Walk with me through a massive warehouse of Kim paraphernalia (the trains were just the opening attraction). Gaze at the cornucopia of paintings of the Great Leader providing crucial “on-the-spot guidance”—lots of smiling and pointing at things—for the construction of railways and bridges. Marvel at the orgy of industrial manufacturing that the Dear Leader thoroughly understands, and possibly invented, for the benefit of his people. Take note of the staples of everyday life that the father-son dream team bestowed on its country, down to the Adidas running shoes graciously gifted (but then why are they here, in mint condition?) to the country’s grateful athletes.
In a corner room of the Train Museum, we happened upon a painting of the Dear Leader’s mother in a snowy battlefield clutching a baby Kim Jong Il and wielding a gun, which she is presumably pointing at a Japanese imperialist. That right there is the patriotic multi-tasking of a founding mother in North Korea. No battlefield is too dangerous to bring one’s infant along.
After staring at the painting a moment, Jordan, living up to the witty irreverence of his talk show in the States, asked our guide why the Great Leader’s mother decided to bring her baby into a battle. Were there no babysitters available?
The porcelain face laughed, against her rigid training. So did we. It was so obviously ridiculous, so clearly invented—yet another thin myth about the war. Baby Kim Jong Il is in that painting for the same reason that the 1 million Chinese soldiers who died alongside the Koreans are not: It is the Koreans, and only the Koreans, who are masters of their destiny. He had to be there. So he was.
She straightened her hair and returned to Jordan’s question. “He is in the painting because his mother knew he would be a great general, and it was important for him to see battle.”
Conversations with North Koreans are often like this. The aperture opens—a promising tear in the official fabric that lets a bit of light in—and then it shuts, and the textbook answers resume. It’s progress, to be sure. But it’s fleeting.
Interested in visiting North Korea? Learn more about our safe, awesome tours to the DPRK.