Officers Mess, Pyongyang Defense Command, North Korea —
Excuse me, captain, but is this seat taken?
Hyun! Brother! Where have you been?
It’s a long story. And how many times must I remind you that here I am not your brother, but Lt. Col. Kim.
Um, forgive me, colonel, but I haven’t seen or heard from you in…
Yes, and I feared the worst. Are you…?
Fine, of course. No need to concern yourself, brother. I mean, captain.
Huh. Will you still lord your rank over me when I rise to major?
Of course! Isn’t that what older siblings – I mean, higher ranking officers do to — what’s the word? Oh yes. Subordinates.
You know, colonel, I think I see a seat at the far table.
That sounds close to insubordination. Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what is this we’re eating?
I was hoping you could tell me. Seriously, your absence has been, well, conspicuous.
Would you believe me if I told you I saw a New York Yankees game?
Of course not.
In Yankee Stadium?
Keep your voice down. It’s true.
Indeed. Let’s just say that a “South Korean businessman” who happens to look a lot like me spent considerable time in America recently.
Unbelievable! So, what was Yankee Stadium like?
THAT’S you’re first concern, comrade? No wonder you’re still a captain.
Look, you know I’ve always been fascinated with American baseball, ever since…
It’s a big, cold palace to capitalism that cost a billion American dollars to build, but within its shadow people live in poverty. That answer your question?
Actually, no. Was it exciting? Was it fun?
Just between us, yes and yes, although the sport is incomprehensible. Still, the crowd’s energy was contagious, the beer was cold and they consume a kind of sausage called a “hot dog,’ which wasn’t bad. The prices, however…
I get it, “Mr. Businessman,” who I guess was sent to…
Gauge the sense of how American’s feel about a … digital war between their President and our Supreme Leader.
No, but that’s all I’m going to say.
When you say, “digital war…”
The Americans seem to be addicted to an online program called “Twitter,” in which someone can sent short messages to anyone who signs up for them. Why is beyond me. And hard as it may be to believe, their president has tens of millions of followers, who recently received one particular message calling our Supreme Leader “Little Rocket Man.” In another he described him as “a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people” who “will be tested like never before!”
Unbelievable! I’m surprised we’re not at war already. And does this outrage American citizens?
It depends on who you talk to. There are those who think their president is insane and that he’s bringing the world to the edge of nuclear war. There are others who think his actions are heroic in that he’s standing up to our leader, who these people think is insane.
Now who needs to keep his voice down? I did read a quote by our Supreme Leader reiterating his position that our self-defense against American aggression includes firing missiles toward their Territory of Guam. Is this possible?
Anything’s possible, I guess, but from a strategic point of view it seems far-fetched. Say what you will about the American imperialists, but I saw for myself that their military is mighty. They could literally wipe us off the map in a matter of minutes.
Don’t let your superiors hear you say that.
Even if that’s not the party line, you think they don’t already know?
This is going to make a good night’s sleep difficult. Let’s change the subject. So, what are Americans like?
Well, in my guise as a “businessman” I met very greedy individuals, and others who seem to care about their workers and their families. Their wealth is staggering, but there’s a great gap between rich and poor. I was put up in one of their luxurious hotels, but within walking distance, people live in cardboard boxes on the street.
So, it’s true what we’ve been told.
It is. But I met many others who were warm, welcoming and generous. It’s clear there is no such thing as an “average American.”
Did you get to watch American television?
Ah, their TV. Truly bizarre. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, American seem fascinated with the daily lives of a group called “The Kardashians.” They do nothing but live like spoiled children and argue with each other. And if you have access to a computer, which all Americans seem to, you can watch a couple of them, including a woman with a giant backside, having sex!
No, it’s true. And many Americans watch television on their mobile phones. These devices also include cameras and computers. Walking along a street in New York City I passed scores of people staring into their phones while conversing with unseen others. Our Supreme Leader could have ridden down the middle of the avenue on the back of a giant panda while carrying a burning American flag without being noticed.
Wait, I haven’t told you about other forms of electronic communication known collectively as “social media.” Virtually anyone can sign up to programs to connect with hundreds of others, and not just for short messages. Many seem to think the world can’t exist without seeing photos of their grandchildren or holiday destinations. Others put up photos of what they had for lunch! I’m not joking. Photos of nothing but a plate of food.
And – ready for this? – others, including people married to other people, readily swap photos of their genitalia.
No way! You’re making that up.
It’s true. Over dinner one businessman showed photos of his ex-wife.
And you looked?
Since the people on either side sat there gawking, it was hard not to.
You know. Was she…?
Get your mind out of the gutter, comrade.
I must admit that the concept is a bit … intriguing. Uh, but, of course, it offers more irrefutable evidence of the West’s decadent decay. If I ever did something like that, my wife would wrap me in chains and throw my naked body into the Sea of Japan.
Trust me, captain, you have nothing to fear.
What??? Are you saying she already…?
No, no, no. I’m saying that if she hasn’t disposed of you in that manner by now, she never will.
That’s hysterical, colonel. If we can be serious for a moment, what did you observe about their politics?
That, little brother, is as perplexing as it gets. In short, the country is obviously sharply divided, with members of the two major parties and their factions openly angry and hostile to each other.
Their leaders openly and aggressively berate each other, meanwhile the president and their Congress couldn’t agree upon whether or not the Potomac River is wet. It’s as if their last presidential election never ended.
And yet they remain a superpower. How is this possible?
Just between us? That’s one of the reasons I was sent. And I fear the powers-that-be won’t be happy with my findings.
Who knows! My mind was spinning in circles on the long flight back. Here’s one more example. Much of their state of California was being destroyed by wildfires, fires that killed many people, yet the big story was about a Hollywood executive accused of sexual crimes against a long list of actresses. I’m not trivializing such assaults and if true the man deserves the harshest of punishments, which as you know would be much harsher here. But still is shows Americans are obsessed with celebrities and sex scandals.
That’s just pathetic. Now, this executive, he didn’t go after Nicole Kidman, did he?
I didn’t see her name mentioned. Why?
Oh, um, no reason. No reason at all. Hey, are you going to finish that?
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.