Okay, I'm back in China, alive and well, and much much wiser for my five days in North Korea. There is so much I want to write about the trip, that I'm best of waiting until I get back to Oz, where I can spend all the time I like tap tap tapping away, rather that at the dingy internet cafe I'm currently stuck at in Beijing Railway Station. For all the detail and the photos, check the site out after 27 February, and all will be revealed.
For now, though, a few quick thoughts. North Korea is a poverty stricken place, but no more poverty stricken than other 'developing world' countries I've visited on the trip, such as Burma and Cambodia. Contrary to my expectations, the streets of Pyongyang do have some traffic, there is some commercial activity, people look reasonably healthy and adequately dressed, kids do smile and laugh and be kids, food is available if not plentiful. The one day spent outside of Pyongyang revealed that life is significantly tougher away from the capital, with much more noticable poverty and malnutrition, but again this is in parallel with experiences in other countries.
What sets North Korea apart though, as a unique destination is the complete and utter devotion that is shown to the President - the Great (and since 1994, dead) Leader Kim Il Sung - and his son the Dear (and rather chubby) Leader, Kim Jong Il. The images of one or both of them appear at every possible opportunity. Posters dotted through the city show the two of them in benevolent poses, portraits of the two appear in every home and public building, badges of the Great Leader sit atop the heart of every North Korean. The biggest attraction in Pyongyang is a 26 metre statue of Kim Il Sung. The flower show we attended (the Kimjongilia Flower Show - I shit you not) featured picture after picture of the Dear Leader. The examples are limitless, and I'll share more when I write more.
Thanks for those suggestions of birthday presents for KJI. Alas, his birthday passed on February 16 without any public appearance at all by the Dear Leader, despite dozens of events all across the country as part of the two day birthday celebration. There was one, brief, public appearance of KJI during our trip - on Thursday night he was the guest of honour at a Russian musical performance in Pyongyang. The very fact that he was there, in the flesh, alive and in Pyongyang, shattered a theory or two that was circulating in our small group about the current state of the Dear Leader. Again, more to come later.
The countdown is on until I return to 'Straya. I've got just short of a week in Beijing, and will then be heading home. Anyone got any gift requests before I get back? I've got some stray nuclear material from NK, offered as a parting gift to every visitor to Pyongyang. Soon they'll start using the stuff as food. Eat your greens... even if they're glowing green in the dark.