Kim Jong-nam, older brother of current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was long considered the embarrassing stupid son of the dynasty, and there’s arguably some pretty stiff competition there. His fall from grace was due in part to his laughing-stock 2001 attempt to enter Japan illegally on a Dominican passport so that he could go to Tokyo Disneyland.
Regardless of how one rates his intelligence, his lack of interest in politics and subsequent banishment overseas (mostly to Macau, where North Korea has gambling operations) may have made him a better dad than were the rest of his clan. His high-school age son, named Han-sol, seems sweet and sensitive in a Finnish TV interview conducted in English by former United Nations Under-Secretary General Elisabeth Rehn in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Han-sol is enrolled at a United World College, a worldwide chain of prestigious independent schools currently presided over by the Queen Noor of Jordan.
Han-sol sports two earring studs and a perfect American accent–right down to intentionally mispronouncing Pyongyang–and uses the world “like” a lot. United World College was his own choice, having heard about the school from something as banal and un-totalitarian as getting a brochure from a friend.
He has an intellectually wholesome, cosmopolitan life at the school, it seems. He’s living in the dormitory. “My roommate is from Libya,” he said, “which was quite an experience, like, in the last year. When the revolution happened he was, like, enthusiastic about it and was telling me many stories about… how he went home and saw a different Libya.” Oh no. Kim might not be saying that if he knew that his late grandfather Kim Jong-il was so freaked out by the Arab Spring that he wouldn’t let North Korean nationals living in Libya return nome… for fear that they had absorbed revolutionary ideas.
Other interview highlights include a melancholic regret that he never met his grandfather before his death. “I was actually waiting for him, until he passed away, hoping he would come find me because I didn’t know if he knew that I existed.”
He also revealed that he did not know of his exalted lineage at first. His mother was an ordinary citizen and was not married to Kim Jong-nam. Recalls Han-sol, “I spent some time at my mom’s place… it was an ordinary house that most of the citizens had. I really didn’t get to know until later that my grandfather was a leader in North Korea. Little by little, through conversations that my parents had, I put the puzzle pieces together and I realized who he was.”
When Rehn solicited a comment about how Han-sol’s dad was passed over to succeed Kim Jong-il, he said, “My dad was definitely not interested in politics.” Regarding current leader Kim Jong-un, the boy said, “I don’t know how he became a dictator.” (Maybe he’s just annoyed with the whole family regime because he was forced to take down his Facebook page last year).
Han-sol (an appropriate name, given that his near-namesake Han Solo is a mercenary who becomes a good guy) may well be the first member of his family to have close personal South Korean friends, the bulk of whom he met growing up in Macau. “I dream of unification,” he said, “Because my friends would say it would be great to just take a bus to South Korea or North Korea and meet each other at some point. That’s one of the dreams.”