Monday, November 9, 2009

If a train leaves Kaesŏng at 60 mph, and another train leaves Wonsan at 80 mph, where the fu¢k is Kim Jong-il?!

I'm not sure if this style of urban renewal will ever catch on outside North Korea, but apparently the best way to get your 'ville rebuilt into the latest Soviet-style apartment blocks is to have a massive terrorist bombing aimed at taking out one of the most vile dictators of all time detonated right in your own neighborhood.

Much of Ryongchŏn [룡천/龍川], a county-level municipality near the PRC-DPRK border, was flattened in April 2004 when, it is believed, a train full of something really, really, really explosive was set off near Ryongchŏn Station. The number of dead and injured was estimated by South Korea to be around 3000.

Well, this week we get news that the area has been completely rebuilt, with brand-new structures that hearken back to the Soviet era. Well, I guess that description isn't all that different from half of the apartment blocks built in South Korea in the last decade or so, so who are we to mock or complain?

Anyhoo, this bit of news comes just before another item about the Dear Leader's fleet of trains that ferry him around the DPRK (story also here).

Here's a description of Rail Force One:
Leader Kim Jong-Il has six special luxury trains at his disposal for travel around North Korea plus 19 stations built for his exclusive use, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

The trains with a total of 90 carriages are armoured and contain conference rooms, an audience chamber and bedrooms, Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing information from US and South Korean intelligence authorities.

It was not possible to confirm the report. But Kim is said to have a fear of flying and to prefer rail travel at home and abroad. He travelled by train on his last known trip to China in January 2006.

Satellite phone connections and flat-screen TVs are installed so the leader can be briefed and issue orders, the newspaper said. The special stations are no more than 30 kilometres (18 miles) from his private retreats, it added.
I don't know why, but that description has me imagining the luxurious caboose in which Jim West lived on the show ancient TV show, "Wild, Wild West."

Now lest someone gets the idea that blowing up the pimped-out Sŏn•gun Express while Marshal Fat & Shady is in it would be a good idea, be warned that the DPRK is on to you. There are back-up systems as well as back-up systems for the back-up systems. For starters, you don't know which of the six trains the Dear Rider is in. You might be expending all your efforts chasing down the railway equivalent of a royal food taster, carrying one of his Doppelgängers.

And even if you did figure out which train carries the Real Dear, well, they come packin':
The train carrying the leader of the impoverished nation is preceded by an advance train to ensure the tracks are safe and followed by another one carrying bodyguards and support personnel, the newspaper said.

About 100 security agents are sent in advance to stations to sweep the area for bombs, and shut off the power on other tracks so that no other trains can move, the paper said.

North Korean military planes and helicopters provide security support, it said.
The Dear Leader's fear of flying is notorious, but if I were Kim Jong-il, I'd be rethinking that whole notion. After all, no one has ever tried to blow up the sky while I was in it.

On the other hand, it's hard to hijack a train and divert it somewhere else. But after that assassination attempt five years ago (and that's what I think it is; the coincidence of that much explosives just hours after he'd passed by is just too great), he's got to be thinking it's best to just stay home.

Nevertheless, he's likely to keep riding the rails because he has to keep making appearances to prove he's not a vegetable. Look, there he is (in a photo released today)! And there's that guy with the kabuki eyebrows, General whats-his-name.

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