From North Korea's Oz to its forgotten cities

By Tim Sullivan

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In just the past few months, the regime has opened the Dolphinarium (which also required a new 30-mile pipeline to pump in fresh seawater), a $19 million amusement park and an elaborate pool-and-water-slide complex. All are filled with adults, and all are wildly popular.

Even in Pyongyang, the top restaurants and karaoke parlors are too expensive for the rank-and-file supporters — everyone from party bureaucrats to low-ranking soldiers to schoolteachers — who also need to be kept happy.

Outside of Pyongyang, certainly, there are no $19 million amusement parks.

Asked what Kaesong residents do for enjoyment, a city official paused to think. There's the pool, Kim Ryong Mun said eventually, though it's really just for children. Finally, he had something: "Many people go outside and have picnics."

Kim, with his faded, blue-striped tie and digital camera hanging from his wrist as a sign of his success, blames international sanctions, imposed because of Pyongyang's nuclear program, for the lack of development.

"We are suffering because of the imperialist powers," he said, standing near his new chauffeur-driven car in the city center. Nearby, an elderly woman pushed a homemade wheelbarrow filled with bricks. A little later, a man rode by on his bicycle, with handmade shovels tied to it with twine.

Kaesong has "the determination to build a more prosperous city," Kim said, reciting a propaganda phrase that has become commonplace since the rise of the latest Kim.

"The problem of electricity is now solved," he said, when pressed about what needed to be done.

But how can that be, if there are only a few hours of power?

"We supply electricity in the evening, so people can enjoy their lives," he said. During the daytime, he added, the electricity goes to small factories. "This is normal."

On a recent evening, most lights were out by 10 p.m. Occasionally, though, you could see the orange glow of a cigarette, as a cyclist smoked as he rode home in the darkness.

And somewhere to the north, the lights of Pyongyang's amusement parks shone brightly.

The AP's David Guttenfelder contributed to this report.

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