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North Korea’s capital is glamorous Oz set apart from hardships
From here, Pyongyang can seem like a dream.
At what passes for rush hour on a Wednesday morning, there are few sounds in Kaesong’s main traffic circle, just bicycles squeaking as riders pedal by and a tinny loudspeaker blaring anthems to Kim Jong-un, the baby-faced ruler who took power after his father’s death in December.
“The footsteps of our respected General Kim! Spreading the sound of a brilliant future!” the voice from the loudspeaker sings.
Occasionally, a solitary car goes by.
There are no nightspots here, no modern apartment complexes, no electricity except for a few hours every evening. The shelves in most stores are noticeably half-empty, and dirt side streets lead to clusters of small houses, many little more than shacks, with bulging walls and broken roofs.
It is the reality of North Korean urban life — with the notable exception of the capital city, 80 miles north of here, in a carefully crafted totalitarian Oz.
The contrast between Pyongyang and every other city in the country reflects an ever-growing chasm between North Korea’s elite and the daily struggles of everyone else.
Pyongyang has the Dolphinarium, a cavernous aquarium where smiling, fresh-faced trainers in skintight-suits make dolphins dance for ecstatic crowds.
There are the new 3,000-unit Changjon Street apartments, lit up like a movie set long into the night — a proclamation that North Korea has electricity to spare.
It has the Sunrise restaurant, the latest destination for the city’s nouveau riche, where tough-looking men drink grape Fanta from brandy snifters while their drivers wait outside with their Land Cruisers.
It offers good government jobs and the country’s top university.
“When I finally saw Pyongyang, it was so wonderful, so incredible,” said Kim Jong Hui, a cheerful 51-year-old from the northeastern city of Chongjin.
Ms. Kim spent a recent afternoon watching friends play on the country’s only miniature-golf course, a small maze of plastic greens set between a new amusement park and a new swimming complex.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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