Verdant Parks and Skimpy Harvests from North Korea

Yesterday, Xinhua graciously carried a photogallery of autumn scenery in Pyongyang.  If this counts as propaganda, call me aware of my own complicity; but also be content just to enjoy the pictures for once:

Pyongyang, October 31, 2009 -- via Xinhua/KCNA -- click image for link to gallery

Of course, Xinhua follows up these exquisite gems with unadorned accounts of Kim Jong-il’s visit to a chicken farm in restive North Pyong’an province (are you even aware, much less concerned, about those weird leaflets that turned up in that province, Dear Leader?) and the DPRK’s demand for direct negotiations with the U.S.

As nice as life is in Pyongyang, the North Koreans are undoubtedly playing for grain again.  It’s a rotten harvest in the breadbasket of Hwanghae and the always-precarious North Hamgyong province.  (Testimonials to the Good Friends Buddhist organization portend “the worst harvest in 80 years,” no small matter considering the massive traumas inflicted by the long famine of the late 1990s.) If no grain payoff appears in Pyongyang for sitting down with the Americans, we may have more of the same: restive officers making off with what they can, while the state flails out with ancient techniques of repression.

But for an afternoon, at least, something resembling normalcy, even beauty, was experienced along the banks of the Taedong River.  Pyongyang has been a beautiful city for centuries, and it isn’t about to stop now.

Call it the calm before the storm.

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