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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Live-Blogging the Kim Jong-il Holiday Spectacular

Being in South Korea when the death of Kim Jongi-il was announced was interesting, working for the national news agency makes it more so. So, why not live-blog the day of the funeral, in between my real work and facebook play . . .

0959 (Korea) and time for the Holiday Spectacular to begin. The funeral of the "Dear Leader" is expected to closely follow that of his father Kim Il-sung, the "Great Leader" in 1994. An hour of fresh lamentations at the bier in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, followed by an impressive cortege and military escort to take the body and entourage through Pyongyang then back to the palace, where his corpse will join that of his father's. Il-sung remains North Korea's "Eternal President."

1016: A story comes in regarding new anti-submarine drills planned in South Korea next year in response to the torpedoing of the Cheonan by the North last year. The exercises will be surprise simulated submarine infiltrations where they try to get as close as possible to SK patrol ships without being observed - let's hope there are no unexpected surprises . . .

1020: SK's nuclear envoy leaves for the US for talks with his counterpart - I wonder what about . . .

1025: Purty picture *squirrel*

1045: South Korean civic activist based in France made unauthorized condolence visit to North Korea. She was jailed for two and a half years the last time she visited the Norks and prosecutors plan to arrest her if she returns home.

Two private condolence delegations were given permission to visit and returned yesterday. One was led by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of SK President Kim Dae-jung, who authored the "Sunshine Policy" of reconciliation with the North and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for arranging the first inter-Korean summit that same year. Hyundai Asan, the SK chaebol  that held  monopoly rights to tourism packages to the North, was later charged with paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the Norks in return for the summit. That's quite a pricey Nobel.

The chairman of Hyundai Asan, Chung Mong-hun, indicted in 2003 and facing years in prison, died in an apparent suicide.  His widow, Hyung Jong-eun, led the other condolence delegation. Both were approved by the South as the North sent official delegations South after the deaths of Kim and Chung.

On the issue of condolences and delegations, the Norks last Mondy when announcing Kim's death were very clear NO foreign delegations were welcome at the funeral. Many analysts read that as a sign Kim's successor, youngest son Jong-un, had not yet consolidated power. By Friday, after the visits by Lee and Hong had been approved and the South had sent a message of "sympathies . . . to the North Korean people," the Norks had tweaked their message. Not sending an official delegation and not offering "condolences" was an "unpardonable insult" to their dignity.

Same shit, different Kim . . .

1110: The inter-Korean factory complex has closed for two days to honor the "Dear Leader."

1122: Many images of excessive grief from the North - I believe they are stage-managed and definitely hysterical but still quite genuine. Kim was not only the "Dear Leader" but seen as the father of the people, and those residents we see in Pyongyang have a far better standard of living than those in rural areas, so therefore more to lose.

It's a time of concern about choosing to align with the winning team, I'm sure, but it seems clear, at least in the short-term, that team will be led by Jong-un, with the help of Uncle Jang and the military. The penalties for a wrong choice can be harsh

1136: Oddly, after the excess of coverage the Nork's media has shared this last week, there's not yet any footage of the funeral or even acknowledgement that it is underway. I doubt the Hermit Kingdom has gone back in its shell . . .

1138: New Year's Day will be an interesting one for Nork-watchers. The North traditionally releases a New Year message that is thought to signal their intended path for the next year. They usually make for good reading, promising such treats for their neighbors as "nuclear holocaust" and "prompt, merciless and annihilatory action."

It will be fascinating to see what they wish us for next year . . .

1149: Those damn Norks never do what we want. No doubt they'll start releasing news at noon as per usual, that way they not only upset the US news cycles but keep analysts there awake past their bedtimes (they need beauty sleep more than most) AND mess with my lunch hour . . .

1203: The Kiwi is off to forage (eats roots and leaves) but will return anon. If you're bored while she's away, Andrei Lankov's analysis of the NK economy makes for interesting reading.

While I agree that the NK economy has improved a lot recently and that there is a lot more investment flowing in, I also keep in mind that money coming in does not mean money trickling down to the people, and the UN report last year on child malnutrition. A synopsis can be found here.

1313: One of the many interesting things I noticed when I first came to South Korea was the almost universal tendency of offices to close for an hour or two over lunch. Thus, while you can go to the bank during your lunch break, don't bother phoning a government office or even most travel agencies to utilize your break productively. Be like most "salarymen" (the SK term for mid-level business people) and do that during work hours instead.

So, while my colleagues and I mostly worked through our lunch break last Monday, when the "Dear Leader's" death was announced, it's back to business as usual today and nothing expected until the reporters return at 1330.

1350: It appears the (North) Korean Central News Agency has decided to talk again and the funeral was delayed several hours by heavy snowfall throughout the country. More to follow, perhaps . . .

In the interim, I guess I'll go back to facebook stalking Doctrine Man while waiting for my online opponents to take their Scrabble turns and planning New Year's Day dinner . . .

1400: We're getting the live feed now and the Norks really DO know how to put on a show . . .

The initial voice-over was creepily reminiscent of Boris Karloff (speaking Korean while trying not to cry, so perhaps not that reminiscent) and the rows and rows of NK military against the snow-covered background are impressive.

For the record, the KCNA said the snow was the sky "grieving" for Kim Jong-il also . . .

Jong-un is walking at the front right corner of the hearse carrying his father's body, with Uncle Jang behind him in a suit, not the military uniform he has been in the past few days. Those on the right are in suits while the uniformed military walks to the left of the hearse. Pageantry and symbolism - Disney has nothing on the Norks . . .

1411: Much weeping and wailing from citizens lining the route, some jumping up and down also but that may be just to stay warm . . .

1415: Myths to cement Jong-il's importance in the North's history books:

These are from Yonhap but I can't access the link right now so will post this for now.


In one account, an unidentified bird was seen brushing off snow from a statue of Kim Jong-il last week, "breaking the hearts of many people" who heard the story, the official Radio Pyongyang reported.
"As I was unable to calm my heart from a guilty conscience, a white bird larger than a dove suddenly brushed off the snow from the shoulders of the leader's statue," one eyewitness was quoted as saying by the radio station.
And . . .

A soldier was quoted by the North's state television on Sunday, saying that he saw a tree budding in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The official Korean Central News Agency reported last week that residents near the inter-Korean border saw a "series of blinding blue flashes accompanied by thunder" on Wednesday. These occurred in five-minute intervals during heavy snowfall between the hours of 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., it said. The English-language dispatch was titled "Even nature seems to mourn demise of great man."
"Witnessing this, citizens of the city said that the demise of Kim Jong-il was so heart-rending that even the sky seemed to writhe in grief," the dispatch said.

1440: Mass hysteria among the military lining the motorcade route also - I'm sure there's an aspect of "WTF happens now?" to it . . .

Long lead shots of the motorcade are eerie, headed by the lead car carrying a massive portrait of Jong-il and everything obscured by the snow except headlights . . .

1509: Goose-stepping looks painful . . .

1551: Having just finished editing a long analysis on North Korea for a sister publication, plus watched hours of snow swirling around Jong-il's motorcade as North Koreans grieve hysterically, the Kiwi feels it might be time to head home soon. Photos and updates can be found on the Yonhap site and a live feed should be available here.

Let's see what tomorrow brings - no doubt SSDK again.


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