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DPRK is a land of surprises for visitors

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)

13:22, April 19, 2012

Dancers celebrate the centenary of the birth of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on Monday. (Photo: China Daily/Wang Jing)

While the world watched as tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula, the people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were in festive mood, almost unaware of the fierce diplomatic spat surrounding the country's plan to launch a rocket.

In March, the DPRK announced that it would launch a satellite as part of the events organized to mark the centenary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung. The news produced an uneasy reaction in a number of countries that believed the launch was related to missile tests, not celebrations.

The news has been on the headlines around the world for almost a month, with reports focusing successively on the unprecedented invitation to hundreds of media members to attend the launch, the unexpected failure of the rocket and a massive military parade where large missiles, believed to be the country's most powerful weapons, were on display.

Yet despite all the twists and turns, daily work was suspended in Pyongyang, as people prepared for the festivities.

When we arrived in early April, we saw crowds of people painting the walls along major streets, women planting flowers in the park and crowds of people holding paper flowers and rehearsing for the parades. We were told that the preparations had begun several months before with the construction of residential buildings, department stores and sports stadiums.

The foreign media were taken to several large rallies, featuring tens of thousands of people chanting and proclaiming their loyalty to the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

The impression of disconnection between this country and the outside world is manifest. Inside Pyongyang, we were told, roughly 70 percent of the population uses mobile phones, speeding up the exchange of information. However, phones used by foreigners run on a separate network, which allows no access to the system used by domestic callers. The country's Internet has no connection with the World Wide Web, but allows citizens to chat on an internal network.

One of the country's four TV channels mainly broadcasts documentaries about the leaders, plus a news program in the evenings. There is also a channel broadcasting programs about the arts and an international news bulletin twice a week.

Although the country is relatively isolated, we saw how it is putting more emphasis on economic development, despite its "military-first" policy, and is gradually opening up to the outside world.

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