He is a cook and Portuguese. João Micaelo is a childhood friend of the North Korean dictator, where he has been twice
He has talked about it several times, but always for the sake of it. This time he decided to give a background interview to the Portuguese-language newspaper in Luxembourg, Contacto. João Micaelo unveils several stories – some of them unpublished – that involve the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, his teenage friend in Switzerland. They grew up together until the age of 16.
For the 36-year-old Portuguese, friendship with the dictator is, until today, normal, not least because the two times he was in Pyongyang, in 2012 and 2013, even adults “we were kids again”.
They met at the age of 13 and at that age smoked their first cigarette together. Kim Jong-un was simply Un-Pak, a son of North Korean ambassadors to Switzerland. At that time, a teacher ordered the new Korean student to sit next to João. Although they were at odds in the early days, the friendship started right there.
John’s parents were connected to the restoration. The father cooked a lot. By this time Kim Jong-un was a frequent visitor to the Micaelo family home. So frequent that I even ate there. “I remember once eating migas and he turning to me and saying that it sucked”, João reveals to the Activated newspaper.
João also went to the dictator’s house. Kim Jong-un’s family lived in a brick building in an urbanization in the center of Bern. There, he always ate barbecue, but what they did most was playing games. “He had a Sega, I had a Nintendo”, he recalls.
Kim Jong-un may be one of the most feared faces on the planet, but for the 36-year-old Alentejo, he is just the best friend of his teenage years.
João also remembers that Kim was always a basketball fanatic. “I had the room with posters of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan,” he says. The North Korean dictator did not live in a luxurious house, nor did he show signs of wealth, however “he always wore Nike tracksuits and wore Air Jordan,” reveals the cook, who guarantees that Kim was very competitive when playing basketball with friends.
The sixth year class in Switzerland. João is the first, standing on the left. Kim is the fifth (Photo from João Micaelo’s personal archive)
Micaelo reveals that he spent three spectacular years with Kim. They helped each other at school. They played video games and basketball. They watched movies together and talked about girls. The North Korean, the Portuguese confesses, had an attraction for the French actress Sophie Marceau, star of James Bond and Braveheart.
At the age of 16, and with the 9th year coming to an end, Kim called João for a serious conversation. “We went to his house and he told me that he was not actually the son of the North Korean ambassadors, but the President of the country,” says Micaelo, who at the time did not believe his friend, even though he had seen photographs of the two together.
But after that, everything would change. João didn’t see Kim again. Until one day. Three months later he received a call. It was Un-Pak, who asked you to meet with him. “He told me that he was going to study for the Military Academy. He repeated that he was the son of the North Korean President. This time yes, I believed him. He asked me about my plans, I said that I thought about becoming a cook, like my father ”, reveals the Portuguese.
Against some expectations, Kim Jong-un became the leader of North Korea in 2011. He was then 29 years old. For several years, Micaelo knew nothing of his friend. He continued his life, between pots and pans, as a cook. He passed Michelin-starred restaurants, was a chef at a cruise company and a cook at a restaurant in Vienna, among other experiences.
One day, when he was visiting his parents’ house, Japanese journalists appeared who wanted to interview him about Kim Jong-un. “I didn’t tell much, in fact, only that he liked basketball and the Bulls”, he guarantees, not knowing that, at that moment, his life would end up changing. After that, the circus came. Several journalists laid siege to his parents’ door, which forced João to return to Vienna. “Even CNN came to talk to me,” he recalls.
In 2012, three Asians entered the restaurant where he worked. They were sent from Pyongyang who could only return to North Korea if John accompanied them to dinner with the President. “I was distressed”, he assumes. Nervous, he boarded a flight to Beijing the next day. When he arrived in China, he had a North Korean airline plane waiting, exclusively chartered for him.
In the North Korean capital, a limousine was waiting for him. “They took me to a military compound and I went through a tunnel. I went up to the room, was given five minutes to change my clothes and took me to a huge banquet room. Un-Pak got up and came over to give me a hug. In that moment, I lost the tons of fear that had accumulated on my shoulders. There was my friend again and that was all that mattered ”, recalls the Portuguese cook in an interview with the newspaper Contacto. João Micaelo recalled yet another funny episode from that day: “I still enjoyed him because Portugal won 7-0 against North Korea at the World Cup in South Africa. He didn’t like it that much.”
He returned to North Korea in 2013, this time to stay for a week. “I visited the whole country, always accompanied by an entourage that included security guards, translators and cooks. If I was hungry, I didn’t see it, but I believe so, ”confesses João, who assumes that he has always been treated well by everyone.
After that week, the Alentejo did not see Kim Jong-un again. I wish I could talk to him to let him know that he returned to live in the same neighborhood as before, in Bern, and that his son Luís was born on the same day as him, on January 8th. The Portuguese also confessed to Contacto that he does not defend or attack the North Korean regime. He prefers to remember only his friend Un-Pak.