[Viewpoint] Traveling incognito against the tideThe morning of May 24 in Yangzhou, China, was refreshing and clear after the rain. Two days before, the most powerful man in North Korea arrived in Yangzhou late at night in the rain. As the rain cleared and the city was getting ready to send the North Korean leader off, traffic on the main streets were blocked from the early morning.
The traffic flow was stopped for nearly 20 minutes and drivers grew frustrated. Some angry drivers complained, “So exactly what time will he pass by? When are you going to let the cars move?” The police officers controlling the traffic only repeated, “Just wait another minute,” and kept listening to the radio.
After the prolonged wait, police sirens started ringing from far down the boulevard. The motorcade of 34 cars dashed down the empty street. In contrast, the smaller side roads were in chaos. Cars that were unable to use the main road detoured to the side streets and got snarled up.
People were yelling and arguing over traffic accidents, and cars were honking their horns.
A cab driver griped, “He should have left early in the morning when there is no rush-hour traffic. Or the authorities should have warned the public to reduce traffic.” Some pedestrians cursed and blamed Kim Jong-il for the trouble.
When people get frustrated and angry, the public becomes aggressive and hostile.
The Chinese seemed to have long forgotten the solid affection of blood-pledged brotherhood toward North Korea. When Kim Jong-il arrived on his special train at Yangzhou Station two days before, there was another disturbance. Passengers were complaining to station managers because their trains were held in the station until Kim’s arrival.
Domestic flights in China often depart 30 minutes late, and the trains get delayed for hours during the New Year’s holiday season. The Chinese have gotten used to the long waits. However, they expressed frustration and discontent when they experienced these inconveniences to welcome the North Korean leader.
Kim Jong-il has now moved back behind his thick curtain, but whenever he comes to China, I come up from Hong Kong. This time, I followed him all over the country. Sometimes I found out the destination in advance and waited for him there.
But most of the time because of the strict security of the Chinese authorities, I have to chase his movements and trail him.
In an open society, traveling incognito is unimaginable. The public would not let a public figure travel so secretly.
The most powerful man in North Korea is intoxicated by absolute power, and the absurd accommodation is only possible in China, which caters to the eccentric North Korean leader.
Now that China has become one half of a sort of G-2 in economics, the military sphere and in the high-tech aerospace industry, such a backward legacy is ridiculous. Young Chinese make fun of the unusual situation.
A banquet for Chinese and North Korean leaders was held secretly in Nanjing, but the social media immediately made it quite public by reporting details.
A woman accompanying Kim Jong-il in his car, his “first lady,” was revealed as well.
The series of events is raved as the “Victory of Nanjing” because it visually exposed the winds of change in China.
No matter how hard the authorities try to control and block information, once a country falls into the flow of social media, it is extremely difficult to go against the trend. Thus, it will become harder and harder for Kim to travel incognito again. I wonder what he felt as he returned to his Hermit Kingdom after experiencing the changed sentiment in China?
*The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s Hong Kong correspondent.
By Cheong Yong-whan
More in Columns
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin