Australian bodybuilder with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet

(CNN)Meegan Hefford, a 25-year-old bodybuilder, was found unconscious on June 19 in her Mandurah, Western Australia, apartment, according to CNN affiliate Australia News 7.

Days later, Hefford was pronounced dead. Only after her death did her family learn that Hefford, the mother of a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, had a rare genetic disorder that prevented her body from properly metabolizing her high-protein diet.
Urea cycle disorder, which causes a deficiency of one enzyme in the urea cycle, stops the body from breaking down protein, according to the nonprofit National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation.
    Normally, the body can remove nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, from the blood. However, a urea cycle disorder would prohibit this.
    Therefore, nitrogen, in the form of toxic ammonia, would accumulate in the blood and eventually reach the brain, where it can cause irreversible damage, coma and death.
    “The enzyme deficiency can be mild enough so that the person is able to detoxify ammonia adequately — until there’s a trigger,” said Cynthia Le Mons, executive director of the foundation. The trigger could be a viral illness, stress or a high-protein diet, she added.
    “There was just no way of knowing she had it because they don’t routinely test for it,” said Michelle White, Hefford’s mother and a resident of Perth. “She started to feel unwell, and she collapsed.”
    White blames protein shakes for her daughter’s death.

    ‘Nuanced symptoms’

    Since 2014, Hefford, who worked at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and studied paramedicine, had been competing as a bodybuilder.
    It was only after Hefford’s death that White discovered containers of protein supplements in her daughter’s kitchen, along with a strict food plan. White understood then that her daughter, who had been preparing for another bodybuilding competition, had also been consuming an unbalanced diet.
    Hefford was eating “way too much protein,” said White, which triggered her daughter’s unknown urea cycle condition. (For most healthy people, a high-protein diet, when followed for a short time, generally isn’t harmful, according to the Mayo Clinic.)
    Hefford’s diet included protein-rich foods, such as lean meat and egg white, in addition to protein shakes and supplements, her mother said.
    “There’s medical advice on the back of all the supplements to seek out a doctor, but how many young people actually do?” White asked.
    Le Mons said, “typically, there are nuanced symptoms that just go unrecognized” with mild cases of urea cycle disorder. Symptoms include episodes of a lack of concentration, being very tired and vomiting.
    “Sometimes, people think it’s the flu and might even go to the ER thinking they have a really bad flu,” Le Mons said, adding that a simple serum ammonia level test, which can detect the condition, is not routinely done in ERs.
    It’s unclear whether Hefford suffered symptoms of her condition. White, who hopes her daughter’s story will serve as a warning to help save lives, believes protein supplements need more regulation.
    The Australian Medical Association says there’s no real health benefit to such supplements. And, while they may not be necessary for most people, they’re not dangerous to most, either.


    The estimated incidence of urea cycle disorders is 1 in 8,500 births. Since many cases remain undiagnosed, the exact incidence is unknown and believed to be underestimated.
    “There’s a myth that this disorder only affects children,” Le Mons said, noting that one patient reached age 85 before diagnosis.
    Regarding Hefford, Le Mons said that “this is not the first time this has happened.” Other athletes, who like Hefford were unaware of their condition, have died when a high-protein diet triggered their condition.

    See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    Though there is no cure for urea cycle disorder, a balanced diet is all that is needed for some patients, according to the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation.
    Treatment may include supplementation with special amino acid formulas, while in some more severe cases, one of two forms of an FDA-approved drug may be prescribed. When these therapies fail, liver transplant may become necessary.

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    Ischia earthquake: cheers go up as rescuers free third trapped brother

    Third of three brothers who were trapped in rubble of home freed by rescuers after magnitude 4.0 quake on island in Bay of Naples

    Rescue teams working through the night and into Tuesday freed three brothers trapped in the rubble of a house on the Italian island of Ischia, after a magnitude 4.0 earthquake that killed two women and left 39 injured, at least one of them seriously.

    The strength of Monday nights quake under the Bay of Naples was revised up to magnitude 4.0 by the INGV, Italys seismic observatory, after initially being reported at 3.6. More than 2,500 people were reported to be homeless or displaced and about 1,500 have fled the island.

    TV cameras recorded cheers going up as the last brother, 11-year-old Ciro, was carried on a stretcher from the rubble of his home at 2.12pm local time, 16 hours after the quake struck. Firefighters announced the success with a tweet that said: Even Ciro is saved!

    Rescuers had earlier pulled out seven-month-old Pasquale, then eight-year-old Mattias. The two elder boys hid under a bed after the first tremor on Monday night.

    The boys father, whose hands were bandaged after he spent the night digging through the rubble alongside the firefighters, could be seen tearfully hugging relatives as his eldest son was saved.

    It was a terrible night. I dont have words to explain it, the father told RAI state television while rescuers worked to free the older two boys. The entire second floor of the house collapsed and the firefighters pulled me out. They were great.

    He said his wife was in the bathroom and managed to escape through the window, but the older boys were in the bedroom while the baby was in a playpen in the kitchen.

    Luca Cari, the firefighter spokesman, described the work to free the boys as complicated. He said rescuers had maintained voice contact with the children throughout. There was silence for a while, they were tired. Then they began speaking again and we drew comfort from that, he said.

    Hospital officials said all three were doing well, with the older two boys being treated for dehydration and the oldest for a fracture to his right foot. They were expected to be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.

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    Baby is pulled alive from rubble after Ischia earthquake video

    One woman died after being buried under the rubble of her home in the town of Casamicciola while another was killed after being hit by debris falling from a church.

    The earthquake came two days before the first anniversary of an earthquake in central Italy, in which almost 300 people died. Ischias deadliest quake occurred in 1883, killing 2,300.

    The quake hit during the height of the tourist season, with the islands population of 64,000 ballooning by another 150,000 at the time the quake struck. Italian television showed many visitors taking refuge in parks and sleeping under blankets in the aftermath while authorities began organising ferries to bring tourists back to the mainland.

    Television images showed about six buildings in the town as well as a church had collapsed in the quake, which struck just before 9pm as many people were having dinner.

    Civil protection crews, already on the island in force to fight the forest fires that have been ravaging southern Italy, were checking the status of the buildings that were damaged, while more were arriving from the mainland.

    Together with the nearby island of Capri, Ischia is a favourite island getaway for Europes rich and famous, known in particular for its thermal waters. It gained further fame after featuring in Elena Ferrantes Neapolitan novels.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report

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    Jimmy Kimmel appealed directly to Trump voters during his monologue.

    The third time wasn’t the charm for President Donald Trump when it came to addressing what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend.

    People across the political spectrum were stunned with what amounted to a full-throated defense of white nationalists. The New York Post’s John Podhoretz called it “horrifying,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza warned that the speech signaled that Trump’s presidency could be “headed to a very dark place,” and a number of Republican members of Congress publicly distanced themselves from the president after his impromptu press conference in the Trump Tower lobby.

    Late night talk show hosts once again got in on the action of criticizing Trump’s comments, but Jimmy Kimmel took a somewhat unique approach.

    He began with what we all know: that Trump is volatile and at times, can seem “unhinged.” He got in some substantial criticism of Trump’s comments, such as Trump’s claim that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protest.

    That’s when Kimmel pivoted, choosing not to simply preach to the choir of “smug, annoying liberals,” but instead addressing Trump voters directly.

    “I get it. I actually do,” he said, offering empathy for people who felt so disaffected by the political system in the U.S. that they just wanted to “shake this Etch-a-Sketch hard and start over” with a political neophyte like Trump. But what does not make sense is why so many are continuing to stick by his side.

    Since taking office, Trump’s threatened a number of countries via Twitter, called the media the “enemy,” skirted nepotism laws, launched a bogus “voter fraud” investigation, repeatedly confused the concept of health insurance with life insurance, divulged classified information to the Russians during an Oval Office meeting, endorsed police brutality, and so much more.

    This probably isn’t what Trump voters actually voted for, and Kimmel gets that. He urged Trump voters to “treat the situation like you would if you’d put ‘Star Wars’ wallpaper in the kitchen: ‘All right, I got caught up. I was excited. I made a mistake, and now it needs to go.‘”

    Trump voters: your voices matter, especially right now. He needs to hear from you.

    Urge him to take the job seriously. This is not a vanity project to earn him praise. People’s lives are at stake.

    But if appealing to vanity is the only way to get through to him, well, Kimmel has a tongue-in-cheek solution to that as well: King Trump.

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    This 3D-printed robotic arm is built for sign language

    While we usually see robotics applied to industrial or research applications, there are plenty of ways they could help in everyday life as well: an autonomous guide for blind people, for instance, or a kitchen bot that helps disabled folks cook. Or and this one is real a robot arm that can perform rudimentary sign language.

    Its part of a masters thesis from grad students at the University of Antwerp who wanted to address the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired. In classrooms, courts and at home, these people often need interpreters who arent always available.

    Their solution is Antwerps Sign Language Actuating Node, or ASLAN. Its a robotic hand and forearm that can perform sign language letters and numbers. It was designed from scratch and built from 25 3D-printed parts, with 16 servos controlled by an Arduino board. Its taught gestures using a special glove, and the team is looking into recognizing them through a webcam as well.

    Right now, its just the one hand so obviously two-hand gestures and the cues from facial expressions that enrich sign language arent possible yet. But a second coordinating hand and an emotive robotic face are the next two projects the team aims to tackle.

    The idea is not to replace interpreters, whose nuance can hardly be replicated, but to make sure that there is always an option for anyone worldwide who requires sign language service. It also could be used to help teach sign language a robot doesnt get tired of repeating a gesture for you to learn.

    Why not just use a virtual hand? Good question. An app or even a speech-to-text program would accomplish many of the same things. But its hard to think less of the ASLAN project; taking an assistive technology off the screen and putting it in the real world, where it can be interacted with, viewed from many angles, and otherwise share the physical space of the people it helps, is a commendable goal.

    ASLAN was created by Guy Fierens, Stijn Huys and Jasper Slaets. Its still in prototype form, but once its finalized the designs will be open sourced.

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    These Decadent Cauliflower Recipes Taste Nothing Like Your Sad Diet Food

    Within the past couple of years, cauliflower has gained some culinary appeal. People love it for its healthy qualitiesand its ability to be extremely versatile in the kitchen this cruciferous vegetable can easily be made into a healthy pizza crust alternative, or even a carb-free rice option.

    But cauliflower is not just about being healthy, it can also just be straight-up delicious. And those are the kind of cauliflower recipes we have for you right here.We have the recipes thatll make you think of cauliflower when you want something comforting, something umami-filled and yes, even something a little healthy.

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    I Went To North Korea: What You’ve Heard Vs. What I Saw

    Get intimate with our new podcast Cracked Gets Personal. Subscribe for great episodes like The Most Insane Things We Saw In Emergency Medicine and 3 Wild Stories from Inside the Opiate Epidemic, available wherever you get your podcasts.

    I recently spent a week in North Korea. Because that’s a somewhat more unorthodox vacation destination than Disneyland. Because Americans are about to be banned from visiting like it’s an entire country that your parents think is a bad influence on you, I thought you’d like to hear about it. Seven carefully controlled days isn’t enough time to become an expert in any country, let alone one this complicated, and the best people to tell the story are Koreans themselves. But they’re not really available right now, so here’s what an internet dick-joke writer thought.


    Some Myths Are Broken Almost Immediately

    We are all endlessly fascinated by North Korea, but it’s almost impossible to get accurate information out of the country. That combination has produced a dangerous scenario where anything that’s said about it, no matter how ridiculous, will happily be eaten up by Westerners looking to laugh at North Korea’s “insanity,” like it’s a 25-million-person-strong surrealist sitcom produced for our amusement. No, a general wasn’t executed by mortar fire. No, they didn’t claim to have discovered unicorns. No, they never said that Kim Jong-il shot five holes-in-one in one game of golf. These stories begin as rumors or satire and are then repeated as fact by Western media because hey, it’s North Korea — it has to be true, right? It’s like believing that America is only the sum of Twitter trolls and Florida crime stories, but there’s an appetite for it.

    Mark Hill
    Kim Jong-il is apparently great at opening tractor doors, though.

    I’m not about to argue that the country is secretly a paradise. But if we reduce North Korea to a state run by cartoon supervillains, it becomes equally absurd and dangerous. Their government may be atrocious, but there’s still a clear logic to their actions — to dismiss them as lunatics invites the paranoid fantasy and anxiety that nuclear war is just a bored Kim Jong-un’s whim away. Unfortunately, our tour didn’t get the chance to sit in on any high-level strategy meetings, but that same line of thought extends to everything there. It may be foreign, and it may often be cruel, but it’s not a dark fantasyland — there’s a reason for all of it, even if that reasoning rarely accounts for human happiness.

    Even mere sightseeing debunked a good chunk of what floats around online. There is, for example, a theory that Pyongyang’s metro station consists of just two stops that run only when tourists visit. Well, I rode through six stops, and I can’t imagine that the government has nothing better to do with its time and resources than to make hundreds of actors pretend to ride it with us for the benefit of a motley collection of visiting writers, teachers, and computer programmers. Shockingly, it turns out that dictatorships are capable of maintaining basic public transportation, presumably because they like it when their people make it to work on time. But that’s all part of the biggest myth about North Korea …


    No, They’re Not Just Doing It To Impress Westerners

    A common reaction to hearing about my trip is that I’m not seeing real North Korea. I’m just seeing the good parts that they’re putting up as a front for the tour group. If everything about tours of North Korea is done to impress foreigners, the whole concept is self-defeating, as even their most impressive sights fail to live up to a modest Western standard of living. Tabloids like to write breathless “exposes” about seemingly empty restaurants supposedly filling up with locals once tourists sit down, as though Koreans eating food (wow, they think they’re people!) will blow the minds of tourists visiting eateries where the lights flicker and the bathroom doors are too warped to close.

    Tabloids also like to write about tourists who supposedly snuck out photos that the Korean government “doesn’t want you to see.” I was able to take over 3000 photos and videos without incident, and most of these supposedly “banned” photos either obeyed all the rules, or dickishly ignored a few simple requests, such as not taking close-ups of individuals without their permission (in the West that’s called being polite, but when North Korea asks for the same courtesy it morphs into ominous proof of deception).

    One site presents a picture of a department store as a secretive work of “very stressful” spy craft that risked the photographer’s life. In reality, you weren’t allowed to take photos of department stores for the same reason that you wouldn’t set 20 Korean tourists armed with cameras loose in a Safeway — it’s a busy place of work where locals are going about their day and wouldn’t appreciate cameras being shoved in their faces while they try to pick out a cereal. According to our Western guide, who has had to deal with people who broke photography rules, the end result isn’t years of hard labor — it’s a bureaucratic nightmare for the guides while the offender gets to go back to the hotel and have a swim.

    The reality is much more mundane, more quietly tragic. Yes, the sites you see are controlled. You’re only taken to Korea’s best schools and restaurants and accommodations, much like how a guided tour of the United States wouldn’t take you to check out Flint’s water supply and a CIA black-site before putting you up in a roach-infested roadside motel. But their top schools and museums lack lighting and air conditioning. Their fine tourist hotels offer you an hour of sputtering hot water in discolored bathrooms that lack shower heads but feature insect roommates. Bathrooms in their top restaurants are sometimes backed up and always filthy. The roads that take you to their massive monuments are bumpy and pockmarked. Store inventories look thin. Highways are repaved by hand, and decrepit women pick weeds in public parks. Their war museum has hundreds of fire extinguishers strewn about in lieu of sprinklers. A mineral-water bottling factory ran into technical difficulties. In the country you see bony cattle and what are barely more than hovels. Children and the elderly work fields, some of the latter hunched over permanently. Everyone is thin, and many people look tired. Signs of poverty and underdevelopment are everywhere and obvious. Hiding it would be the greatest stage performance ever created by humankind.

    Believing that everything is designed to fool Westerners is nonsensical and arrogant. North Korea is well aware that an erratically lit, broken-down bowling alley isn’t going to blow the minds of tourists, and it’s doubtful that they’re desperate for the approval of a couple dozen random nobodies with zero political influence. What they do seem to want to show us is that life there is normal, in its own way; that “even North Koreans” go out with their friends and family after a day’s work. And that’s perhaps the biggest thing the West fails to understand. Signs of poverty were everywhere, but so were bars, volleyball games, playgrounds, swimming pools, families in parks, students goofing around … the greatest myth is that life in North Korea is alien and unrecognizable to the rest of humanity. But despite the many horrifying differences, life does go on.


    A Few Tourists Just Seem To Want Drama

    Let’s go back to those supposedly rogue photographers who told tabloids that, if they had been caught, they would have faced severe punishment. While we were warned repeatedly about the draconian consequences of breaking the law (if you’re planning to rob someone, don’t do it in North Korea), punishment for minor infractions came in a different format.

    Nearly all Western tourists visit the Palace Of The Sun, a massive, imposing mausoleum where the bodies of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are on display. This is an extremely important and somber location, where visitors are expected to be on their best behavior. According to our Western guide, a tourist once decided to say “fuck that” and perform a handstand, which is like taking a shit on the Lincoln Memorial. Nothing happened to him, but both of the Korean guides supervising the trip were fired. It’s not fun to be unemployed in any country, but I’m guessing that it’s even less fun in North Korea.

    It quickly became apparent that while most tourists had done their homework, a few treated the trip as a spur-of-the-moment whimsy, like spring break crossed with Alcatraz: somewhere you could get drunk cheap, harass local girls, or shove your camera into the faces of locals like they were zoo animals.

    One couple seemed shocked that Korea was full of Korean food; others complained that meals were slow or that their bathtubs were stained, apparently unaware that they were living better than the vast majority of a country that didn’t speak the language they were ordering their drinks in. Most tourists were great! But some maintained a sense of superiority, as though it was a profound observation to point out that Korean technology was dated, or that an obvious falsehood told at a museum was, indeed, false. It was uncomfortable, like watching people lucky enough to have rich parents mock poor people for not working hard enough, but on a national scale.

    The occasional flouting of rules (on our first night, one tourist got drunk, tried to wander into a hotel kitchen, then tried to leave the hotel grounds entirely) led to a lot of jokes about the potential to be arrested or killed, and comments from the rule breakers that they weren’t afraid of the consequences. They didn’t mention the possibility that it would be a local getting in trouble for them.

    A couple people were convinced that a car that seemed to be following us was full of secret government minders who were watching our watchers (it turned out to be a private tour that was visiting some of the same sites), and also thought that two clearly different people we had seen throughout the day were the same secret policewoman masquerading as a waitress. One tourist insisted that polite questions from our Korean guides were part of a plot to spy on us, as though they were going to cap off their 14-hour days by rushing back to their rooms and furtively noting that Albert from Marseille is an accountant who likes field hockey, the imperialist swine.

    So, to a select minority, part of the appeal of visiting North Korea is police-state tourism — pretend to experience the oppression that the locals have to put up with daily, then be arrogant about having the freedom to respond with sarcasm. There are blogs and videos of tourists sneaking into restricted sections of the main tourist hotel, convinced they’ll find an elaborate spy network dedicated to watching guests shower and sleep, as opposed to — and I’m just spitballing here — somewhere employees can have a break from nosy Westerners, or work in private. The Otto Warmbier affair makes these adventures look ominous in retrospect. Unfortunately, they also make it clear how such tragedies could happen.


    North Korea’s Attitude Towards Foreigners Is Nuanced

    North Korea makes provocative anti-American statements about as often as children announce that they like ice cream, so it’s reasonable to assume that the country is full of anti-American propaganda. In reality, it was mostly limited to gift shops — for a society that supposedly scorns capitalism, North Korea is very good at filtering tourists into places where they can excitedly buy postcards and art prints that depict their own culture’s demise, among other souvenirs. Even Victory Day, which celebrates the end of the Korean War, features colorful flags and public dances, but no signs of Uncle Sam being skewered.

    One big exception was war movies, which constantly droned on in the background of restaurants and stores. They were usually half-watched at most by locals, but were fascinating to tourists, who had the chance to see how the people who are usually unceremoniously gunned down by Arnold or Stallone portray themselves as the selfless heroes. The other big exception is the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

    The War Museum is where North Korea gets to tell its historically dubious tale of their great victory over the American invaders. Politics aside, what’s immediately striking is its sheer size. There’s a reason the Korean War is called the Forgotten War in America. Wedged into a few pages of the history books between World War II and the Cold War, its official monument is modest and its dedicated museum is tucked away in Springfield, Illinois.

    Now here’s how North Korea memorializes the war, right in the heart of Pyongyang.

    The war is everything. The museum is sleek and massive, featuring room after room of exhibits, halls venerating war heroes, a recreation of a soldiers’ camp in both summer and winter, a gigantic, rotating, 360-degree diorama of the Battle Of Taejon complete with special effects, and endless displays of captured American war material. Most notably, it also holds the USS Pueblo, seized in 1968 and presented as proof that, while the war ended, American aggression never did. The video that accompanies the Pueblo tour is complete with dramatic statements and music that gives a glimpse of what it would be like if America was the Empire in Star Wars. There are also multiple coffee shops.

    The vast majority of the museum is dedicated to the Korean War. China’s crucial contribution is heavily downplayed and not on the regular tourist trail, as is the Soviet Union’s role. We were taught how America started the war (false), how Kim Il-sung’s genius saved the nation (it was mostly China bailing him out after warning him it was a bad idea to begin with), and how America committed a parade of war crimes and indiscriminately bombed civilians (an ugly, largely forgotten truth ). North Korea’s own war crimes go unmentioned.

    Every country needs foundational myths. America venerates the Revolutionary War, Canada has giant gold statues of Wayne Gretzky everywhere, etc. But a relatively short-lived dictatorship in a land with a long history needs myths more than most, and the war provides it. The museum sends a clear message — we won an incredible victory, but the Americans could return at any moment, looking for revenge and willing to bomb indiscriminately again.

    But that doesn’t mean that North Koreans have been reduced to a blind hatred and fear of Americans. The museum guide’s lecture on the evil American imperialists was delivered with the tone of someone who just wanted to get through another day, and she was happy to chat and pose for photos. Despite the endless militaristic tone, politeness and curiosity tended to win out. We were constantly asked about where we were from, one guide joked that he liked American women because they were tall, you can scrounge up cans of Coke, and Titanic (sans boobs) and Disney films make it onto TV. Other Western pop culture exists in limbo — James Bond movies, for example, are tolerated as long as you keep your love of them private (can we use that system in the West too, please?) and we were told that it’s not hard to track down some other Western films if you know a guy who knows a guy. It seems the average person would rather watch a movie than fight a war, no matter where you’re from.


    Their Relationship With Their Leaders Is Complicated

    It’s impossible to talk about North Korea without talking about their leadership. Images and statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are everywhere, and Kim Jong-un is spoken of with reverence. Most notable are the giant pair of statues in every city’s square, where locals pay their respects by bowing and leaving flowers. The statues in Pyongyang are especially large, and especially disquieting.

    There’s nothing inherently odd about memorializing dead leaders, and building giant statues is arguably less weird than carving heads into a mountainside. But it’s impossible to reconcile the smiling faces of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il with the poverty and underdevelopment that stretches out before them. They’re monuments to a civilization that never quite got off the ground, even after decades of trying.

    The leaders are credited, usually spuriously, with almost every accomplishment in the country’s history — sometimes directly, sometimes by serving as inspiration or by providing a key idea. These claims, while countless, were never as ridiculous as what we’ve heard in the West. There’s lots of talk of Kim Il-sung coming up with a genius farming technique or Kim Jong-il innovating teaching practices, but never anything that would strike even a willing mind as outside the realm of possibility. It does become absurdly excessive at times — Pyongyang’s railroad museum is less about the development of their railway and more of an extended tribute to Kim Il-sung’s brilliance for coming up with the idea of “Hey, let’s have trains” in the first place, although as tourists we were always welcome to only half-listen while taking photos or wandering off a bit. But in many exhibits, praising the leaders was tacked on as an aside, a brief formality before the curator could get down to business (“By the way, it was our beloved President Kim Il-sung’s idea to expand our steel industry, but anyway, here’s how we make it”).

    It’s easy to dismiss the entire population as brainwashed thanks to the ceaseless message that the Kims are responsible for nearly every good idea the country has ever had. And it’s impossible to put ourselves in the headspace of someone who has had these ideas drilled into them since birth. But even over the course of a week, our attitudes shifted from “Holy shit, another portrait of the Kims! Let’s all gawk and take pictures!” to “Oh, hey, some more Kim stuff. Anyway, does anyone remember what time we’re having dinner?” One can only speculate as to how many people on the street truly believe, and how many are simply going along with it so they can go home to their loved ones for another night. For what it’s worth, defectors have claimed that it’s just boring background noise to a lot of North Koreans, like a country run by that friend you’ve learned to tune out whenever they start bragging about how healthy their diet is.

    A system like North Korea’s needs some true believers to function, or at least a lot of people willing to go along with it. Apolitical conversations with our Korean guides about sports or Western life could be interrupted with a quick aside about how great their leaders were, before segueing right back into the subject at hand, leaving us wondering if they were serious or just keeping up appearances. And at times you couldn’t help but wonder if, deep down, no one really believes, and the whole system is a mirage kept extant through sheer inertia.

    Our Western guide noted that, behind closed doors, there is some quiet dissent and political discussion between close friends, and that one of the side effects of a dictatorship giving its people a good education is that people will want to use their educations. Decades of entrenched bureaucracy and infrastructure for punishment, centuries of social tradition towards the treatment of authority, and the analysis of risk versus reward are just as important to propping up Kim Jong-un as brainwashing. It’s easy to write off anyone who puts up with it as a crazed believer, but you’d be hesitant to foster rebellion too if it meant the potential loss of food in your stomach, a roof over your head, and the lives of your family. If you create a police state, you create people who consider their options carefully before acting.

    Perhaps the most telling anecdote of life under the Kims came when we went for a walk through Kaesong, where we could see through the windows of one row of houses. The homes were sparse and filthy, but on every wall were immaculate portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

    It leaves you wondering if, one day, they will be the focus of a very different kind of museum. But until then …


    It’s A Country Of People Trying To Make The Best Of Dictatorship

    The most memorable encounter I had in North Korea was with a middle-aged man who worked at the Grand People’s Study House, which is like their biggest public library crossed with a community college crossed with a building that Ethan Hunt would try to break into.

    He spoke flawless English, was funny and animated, and was passionate about working to provide knowledge to people. He was apolitical, and asked us thoughtful questions. He was honest about their budget issues, and seemed well aware that informing us of how they had switched from card catalogs to computers running Windows 2000 a decade ago was not bragworthy. But he took pride in running an institution where kids could come read and adults could brush up on professional skills. He’s the guy I’m going to think of the next time I see comments like these that are casually cheering for the death of millions:

    There is no denying North Korea’s atrocious human rights record, and memoirs of defectors who survived North Korea’s prison camps are haunting. But apparently we often forget that those human rights abuses are applied to, well, humans. Seniors who were taking their grandchildren out for walks, and who broke into big smiles when people started fawning over the kids. A guard at the DMZ, one of the most sensitive military instillations on the planet, who cracked up at the goofy hat a tourist had bought and asked if he could try it on. Kids at the water park who gossiped, laughed, pointed and waved at, and were generally fascinated by the abrupt appearance of awkward-looking white dudes. These are people who enjoy almost no freedoms and are routinely pressed into forced labor, yet are still eager to show off their country’s verdant natural beauty and rich, apolitical ancient history. It is a nation of survivors.

    There will probably never be war with North Korea, not even after North Korea’s latest threats and President Trump’s latest incontinent ramblings (remember when North Korea released a video showing Washington D.C. getting nuked, and then nothing happened?). The West doesn’t want the headache, and North Korean leadership knows that any conflict ends with anything from their imprisonment to their grisly deaths. Keep in mind that, every time a news site trots out a fearmongering “Will North Korea kill us all with nuclear weapons?” headline, the answer is “No, but they will continue to make life miserable for their own people.”

    And then there’s the travel ban. The argument that it’s for the safety of Americans rings hollow given that people are still free to, say, visit the front lines in the fight against ISIS, risk getting kidnapped in Caracas, or trek into rural Afghanistan and publicly criticize Islam. Banning Americans from visiting North Korea makes for dramatic saber rattling, but also accomplishes nothing to improve the lives of Koreans, while eliminating one of the few opportunities for both sides to see each other as people instead of as headlines about nuclear annihilation. That may mean very little in the grand scheme of things, but it is not nothing.

    Change in North Korea will likely be excruciatingly slow, and it will almost certainly be painful, but hidden behind the headlines of militarization and insanity are stories of modern technology helping to smuggle the world into North Korea, to people willing to risk everything to glimpse it. That’s pretty damn impressive considering that I fall into despair when I’m without my phone for a few hours.

    Special thanks to Koryo Tours, who can take you to North Korea too if you want to win every travel conversation you’ll ever have with your friends. Mark has a book and is on Twitter.

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    Here’s Another Installment Of Design Fails Because Human Stupidity Is Boundless

    Sometimes I look at something and think to myself that I could have made it way better.

    From home layouts to street grids to everyday kitchen appliances, it seems like some people make everything as difficult as possible. Clean, simple designs are almost hard to come by in this crazy world. Even though I think I could make things more efficient, there are some design fails that defy all reasoning. We’ve brought you these ridiculous goof-ups in the past, but here are 10 more that will really make you scratch your head.

    1. The water is supposed to flow INTO the drain, you know.

    2. Remind me never to get lost with the person who created these pillows.

    3. They say millenials are ambitious, but getting more than 100 percent correct might challenge anyone’s drive to succeed.

    4. These stairs are for people who love to live on the edge.

    5. Surely the barbed wire is a foolproof way to keep people out…

    6. Wait, how many legs do human women have?

    7. I mean, who among us has not been embarrassed by autocorrect?

    8. This is actually the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.

    9. This was made by a person who has clearly never seen a duck before.

    10. If you can even begin to explain the logic behind this elevator panel, please do for my sanity.

    (via BoredPanda)

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    An open letter from the guy at the party who is just kinda hanging out in the kitchen by himself right now

    Image: mashable composite; Shutterstock

    Hey guys, its me. The dude who is just kinda hanging in the kitchen by himself right now. I’ve been in here for so long now that if I even tried to rejoin the party at this point it would just be extremely weird.

    Trust me, I wish I wasn’t in here, too. This really sucks and I don’t know what to do.

    You mightve met me briefly in some sort of strangely forced introduction that neither of us wanted to partake in. Im Lukes coworker from three jobs ago. I’m only here because I ran into Luke at the grocery store last week and he begged me to come. Our mutual friend Andrea was supposed to come, too, but she bailed at the last minute. So I actually dont know anyone here besides Luke, and I barely know him in the first place. I retreated to the kitchen for a temporary respite from the party, but for some baffling reason, I am still in here.

    I’ve been in the kitchen alone for about 25 minutes now and Ive started to hear people wonder aloud about why I am in here. Things have really spiraled.

    Fucking hell this is awkward as shit. I don’t know how I let this happen.

    Image: max knoblauch

    If it wasn’t already obvious, I will not be joining the party when it migrates to the bar. You all seem great, but I am already too far into being “The Kitchen Guy” to possibly redeem myself tonight. I regret that this is your first impression of me, but I promise none of you will never see me again. This was a mortifying experience.

    Goddammit. When people come in here to grab a drink now they don’t even acknowledge me anymore. That can’t be good.

    All I really want to do right now is just get some Taco Bell and then watch 30 Rock at home in bed. Thats the only thing on my mind right now. My god does that sound pleasant. But here I am in this kitchen. Stuck. More stuck than you can possibly imagine, my friend. Things are bleak in here right now. I wish I could leave immediately but that is sadly impossible.

    Ugh. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I should’ve left an hour ago when that guy Brent left. I missed my window. Fuck.

    The front door feels like a gate to paradise right now; an unattainable, forbidden portal to freedom.

    New plan: whenever the Uber shows up, I’m just gonna say some flimsy excuse, like that I have to go meet up with “my friend Doug” but might meet up with you guys later or something. It will be a self-evident lie, and everyone will see right through it. It’s just theater. Necessary theater for nobody’s benefit. I don’t know anybody named Doug and I will be asleep by midnight. Thats a guarantee. Now if I could just find a painless way out of here.

    Hoo boy is this bad. A girl just came in and asked me if “everything was alright” and I pretended to answer a phone call. Christ. What in the hell was I thinking? There’s no way I’m showing my face in the party again after that.


    The front door feels like a gate to paradise right now; an unattainable, forbidden portal to freedom.

    All right. Enough is enough.

    The time has come for me to walk into that living room, say something like, “Ahh, I forgot I had a thing I was supposed to do tonight” and face an insincere chorus of nice to meet you!s and thanks for coming!s. The final act of this humiliating performance.

    Thanks for having me, man. I hope you have a nice rest of your life.

    Thanks for reading Mashable Humor: original comedy every day. Or most days. We’re people, just like you, and we’re trying our best.

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    James Corden and Gordon Ramsay judge toddlers’ culinary skills in this hilarious sketch

    Gordon Ramsay and James Corden lowered the age bracket and raised the stakes in this hilarious cooking competition sketch, Master Chef Junior Junior.

    In the video above, toddlers competed for the title of Master Chef Junior Junior. They were given free range in the kitchen. And things went south very quickly. Some of their key ingredients included a toy car, play dough, raw meat, and sprinkles.

    The kids deserve credit for creativity. But they definitely lose points in the edibility category.

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    China’s Spicy Hotpot Billionaire Is Ready to Take on the World

    Zhang Yong, the co-founder and chairman of Haidilao, one of China’s most successful hotpot chains, remembers his first time eating out. As a 19-year-old welder in Jianyang, Sichuan, it was exhilarating to escape the proletarian company cafeteria and dine in an actual restaurant, a rare experience for him at the time.

    But the staff was rude and the hotpot didn’t inspire. Then came a twist of fate that would change China’s culinary history: Zhang bolted from his job at a state-owned tractor factory in a dispute over a company apartment for him and his fiancée. In 1994, he opened his first restaurant with just four tables.

    Customers eat at a Haidilao Hotpot restaurant in Shanghai.

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Today, Zhang runs the nation’s most popular chain of restaurants that serves up boiling soup broth with meat, seafood, vegetables, and noodles. Haidilao has 196 outlets in 60 Chinese cities as well as more in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Singapore, and Seoul. 

    He’s also one of China’s newest billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, thanks to his 68 percent stake in closely held Sichuan Haidilao Catering and 63 percent stake in Hai Di Lao Holdings along with a 36 percent stake in publicly traded Yihai International, a food distribution and seasoning manufacturer for Haidilao, whose products are also sold in China by Wal-Mart, Carrefour and other retailers. Yang Yingying, a spokeswoman for Haidilao, said Zhang declined to comment on the net worth in an email.

    Zhang has no regrets. “That factory never made a profit,” says Zhang dressed casually in an open shirt during an interview in Zhengzhou, Henan, where he was attending a conference for Chinese entrepreneurs. “If I had not started Haidilao, I would have had to find something else, because you have to support yourself, you have to eat.” 

    Zhang Yong

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Sichuan Spice

    Zhang said he plans to keep expanding and aims for as many as 80 more stores this year, with maybe ten of them overseas.” Revenue of Haidilao will likely grow by more than 30 percent to 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) this year, he said, and there are no plans to publicly list the company on domestic or overseas stock exchanges.

    Zhang splits his time between China and Singapore, where his wife and son live. He’s done well for a guy who started out earning just 93 yuan ($14) a month in his first factory job. Last year, he bought a high-end property in Singapore for S$27 million ($20 million), according to the Business Times, a financial daily.

    Hotpot restaurants have surged in popularity as young Chinese entered the middle class and began eating out together. Haidilao specializes in spicy Sichuan hotpot dishes featuring a spicy broth and choices of meat, seafood, mushrooms, tofu and assorted vegetables.

    Sichuan hotpot dishes featuring a spicy broth and choices of meat, seafood, tofu and assorted vegetables.

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    At Haidilao, stoves are built into each table to keep your broth boiling. It’s possible to order a hotpot with two compartments set apart by a metal divider designed to match the curvy yin yang symbol. That way one side can be mushroom or chicken-based broth for more delicate palates, while the other is seasoned with whole peppercorns for diners looking for some spice. Hotpots with no divider and all spice are also available.

    What really sets Haidilao apart is its customer service. Customers waiting for a table can get their nails done or receive a shoulder massage at no charge. After being seated, every diner is given a moist warm towel and apron to protect their clothes.

    Individual plastic baggies are provided for mobile phones and those dining solo are sometimes offered a teddy bear to accompany them. “It was the key that got his first tiny restaurant going. The service was right there from the beginning,” says F. Warren McFarlan, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, who co-authored a 2011 case study on Haidilao.

    Customers have their nails done while waiting for a table.

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Zhang, like his waiters from a humble background in the hinterlands, knows the challenges migrants face in the big city. Haidilao provides apartments, often with air conditioning and wifi, for its staff. Zhang also provides a monthly subsidy for the parents of senior staff and managers. There’s a disaster fund for when employees’ families face hardships from natural disasters. “It’s not easy being a rural migrant in China,” says Zhang.

    Deep Bench

    Haidilao tends to promote from within, placing waiters and cleaners on management promotion tracks. The person who runs its U.S. business started as a restaurant doorman. Chief executive officer Yang Xiaoli worked her way up from her first role as a waitress.

    Servers carry food through the kitchen.

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Managers are evaluated by levels of customer satisfaction and staff morale, rather than primarily on restaurant revenue. “We rarely hire from outside. Just because you have a degree from Harvard or from Peking University, we won’t give you any special favor,” says Zhang, who never finished high school. “When I watch the waiters,“ he said, "I know they’re thinking about how they want to replace me,” he said with a smile.

    At Haidilao, wages start low, but rise rapidly for top performers. That and generous perks keep turnover lower, an anomaly in China’s high churn service industry, points out Harvard’s McFarlan. By treating employees well, Zhang “inspires a real level of loyalty,” he says.

    Successful managers are eligible to open franchises. Wang Bin, a 32-year-old migrant from Shaanxi province who started out cleaning toilets at Haidilao, runs a 24-hour restaurant in Sanlitun, Beijing’s nightlife district, and recently opened his first franchise shop in the coastal town of Weihai, Shandong. 

    With the customary 2.8 to 5 percent of revenues from the Shandong shop that goes to all franchisees, Wang now earns about 50,000 yuan ($7,281) a month, some five times the average wage of a Beijing restaurant manager, he said. “Haidilao cares about fairness and giving everyone a platform to develop oneself,” said Wang. “I have no plans to ever change companies.”

    While the charismatic Zhang has successfully overseen the expansion of Haidilao across the country, it is unclear whether his business model will translate overseas. “He’s taking a model working in one context with whole lot of history and social values and trying to transplant it,” says McFarlan.

    A baby crib is provided for customers with a small child.

    Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

    Zhang, however, is determined to take the Haidilao brand global. At his sole U.S. outlet in Los Angeles, Zhang said he’s unhappy that its business relies heavily on ethnic Chinese customers. To try to attract a more varied crowd he says future restaurants in the U.S. will adopt a more night-club-like atmosphere, with pop music and set menus for diners and perhaps even individual hotpots for each diner at the table.  

    “McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks are all a reflection of American culture,’’ said Zhang. “As the Chinese economy grows and the world starts to put more focus on China, I believe there’s a chance for Chinese restaurants.”

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