North Korea News / Dispatches on Korean & Japanese Culture

The Choson Ilbo reports, via an epic poem written by a defector, on a sensationalist story of how one of Kim Jong-Il’s alleged lovers, an actress whom he was supposedly showering with gifts from Europe, fell in love with a pianist and attempted to kill herself in Pyongyang. The end of the story indicates this story’s merging with romantic fiction/tabloid news, but in general it is probably quite accurate in the sense that it chronicles Kim Jong-Il’s deep immersion in the world of the performing arts.

An excerpt:

Yun Hye-yong was a woman beyond the reach even of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Yun, the lead singer of Kim’s former favorite band Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, was brutally executed after she spurned Kim’s persistent advances and fell in love with another man.

Or so claims Chang Jin-song, an author formerly affiliated with the North Korean Workers’ Party, in “Kim Jong-il’s Last Woman.” Published in May, it is an epic poem that details Kim’s private life and inside story of his regime based on the true story of the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble.

According to the book, Kim ordered Yun Hye-yong’s songs to be used for the mass gymnastic performance “Arirang,” and attended a concert with her on his birthday. Although many women had found the dictator’s favor before, none had ever merited a place next to him at a public event. Kim even sent officials to Europe to buy her stage costumes and accessories. Yet Yun loved the band’s pianist. When Kim’s agents discovered their relationship by tapping her phone, Yun jumped from the roof of Mokran House, an official banquet hall, with her lover. Although the man died instantly, Kim ordered his men to kill Yun after resuscitating her by any means. She was eventually executed at the end of 2003, while still in coma.

More DPRK bande desinee
More DPRK bande desinee

An interesting fragment regarding naval zones and North Korea with reference to the tightening of sanctions (click on image for link):

Choson Ilbo features multi-media reports on North Korean refugees along the long border with China. Meanwhile, the ever-active culture of matchmaking is being modified in the process of South Korean men finding it conducive to marry North Korean women, the most famous of whom is perhaps Kim Hye-young, who is divorced once since defecting to the ROK but appears ready to again tie the knot, this time with a hunky co-star. Has news of this pending union rocked her fellow alumni at Pyongyang Theater and Film University?

In the #1 city for Sino-North Korean trade, Dandong, a dispatch has been published by Michael Forsythe, who heads up the Bloomberg bureau in Beijing. It’s based primarily on interviews with Chinese merchants and worth reading in entirety, but I enjoyed the following passage the most, because it reflects on both the advantages and limitations of how we report on North Korea from the Chinese vantage point:

Shopkeepers working within sight of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River that separates the countries said traffic is down by as much as half since May.

Fan Bo said he sells about 10 generators a month to North Korea, all to Chinese companies doing business there. “The North Koreans don’t need generators,” he said. “They don’t use electricity.” Mao Yifeng, a tire seller, blames the global financial crisis for the slowdown.

Over the course of half an hour on Aug. 12, two empty blue Chinese trucks crossed the bridge into Dandong. One diesel freight train, also Chinese, crossed to China from North Korea. The open door on one of its two cars revealed there was nothing inside.

Over 45 minutes the next morning, two empty trucks and three empty North Korean buses crossed into China. No trucks were seen heading into the North.

Running parallel to the Friendship Bridge is the Broken Bridge, whose North Korean side was bombed by the U.S. in 1950 during the Korean War and never reconstructed. Tourists pay 20 yuan to make the walk to the end of the bridge and gaze at the residents of Sinuiju city on the opposite bank in North Korea.

A souvenir salesman who only gave his surname, Huang, said he’s seen road and rail traffic on the Friendship Bridge fall by about half since North Korea’s nuclear test in May. “It was never busy, now it’s even less,” Huang said.

NK Economy Watch provides a slightly different take on the article.

Scott Snyder’s recent book on Sino-Korean relations is worth checking out. And James Person, never one to be lacking in multi-lingual documentation, is going strong with more historically-based themes of Sino-Korean mix-ups in the Cold War.

Northeast Asia Matters is a no-nonsense blog on security and Washington-Seoul-Santa Fe-Pyongyang scuttlebutt.

Whether you are 4 or older, East Asia has much to offer to a curious mind
4-year-old has visions of Eurasia; within the mass he gravitates immediately to Cheju Island

James Turnbull writes a fascinating and very popular blog on fashion merchandising, gender, and capitalism in South Korea. He breaks down images like the following, which I will pass along with no comment (other than it seems that the model, like Chairman Mao back in the day, has certainly achieved his buff status through much arduous farm work) , with the hope that you visit the site, masterfully titled “The Grand Narrative” for a feast of analysis:

Reported by the blog “Seoul Man in Tokyo“: An exhibit of contemporary art recently closed at the Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo. Since it connects to one of my more popular posts (a translation of a German essay on Cai-Guo Qiang, Damon Hirst’s shark, and the oppositional powers of art and nature), I hope that readers will find it fascinating as do I.

Dinosaurs in St. Paul, Minnesota

Tomoko Konoike installation: The planet is covered by silvery sleep
Tomoko Konoike installation: "The planet is covered by silvery sleep"
Dinosaurs in St. Paul, Minnesota

And, although it lies outside the boundaries of Korea, Japanprobe is a wonderfully quirky site with many useful links for students of Japanese culture, particularly on the video front. “Japanese for Morons” appears to be one of the more interesting entries on the blog.