The Chinese were tight-lipped. After all, a lot of people would like to see the Dear Leader become the Dead Leader, so his itinerary would naturally be kept on the QT by the PRC. Kim Jong-il reportedly fears flying, so he takes a special armored train wherever he goes, especially on trips into China.
It was on a return to China in 2004 that an explosion occurred in North Korea's Ryongchon area, along the train tracks from Beijing to Pyongyang, just hours after the Dear Leader had passed that way. Some think it may have been an assassination attempt; more than 160 people were killed and $350 million in damage occurred.
If the right people were to find out Kim Jong-il's travel plans, he could become a tempting (and somewhat easy) target. Just taking out the bridge over the Amnok/Yalu River between Dandong and Shinuiju while the Dear Leader is still in China might be enough to cause his government to be thrown into turmoil.
There was speculation that he was not in Beijing, but way down south, about as far away from North Korea you can get and still be in a major Chinese city. Japan's Nippon TV reported that a figure was seen getting out of and later into a limo at Guangzhou's prestigious White Swan Hotel, near the historic British and French quarters of the city. More speculation for inquiring minds.
[photo: When all guests were suddenly forced on Thursday to vacate Guangzhou's White Swan Hotel, insiders knew it could only mean either a massive outbreak of food poisoning or a visit by North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il.]
I have visited that part of Guangzhou a couple times and have even dined at a restaurant inside the White Swan, looking out at the waterfront of the Pearl River. I ordered something from the menu I couldn't read, and they brought me a wonderful chicken dish in a sauce I can still taste. Aye, this hotel is indeed fit for someone with the fine gastronomical tastes of Kim Jong-il.
(By the way, this part of Guangzhou, once a British and French concession, is actually a very interesting place if you ever get a chance to visit. A beautiful mixture of Chinese-European architecture from the 19th century that will make you think the Opium Wars were all worth it. There are romantic overnight ferries lazily plying the Pearl River between Hong Kong and Guangzhou or Macau and Guangzhou—that's right, it's a literal slow boat to China—plus faster boats if you want to spend the extra money. The boats let you off not far from Shamian Island, where the hotel and the historic quarters are located. The live animal market, ground zero for past and future pandemics, is also a must-see.)
[photo: Much of the White Swan Hotel's appeal to North Korea's ruler is that its interior's foliage provides plenty of cover for for despots wearing green Mao suits, just in case someone tries to get him.]
Anyway, the whole world was playing a high-stakes geopolitical game of "Where's Waldo?" The New York Times reports:
Rarely, though, do the authorities go to the extent of clearing out an entire five-star hotel without explanation ahead of time. So when the authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou ordered all guests to leave the luxury White Swan Hotel on Thursday and threw up a tight security cordon around the building, it was clear that no ordinary dignitary was coming for the weekend.But even if they could demonstrate KJI really was there, the question still remained why he might be visiting Guangzhou and nearby Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong. Sure, these are all close to Macau, which is where North Korea's counterfeit superbills and drug profits are laundered, but could that be the reason? Many speculated that Kim Jong-il was down in the Hong Kong-influenced southern province of Guangdong to get an eyeful and earful of the progress China has made with economic reforms.
To be honest, I'm not so sure Guangzhou is the place to bring someone whom you're trying to convince to begin major reforms. Frankly, the septuagenarians who replaced the octogenarians who used to rule China have mostly lost control of the place. Someone like Kim Jong-il and his cronies are not going to look at free-wheeling Guangzhou and go, "Yeah, let's try that."
[photo: Tourists like Goff, Stace, and baby Sarah of Daly City, California, were forced to leave the White Swan Hotel at a moment's notice to make room for Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.]
So while the world wondered where the wandering Wunderkind Waldo-esque Leader had gone, Kushibo's sources in the former canton of Canton tell me the Coifed One is actually in China's Wild, Wild South to record a record album. That's right: the son of the Great Leader has long been a big fan of Canto-pop. He's spent the last eight years amassing a major collection of LPs, CDs, videos, and abducted C-pop stars whom he goads into having sex by promising their freedom.
He's been practicing his tones and nasal sounds for many hours in his spare time, enough that he thinks he can pull off a convincing rendition of sappy lovelorn lyrics that Hong Kongers and Vietnamese can dance to.
And that was the purpose of clearing out the White Swan Hotel, to allow the Great Leader full access to their state-of-the-art karaoke bar so that Mr. Kim could belt out a few tunes without being embarrassed. Why the White Swan? Reportedly, Grand Field Marshal Kim feels very "Canto-inspired" when he is there in the heart of Guangdong. Also, the venue carries sentimental value for him, since this is where he shot dead eight very distant relatives of high-level defector Hang Jang-yop, who had been lured there with promises of an affordable lobster buffet (their bodies were dumped into the Pearl River and devoured by Cantonese mud sharks, mutated offspring of freshwater catfish and carp that went through rapid evolution thanks to the copious amounts of chromium Chinese factories pump into that country's rivers and streams. UPDATE from 9/2008: chromium and melamine).
My sources, at no small risk to their safety, have managed to snag from a Guangzhou studio the tentative cover for the album [at left]. Kim Jong-il [at center] is joined by General Kang "the Swallow" Kyonu and Colonel Cho "Nine Fingers" Pilsu, two experts on torture and interrogation who also play a mean saxophone and keyboard, respectively. The album cover will not bear Kim's name, since US Commerce Department restrictions would mean that a direct tie to Pyongyang would prevent sales in Chinatowns across the United States. The Dear Leader assumes his fans will simply know who he is. Marshal Kim is toying with the idea of using the name of one of his on-stage personas, Fat-n-Shady.
For now, the album is to be titled "Reuters." Apparently Reuters writes a lot of articles about Kim, and he wants to show some respect. Word.
Of course, it may turn out that this bit of information, like so much scuttlebutt on this enigmatic leader, is a load of horse-pucky. All I can say is, whatever he is doing in Guangzhou, may he catch bird flu and die, taking as many of his handlers out with him.