This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on Aug. 5, 2014, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting the Chonji Lubricant Factory at an unconfirmed location. (KCNA via AFP)

At the best of times, life is not great for most North Koreans. They live in an isolated totalitarian state beset by food shortages and ruled through fear by one of the world's most repressive regimes.

But spare a thought for denizens of the Hermit Kingdom toiling there right now, amid a brutal heat wave that has seen temperatures surge past the July average. In a bid to get work done in cooler hours, Pyongyang has mandated that all state workers start their day at 5 a.m. during this month-long peak summer period known as the "sambok."

“All central agencies in Pyongyang and other offices and schools nationwide have been ordered to... now start at 5am instead of the usual 8, and end at 1pm," an anonymous source told the Daily NK site, in an article published also by the Guardian's North Korea network.

The source detailed the hardships brought on by the new schedules, including exhaustion among children and the absence of eateries at dinner time (they are shuttered because of the early start to the day).

Here's some more context from the article, written by Choi Song Min:

The early working hours in the summer were first implemented after the turn of the century under the orders of former leader Kim Jong-il. Although central agencies, party offices, and the elites working at state-owned companies are equipped with air conditioners, this summer’s drought has limited energy production at hydroelectric power plants, making it impossible to run a fan, much less an air conditioner.

The electricity shortages are a real problem at this time of the year. Part of the derivation of the word "sambok," writes Choi, comes from a Chinese character that can be translated thus: "to lie face down because the summer days are so hot that even a frog cannot endure it, lying flat with its stomach stuck to the humid earth."

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