- Associated Press - Thursday, October 11, 2012

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.

Dancing dolphins

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.

She had traveled for two days on North Korea’s decrepit rail network to make her first visit to the capital city for a series of national day celebrations.

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.

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