Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the Winter Olympics are currently under way, is extremely cold. Subzero temperatures inspired organizers to plan a relatively swift opening ceremony, forced biathletes to reconsider their choice of gloves, and sent television commentators in frantic search of cosmetics that wouldn’t freeze their faces off. Watching the Games, I have been thinking about the temperature fifty miles north, on the other side of the D.M.Z., where basic amenities—never mind battery-powered jackets, space heaters, free coffee, and weatherproof foundation—are harder to come by. Power outages are common in North Korea: in recent years, according to some reports, the country’s net electricity usage fell to nineteen-seventies levels, even as its population grew by nearly ten million. Then there is the untold number of prisoners in labor camps; presumably, their defenses against the weather are grossly limited.
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