Rice paddies and rocketry: a journey through N. Korea

North Korea is hardly known for offering a warm welcome to the world's press, and never before has it given access to a sensitive site featuring its latest space hardware.

However, insistent that its upcoming rocket launch poses no offensive threat, the communist state invited some 50 reporters, cameramen and photographers on Sunday to view the brand-new launch site in its far northwest.

The journey by train from the showpiece capital Pyongyang took the media contingent through the world's most secretive country, a nuclear power where food shortages persist since a 1990s famine killed hundreds of thousands.

But North Korea, under the new leadership of Kim Jong-Un, has invited the world media to come in force as it gears up for this weekend's 100th anniversary of the birth of its founding leader, Kim's grandfather Kim Il-Sung.

To honour the anniversary, North Korea says, the rocket will place a research satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) in orbit sometime between April 12 and 16.

The United States, South Korea and others insist that the launch is a ballistic missile test in disguise, in flagrant violation of a UN ban. Japan has deployed anti-missile systems to shoot down the rocket if necessary.

The journey to the launch site starts at 8:30am with minders shepherding the press contingent from their Pyongyang hotel onto buses with this stern instruction: "From now on, you need our permission to film or take photos."

But the hunger for images from North Korea is so ravenous that as soon as the buses begin to move, everyone gets out their equipment and starts shooting. Against all expectation, the minders do not intervene.

The buses head past Pyongyang's main train station, watched over by a giant portrait of Kim Il-Sung, and reach what appears to be a private station. The buses pull up directly onto the platform.

The young new leader's father Kim Jong-Il, who died in December, had a reported fear of flying and went everywhere in a special train fitted out in high style. This private station could well be the one that Kim used.

Equipped with sleeper carriages, the comfortable train awaiting the media certainly seems reserved for the regime's elite, with catering provided by the national airline Air Koryo. It is a far cry from the rickety train that brought two AFP journalists to Pyongyang from Dandong in China.

In barely no time, the train has left Pyongyang behind. Fields open up, dotted with villages featuring white-walled houses and pagoda-style roofs with brown-ochre tiles.

Tractors are a rare sight in the fields and rice paddies that line the twin-track railway. Most North Koreans still live on the land, and most still farm by hand or with oxen.

There are plenty of women and children tilling the fields or washing their rice crops. Most appear suitably dressed against the spring chill, and have footwear on.

This part of North Korea, in the northwest, is far more privileged than the northeast, where UN agencies say that malnutrition remains chronic.

After about four hours, the train reaches a town called Tongnim, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Chinese border. It leaves the main railway and heads down a single track to the Cholsan peninsula on the Yellow Sea.

Rice fields remain the norm alongside the track but here, the tractors are newer and a lot more common. This region serving the Tongchang-ri space centre is, clearly, even better endowed with state resources.

The train comes to a halt after another hour. The countryside is now deserted.

In the distance between two hills, standing clearly in the brilliant spring sunshine, is the journey's end: the three-stage rocket on its launch platform. The media scrum pushes for the windows to grab a shot.

The white rocket stands 30 metres (99 feet) high. On the main booster section, in sky-blue lettering, is written in Korean "Unha 3", or Galaxy 3. Above the lettering is painted the North Korean flag.

A small, smiling man welcomes the media. Jang Myong-Jin, the 46-year-old chief of the space centre, holds court for about three hours, answering a battery of questions without losing his composure.

Jang is adamant that the launch is entirely peaceful, a proof of North Korean engineering prowess, and that no other country has any right to interfere.

So ends a carefully choreographed visit at the start of what promises to be a week of stage-managed events in Pyongyang and beyond, designed to entrench the deeply isolated nation's second dynastic succession.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Southwest transport terminal construction start still in limbo

    The construction of the country’s first intermodal transport facility is in limbo as both the government and the winning private concessionaire are waiting on each other before finally pushing through with the contract signing. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the ongoing titling of the project site for the R2.5-billion Integrated Transport System (ITS) Southwest Terminal should not delay the concession agreement signing, which has been indefinitely postponed since February …

  • Jesuit school confers honors on Deles, Ferrer, Iqbal

    Despite heavy opposition from the alumni and even parents of students, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan conferred on Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles a degree on Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa Wednesday. The Jesuit-run university also recognized the other major players in the ongoing peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as it awarded GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and …

  • Mobile market tapped for saleable items worth P21B

    With more than P21 billion worth of saleable items in Philippine households, online classifieds website OLX Philippines is aiming to tap this market by targeting mobile phone users who could be potential sellers and buyers of second hand items. OLX Philippines hopes to provide better support to mobile users with the OLX app since 50 percent of the website’s traffic is generated by mobile users. “We will soon become a mobile first company,” said OLX Philippines co-founder RJ David in a press …

  • Clark to host drag racing

    Drag racing takes an exciting turn as top guns try to push their respective bids in the third leg of the 2015 Philippine Drag Racing Championship Northern Series at the Clark International Speedway.Former US servicemen William “Bill” Hand and John Ryzia of the Angeles City Hot Rod Association (AHRA)-Garage Power hope to steer their respective American V8 muscle cars to repeat wins to secure solo leadership in their respective divisions. ... …

  • The greatest city in the world

    Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) proudly brought back our flag to the Big Apple when it landed at the JFK Airport last March 15, after an 18-year hiatus. The Manila-Vancouver-New York route 18 years ago was terminated due to an expensive leasing arrangement and the Asian financial crisis. JFK Airport at Queens Borough is 15 miles to midtown Manhattan, connected via the New York subway train system. Consider it normal if you can make it to Manhattan under two hours. …

  • The future of the BPO/KPO industry

    One of the few economic sectors in which the Philippines is a global player is the Business Process Outsourcing/Knowledge Processing Outsourcing (BPO/KPO) industry. According to a recent report of the Everest Group entitled “Global Trends in the Contact Center Market and Opportunities in the Philippines,” our country is the leader in the offshore/nearshore English Contact Center Outsourcing (CCO) market with some 36% share. In the Philippines, the growth has been close to 20% over the last …

  • Ars gratia artis

    The Ateneo Art Gallery, widely recognized today as the first museum of Philippine modern art showcasing works by postwar Filipino artists. Its “pilot,” Ateneo President Fr. Ramon Jose Villarin, SJ, admits that it “runs on the fuel of the generosity and munificence of its donors.”ARTISTS, MODELS, & MEDICIS. Last Monday, 23 March, four recent acquisitions were added to the collection. A Fernando Amorsolo life-size portrait of Liliana de Asis (1952) was a gift of Francisco and Mila de Asis and …

  • Baranda, Dumlao star in Vios Cup

    Defending champion Pauland Dumlao and showbiz personality Phoemela Baranda won their respective heats at the start of the Vios Cup Season 2 held recently at the Clark International Speedway in Pampanga.Dumlao of Team Toyota San Fernando took the second heat of the Sporting Class category while Baranda ruled the first heat of the Promotional Class division to open the second staging of the event organized by Toyota Motor Philippines. ... …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options