22 April 2004

On Secret Visits and More Live Octopi

Well, Kim Jong Il really DID visit China -- wow, what a surprise (said with a high level of sarcasm). Good Grief, I mean this secret visit had almost as much press coverage as an official state visit -- or at least as much coverage as a Michael Jackson visit to Las Vegas... There are two reasons for the "secrecy" of these "unofficial" visits -- first, Kim doesn't want any trouble at home while he is abroad, and second, he doesn't want live coverage of his talks with the Chinese should they not turn out in his favor. So if there is no official coverage until after the meeting, then they can put their best face on whatever fails to materialize.

Economics were the cornerstone of this visit -- Kim is getting desperate to get his own economy going, and each recent attempt has fallen flat. Rajin-Sonbong Free Trade Zone has been everything BUT a success (and I would have had a chance to go there this trip if Kim didn't decide o go to China... darn him, he should take into consideration MY travel plans before he tries to find a solution to an international nuclear crisis. I mean really, last time I was here, my trip to the DMZ was cancelled because the two Koreas were having meetings to discuss economic cooperation and family visits -- you would think they would have more consideration for me than for easing tensions in one of the last bastions of the Cold War...)

The Sinuiju Special Economic Zone never got off the ground after China arrested the North-Korean chosen head of the zone, and the Kaesong area is developing at a snails pace. And the Kumgang tour -- site of a planned (wished for?) North Korean Silicon Valley, well, it remains on life support by both Korean governments.

For North Korea's economy to do much of anything, the country can no longer seem like it is staring down the barrel of an M1 Abrams tank all the time. So Kim concocted the latest nuclear crisis in an attempt to get the united States to, ultimately, sign a formal peace agreement and grant North Korea full diplomatic recognition. Really it does make sense, but I can explain it later if anyone is interested. Anyway, the China visit is about investment, economic cooperation, ending the nuclear crisis, and rail links.

So we are now waiting to see what came of the visit.

Now, for the live octopus, well, really three live octopi, well, they were alive, but didn't last long once they hit the simmering spicy stew on the table... Seems lunch at the seafood restaurant was also a show -- cook at the table, get the seafood stew boiling, then bring out the three live octopi, slowly pull them out of the bowl they were clinging to and drop them one at a time into the boiling stew. One didn't want to let go of the chef, but as he warmed up, is suction cops got weak and... well, that was his demise.

So this trip is becoming a new series of live octopus stories, so I will retell a story from the last visit. We were out in Mokpo with some friends who were trying to convince us to move there and take a job with their institute so they took us out to a several course seafood meal. The desert was the most expensive part, four live big shrimp. The server came out with these shrimp swimming around in a bowl, picked them up one at a time and ripped their little heads and legs off and placed them on our plates. They were still twitching, and when a fly landed on one, the shrimp wiggled to try to get it off. So anyway, the host ate his, and had his wife try hers before I could have mine. She was a little nervous, so took a gentle bite, rather than a quick clean bite. This, I earned, is the WRONG WAY to eat live shrimp. As she bit into it, the nervous system went into full gear and the tail kicked back an forth and she leapt up from the table, spitting the shrimp out as she flew backwards. A good laugh for all.

Anyway, bon appetit...

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