in their power, and they could do with us as they pleased." They were sequestered in a vast, white marble palace, before being told to prepare for a trip to "a place at the seaside."

“The destination turned out to be a military base, protected by four layers of barbed wire and guards, and surrounded by heavy anti-aircraft guns. There, Mr Furlanis discovered that his task was to teach pizza-making skills to three army officers, who took the job remarkably seriously. "While I worked, my pupils, pen and notebook in hand, took down every detail while the rest of the staff, a dozen people or so, gathered round to watch the proceedings in an absorbed silence." Mr Furlanis said that one of the students even asked to count the olives he used and to measure the distance between them. "I don't know if he was just pulling my leg, but he looked totally serious," he said.

“After several days of tuition came the climax of the adventure — a trip to a huge ship anchored offshore. The North Korean staff had moved Mr Furlanis' entire pizzeria to a pontoon raft moored alongside the ship, where he started to work. Suddenly, there was huge agitation on board. Crossing the gangplank to the ship was — apparently — Kim Jong-il himself. "I am not in the position to say whether it really was him," said Mr Furlanis, "but our chef, who had no reason to fib, was, for the space of several minutes, utterly speechless. "He said he felt as if he had seen God, and I still envy him this experience."

Furlanis published a three-part memoir in magazines about his adventure in North Korea in 1997. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Furlanis was alternately appalled and fascinated by the luxuriousness of the walled seaside compound where he worked. The kitchen, he says, was a vast, white-tiled room equipped with the finest appliances, as antiseptically clean as an operating room and as reverently hushed as a church. It was, in short, a temple of gastronomy. "I doubt if even Federico Fellini could have concocted something of this magnitude," Furlanis wrote. During his three weeks in North Korea, Furlanis glimpsed Kim only from afar. Furlanis' minders never uttered Kim's name aloud but referred cryptically to a very important guest who, Furlanis was admonished, didn't want his food too salty and hated anchovies on his pizza. Nevertheless, Furlanis and other cooks were treated as honored guests. They were paid well, lavishly wined and dined, and pampered in much the same style as Kim himself. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2004]

"Every now and then, a kind of courier would show up from some corner of the world. I saw him twice unloading two enormous boxes containing an assortment of 20 very costly French cheeses and one box of prized French wines," Furlanis wrote. "That evening, dinner - a feast worthy of Petronius' 'Satyricon' - was served with an excellent Burgundy." Nonetheless, Furlanis objected that all the wine came from France. Three days later, a courier brought a shipment of Barolo wines from Italy.

Sanctions and Kim Jong Il Gifts to the North Korean Elite

In November 2006, The Bush administration announced it was blocking the export of luxury items to North Korea as under economic sanctions by the United Nations mandated after the North's nuclear test in October 2006. The list of blocked items included Japanese home appliances, German cars, French wine and shark fin soup, a Kim favorite. John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that the ban means "a little diet for Kim Jong Il." [Source: Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, November 30, 2006]

According to the New York Times: “The U.S. list included Rolex and other high-end watches, designer clothes, iPods, plasma televisions, furs, diamonds, computers, wine and beer. It also included snowmobiles, water skis, high-powered motorcycles and racing cars - toys for elite families and for Kim himself, who the official media has portrayed as someone who loves "things that move fast." The Japanese list included beef, caviar and fatty tuna, along with expensive cars, motorcycles and cameras.”

The sanctions also hurt the North Korean elite and gifts Kim Jong Il gives them. “Gifts from Kim Jong Il are more than economic luxury in the North. "They are the greatest honor a North Korean can expect for his family," said a former trading-company official. The gifts range from watches with Kim's name inscribed and down blankets, to entire sets of Japanese audio and video equipment. All of these items, carrying logos that show they were from Kim, must be displayed prominently in the homes of recipients. "They really can change your life in the North," Choe said. "You cannot sell the gifts. If a machine is broken, you just call the party and they come quickly and fix it."

According to the Washington Post among the items blocked are Fender Stratocasters, Harleys, Ski-Doos, Marlboros, fake fur, real fur, yachts, station wagons, silk scarves, designer fountain pens, perfume, jewelry, Jet Skis, crystal, Segways, race cars, leather and plasma TVs . "While North Korea's people starve and suffer, there is simply no excuse for the regime to be splurging on Cognac and cigars," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez of the United States said. "We will ban the export of these and other luxury goods that are purchased for no other reason than to benefit North Korea's governing elite."

"Kim Jong Il personally manages a list of 200 key generals and party officials. His method of ruling is simple: rewards or punishment," Sohn Kwang Joo, a longtime North Korean observer and now chief editor of Daily NK, a Seoul-based Web site specializing in news about North Korea, told the New York Times. "For punishment, he sends them to re-education camps. For rewards, he gives them luxury gifts ordinary North Koreans cannot dream of."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: Daily NK, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, The Telegraph, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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