Few correspondents can match the wit of Sheikh Ya’erbuti, nor his brooding insights into the Hermit Kingdom and the floral arrangements that made it
In North Korea, Dear leader Kim Jong-il has enjoyed a terrific couple of months. He struck oil with the Americans in return for ditching a nuclear power plant, got the South Koreans back to bargaining table, was awarded his first prize in journalism and a floral extravaganza marked his 65th birthday party.
The birthday bash surely proved a must for the Pyongyang’s champagne quaffing social elite. A local hybrid begonia has been renamed Kimjongilia and if last year was anything to go by then at least 23,000 potted Kimjongilias went on display.
And how do we know about such fascinating insights of the hermit kingdom?
The answer, of course, is the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a wire service which has carried dispatches for a few favoured clients on the ins and outs of North Korean politics and for the last decade has boasted Dear Leader at the helm.
As the official mouth piece for Pyongyang, editorial independence has never been its strongest suit but from the very beginning Kim has asserted his own editorial policies and his efforts have produced some unique results
Ten years ago when he made his push for absolute power KCNA reported that mother nature celebrated the move as cherry blossoms bloomed out of season — and during a rather memorable famine — a pear tree also sprouted 400 blossoms and five 10-year-old apricot trees bore fruit on a farm in Sangwon Country.
Importantly, Kim’s ascendancy was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of his father, The Great Leader Kim Song-il. KCNA once quoted dad as saying: “Whenever I retrospect my days in Wangqing, I always remember the legendary white horse with which I went through the flames of the anti-Japanese war.”
Like great correspondents of old, the KCNA scribes were also on hand when a wagtail commemorated the anniversary of the Great Leader’s passing by perching atop the then newly erected Immortality Tower in Inchon County where the distraught bird “sat and cried”. On the morning of July 7 (1997) an equally distressed owl made the same pilgrimage.
Then as the announcement came through of the younger Kim’s victory in North Korea’s homestyled elections: “Fisherman caught a 10cm white sea cucumber while fishing on the waters off Chongjin.”
“They said the rare white cucumber has come to hail the auspicious event of electing Comrade Kim Jong-Il as Party General Secretary,” the KCNA dispatch read.
Since those formative years under the stewardship of Kim Jong-Il the agency has gone from strength to strength covering the serious issues of Korean reunification and nuclear proliferation to setting the world straight on local history and providing lifestyle choices.
For instance, a recipe straight from grandma’s kitchen: “The rice-cake soup, a favorite dish of the Korean people, is tasty and nutritious. It is made by the method of slightly boiling the sliced long slender white rice-cake in pheasant gravy and putting processed pheasant meat and spices into it. The dish can also be made with chicken instead of pheasant.
“From this custom elders, when asking the age of a child, often say, ‘How many bowls of soup have you ate?'”
And who can forget the noble efforts of the Pyongyang Hospital of Koryo Medicine which developed further practical uses for marijuana in a medical breakthrough known as “taehwangmain” a medicine designed to treat chronic constipation.
“Made of rhubarb, cannabis sativa and elecampane, herbs in Korea, gives no harmful effect to internal organs but activates their functions and promotes digestion by dissolving bile well.”
On KCNA there’s the usual backslapping among what’s left of the Communist movement scattered around the world and the ritualised propaganda where some choice words are reserved for those with whom North Korea is displeased.
For instance: The US military are “hare-brained brigands”, Donald Rumsfeld was “a stupid” and a “embicile” while Dick Cheney, they say, is “mentally deranged”, and George W. Bush tends to “let loose a string of balderdash”.
But when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has something serious to say, you better pay attention. Like this report from December 2005: “The Korean Central News Agency today issued a detailed report in connection with the fact that the construction of Light Water Reactors promoted by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization under the U.S. supervision came to a final end.”
Perhaps, few believed them. But then, in October the following year KCNA rocked and scooped the world with a stunning announcement:
“The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9 at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation.”
“The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA (that’s the army) and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defence capability.”
With such an illustrious media career behind him it should come as no surprise that Kim Jong-Il was awarded the titles of honorary professor and “Master of Journalists” and the education merit medal from Guayaquil University of Ecuador on the occasion of his birthday.
KCNA reported: “Carved in the medal are words reading ‘To the great leader Kim Jong Il’ and ‘In high praise of feats performed for university education’.” High feats indeed.