The North Korean Nail Clipper

Tırnak makasıOne day, a North Korean soldier was given, by a friend, an American-made nail clipper…

Proud of his new possession, he showed it off to his soldier buddies.

Since all foreign materials are banned in the country, punishable by death, the nail clipper certainly raised some eyebrows.

The soldier inspected it closely. Never before had he seen such a fine tool. Sharp edges. Graceful design. It was made in such a way that it’s form fused elegantly with its function. A rare sight in the Hermit Kingdom.

He clipped a few fingernails and then, says Barbara Demick in her book Nothing to Envy, “he realized with a sinking heart: If North Korea couldn’t make such a fine nail clipper, how could it compete with American weapons?”

This single insight changed his life.

One day, a North Korean student sat alone watching the news. The media, reporting on how workers are exploited in capitalist societies, showed a photo of a worker on a picket line.

But, wait. The student noticed something strange about the photo…

The man had a ballpoint pen in his front pocket. And he was wearing a jacket with a zipper. Both things considered luxury items in North Korea.

If this man is repressed, thought the student, then what am I?

This single insight changed his life.

And one more…

One day, Demick writes, “A North Korean maritime official was on a boat on the Yellow Sea in the mid-1990s when the radio accidentally picked up a South Korean broadcast.

“The program was a situation comedy that featured two young women fighting over a parking space at an apartment complex. He couldn’t grasp the concept of a place with so many cars that there was no room to park them. Although he was in his late thirties and fairly high-ranking, he had never known anyone who owned a private car — and certainly not young women.

“He assumed the radio program was a parody, but after a few days of mulling it over, it struck him that yes, there must be that many cars in South Korea.”

Yes, this single insight changed his life.

“He defected a few years later,” says Demick, “as did the soldier who saw the nail clipper and the student who saw the photograph of the striker.”


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