‘He wasn’t a troublemaker, but he was short-tempered and had a lack of tolerance’
Travelling on a diplomatic passport, Ri went back and forth between North Korea and Switzerland, sometimes ferrying their youngest daughter and Kim Jong-un’s younger sister back and forth.
The family spoke Korean at home and ate Korean food but also enjoyed the benefits of an expatriate family in an exotic locale. Ko took the Kim children to Euro Disney, now Disneyland Paris. Kim Jongun had been to Tokyo Disneyland with his mother some years before — and her photo albums are full of pictures of them skiing in the Swiss Alps, swimming on the French Riviera and eating at al fresco restaurants in Italy.
Kim Jong-un loved games and machinery, trying to figure out how ships float and planes fly. He was already showing personality traits that would later become much more evident.
“He wasn’t a troublemaker, but he was shorttempered and had a lack of tolerance,” Ko recalled.
“When his mother tried to tell him off for playing with these things too much and not studying enough, he wouldn’t talk back, but he would protest in other ways, like going on a hunger strike.”
Kim loved going home for the summer, spending time in Wonsan, where the family has a huge beachfront compound, or at their main residence in Pyongyang, with its movie theatre and plenty of room to hang out.
“He started playing basketball, and he became obsessed with it,” his aunt said of the young Kim, who was a Michael Jordan fan and later hosted basketball player Dennis Rodman as a guest several times in North Korea. “He used to sleep... with his basketball.” He was shorter than his friends, and his mother told him if he played basketball, he would become taller, Ko said.
Later, at their house, Ri produced a neverpublicly seen photo, laminated and stored in an envelope, of a slightly built Kim, aged 13, and his older brother among a team wearing basketball