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In North Korea, Size Doesn't Matter

Great stuff in Blaine Harden's WashPost dispatch from North Korea:

The statue is shockingly big and commands a vast concrete plaza on a hill overlooking the capital. Large speakers broadcast martial music. When North Koreans visit, as they often do in sizable, highly organized groups, they bow to the statue.

For foreign visitors, snapping pictures of what may well be the world's tallest statue of a dead dictator, the first question that comes to mind is:

"How tall is it?"

This reporter's minder seemed tormented by the question. He took a long time to formulate an answer.

"We respect our Great Leader," he said. "We don't measure the height."

The minder paused, then began again.

"We measure the size of the statue by the size of hearts of the Korean people."

Another pause. Then the minder asked, rather sheepishly, if he might go off the record. Bottom line: He didn't know.


Perhaps because of chronic power outages, Pyongyang does not seem to have stoplights.

What the capital does have -- at least when the New York Philharmonic is in town -- is female traffic cops. They were all gorgeous -- and they were all gorgeous in exactly the same way.

They wore powder-blue uniforms with fur-lined hats. With bright red lipstick and dramatic eyebrows, they looked as if they had been made up for the stage. They directed the city's sparse traffic with robotic arm movements. They looked fit and happy and often smiled at the traffic.

"They are the faces of the road, and they are chosen for their beauty and their height," a minder explained. "They cheer us up and clarify our minds."

North Korea: Come for the saucy traffic cops; stay for the starvation and despotism! 

--Michael Crowley