Insight into KPA laundry habits
Summer in North Korea makes ideal conditions for the spread of various contagious diseases.
Lee Hyuk-Sung (29) was a KPA soldier until he escaped and arrived in South Korea in May 2014. He says, “Summer is a time of trials of a different kind for KPA soldiers. Something more frightening that hunger is extreme heat. And the beginning of summer is also the start of firearms training.
“The intensity of firearms training during the summer means soldiers are always drenched in sweat. There are no spare uniforms to change into, so the same salty uniform continues to be worn,” he adds.
Many soldiers suffer from skin diseases, with scabies considered as most common. Soldiers refer casually to this ailment as a ‘fit of madness’, because those suffering from it say the itching sensation does not go away even as they scratch until they bleed.
Lee says, “When summer arrives, soldiers look forward to washing their hair in a nearby lake or river. Higher-ranking officers busy themselves with training plans and overseeing construction work, they neglect soldiers’ hygiene. But units who know only barracks life constantly reek of sweat.
“Senior soldiers and platoon commanders instruct for doors and windows to be left open at night, in order to improve ventilation. But mosquitoes make it difficult to sleep. During the day, we undertake training and construction work. At night we get attacked by mosquitoes.”
Another escapee, Kim Hyuk (30) says, “Soldiers are given some personal time on Saturdays. Platoons and squads are rotated on a schedule to do laundry at this time. The ration is one bar of laundry soap per squad.
“To prevent senior soldiers using it all up with lower-ranking soldiers left only with soapy water, platoon commanders instruct troops to do a ‘full-body laundry’.”
‘Full-body laundry’ refers to a technique whereby soldiers wash their uniforms without taking them off. Troops enter the river and rub soap on their uniforms, before rinsing off and shaking off the water. They leave the wet uniforms on. Since there are no uniforms to change into and limited time allocation, this practice is much favoured and viewed as convenient by all. Besides, the uniforms dry quickly under the hot summer sun.
‘Full-body laundry’ is regarded almost as a proud KPA tradition. Even a soap shortage can be the basis of a military culture.
Reporting by Lee, Cheol-Mu.
Read in Korean.