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Hither and Yon

One man is eating hearty up in Pyongyang

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
You have to wonder what Kim Jong-Un is eating these days.
Every time his picture appears visiting a military unit or a factory or an agricultural cooperative, he seems to have gained a kilogram or two. What’s he feasting on? What’s his favorite late-night snack? Is he a choco-holic or does he guzzle down a few too many rice cakes?
Who knows, could it be Kim is addicted to Choco-pies, the South Korean savory that was so popular among North Korean workers at the Kaeseong Industrial Complex? Is there any truth in the theory that he was so upset by weight gains attributed to Choco-pies that he personally ordered the South Koreans to stop distributing them? He may have known of no other way to keep himself from snacking on them, one after another.
The answers to the above questions are speculative, as observers of the North Korean scene are well aware. In fact, they are so speculative that one might question whether they’re worth raising at all. OK, but how often do we read or hear rumors about North Korea that have little or no basis in proven fact? Kim’s diet is a matter of serious interest. Hopefully, some day, a chef will defect to South Korea and write a book on what it was like cooking for Kim.
In addition to assuming he loves Choco-pies, like so many of his countrymen, I’m thinking he’s a devotee of pasta. Somehow I have a mental image of the guy seated in front of heaps of spaghetti, twirling each strand lovingly around his fork or chopsticks, smacking his lips with every enormous bite.
But wait. Didn’t we just read a report that North Korea is enduring the worst famine in a century? Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency carried a remarkably colorful story depicting images of rice paddies evaporating, portending perhaps the worst famine since the 1990s when many millions died. One million? One and a half million? Two million? Who’s counting? Nobody knows, any more than we know what Kim is feasting on, morning noon and night.
Still more speculatively, we have to wonder what North Koreans think of this image of Kim as the only fat man in a country of famished people. The image may not be altogether negative. Perhaps hungry people are awed by a leader who can look so jovial, so well fed, so happy to be out and about, cheering on missile tests. He may be viewed fondly by those to whom a bowl of rice a day is a luxury, a privilege.
While sharing in the sheer joy of having such a glutton in their midst, might anyone up there wonder why he’s investing so much on missiles and nukes while people don’t have enough to eat?
Silly question. Of course, North Koreans realize those missiles and nukes are essential to their protection against enemies near and far. Without them, North Koreans are thinking, we’d all be dead, not able to scrape and scrounge for leftovers in ramshackle markets. We are so proud, North Koreans must be saying, to have a leader dedicated to insuring our survival against annihilation by our many foes.
Not that everyone goes along with the program. Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol showed what he thought of fatso’s blathering by falling asleep in full view of the cameras. He’d doubtless heard it all before. Don’t blame him for drifting off but too bad for him.
North Korea, through diplomatic contacts, is acknowledging Hyon was not only summarily removed from his posts but executed. We can’t be sure that his body was blown to bits by an anti-aircraft gun, but we do know he’s dead and gone.
Gen. Hyon, of course, was not the only one. Jang Song-Thaek, Kim’s uncle through marriage and ”regent,” was knocked off two and a half years ago. The fat man had already instituted a sweeping purge, killing two of Jang’s top aides. Now we hear scores of officers linked to Hyon have also been executed.
No wonder Kim eats so well. He needs to be at full strength to do away with rivals, pretenders, doubters and nay-sayers. Picture a gang leader at a dinner with his top lieutenants. They’re smacking their lips, eating heartily, before fatso stalks around the table with a club in his hands. Suddenly he sees someone he suspects or dislikes. Bang. He bashes the miscreant on the head, then goes back to his pasta.
It must be fun knocking off people you don’t like. No need to send them into retirement. In the interests of the economy, better to kill them than to have to feed and house them forever. Then go back to your greatest pleasure, dining out, sampling the cuisine, comparing wines. Such are the rewards of absolute power in times of famine. Bon appetit!
Columnist Donald Kirk has enjoyed the cuisine on five visits to Pyongyang. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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