Even in death former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il watches over his people with a stern eye
Speculation is rife over the health of North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. In a manner befitting all dictators, actual hard facts have been difficult to come by yet it’s quite obvious that something is happening in country. Recall only months ago all the speculation regarding the health of Fidel Castro and what his death would do to Cuba.
Naturally, the topic of North Korea after Kim Il-Sung has been played up in the media. Some suggest that his illness could open the door to Korean reunification. Others are taking a more cautious wait and see attitude.
This is all the more fascinating because the rule of the Il family in North Korea has been marked by an uber-paranoia about foreign influence and subversion. Coined “The Hermit Kingdom“, access to the approved non-tourist parts of North Korea (of which there are few) is incredibly difficult to obtain. Jerry Guo shares his experience of travel through North Korea with Chinese tourists:
My foray – unsupervised for once – into downtown Pyongyang one afternoon brought its own adventures. At 6 feet, 4 inches and sporting a “I heart Brasil” T-shirt, I was not inconspicuous, and the North Koreans I passed, worried about being linked to a foreigner, avoided all eye contact.
For an hour, I caught a rare glimpse of everyday life in North Korea. To my surprise, it wasn’t much different from your generic third-world city. Conditions were stark, yes, but not as outlandish as many in the West might imagine. There were sidewalk vendors, electric trollies, bicycles, and neighborhood shops.
There was also one notable difference: the unparalleled sense of paranoia and Stalinish control. Take my six-hour ordeal with the Public Security Bureau. I became caught in their net when I snapped some fidgety shots of a vibrant indoor bazaar, a rare free market at work. Stocky women in pink dresses suddenly appeared.