Sunday, 5 August 2018

Kim & Trump Summit.

The historic summit is this morning and it will likely end at 2 pm, where Kim is scheduled to depart. Trump will leave at about 5 pm today.

Whatever the outcome of the meeting, for the sake of peace, I pray for the best. 

But what caught my attention in the papers today was the little night outing that our foreign minister took with Kim, his sister, and his entourage to Marina Bay Sands and our iconic Gardens by the Bay. 

Vivian and Ong Ye Kung took selfies with Kim in the Garden and it was a proud moment for Singapore. 

At one point, one of the locals, chef Tiara Rodrigo, 20, and her friend, 19, joined the media scrum to catch a glimpse of Kim in the Garden. 

Ms Rodrigo said: "He is staying at the hotel near my house, so it is funny that I would bump into him here, at such a touristy location, the night before the big meeting."

Her friend added: "Not much is known about North Korea and you don't see figures like him out a lot, which makes it more exciting to try and spot him."

Apparently, the local scene has turned the hunt for political celebrities like Trump and Kim into a "where's-Waldo?" kind of sports, and the excitement is indeed captured in the moment. 

In fact, if you'd like to know, there is not much to know about North Korea and how the country is organised. 

It is basically a nation ruled by a family, a dynasty. 

Kim's grandfather and father preceded him before he took over in 2011. As such, you won't be wrong to call N. Korea by its alternative name, "Kim's nation".

Now, every leader will have a lot of bodyguards around them because their safety and security is paramount. 

But Kim seemed to have more because it is essentially a paranoia nation where distrust and suspicion are everywhere, what's more in a foreign land.

Further. the Kim dynasty is revered with messianic zeal and the country is put on a very tight lease in terms of personal freedom, human rights and privacy.

Loyalty and allegiance to the Kims are considered the people's revolutionary duty, which far outweighs familial relations, friendship and workplace ties. 

The secret police is there to ensure that the citizenry is kept within clearly-defined boundaries to maintain law and order. Anyone who is suspected of crossing the line, even by association, will be punished and sent to training camps (more on that later). 

As a social side-note, girls were not allowed to ride bicycle as it is deemed sexually suggestive. There is an official edict against it and it is considered illegal. 

N. Korea is an economically starved nation due to the heavy worldwide sanctions against it and the channelling of funds to build up its nuclearization programmes (instead of to the people). 

Most of her people have to struggle for scraps as food to feed themselves and their family. 

During the famines in the 1990s, many perished. Those who survived have to do whatever it takes to live.

For the girls, they have to sell their bodies. And for the boys, they have to fight and compete for food. For this reason, many black markets emerged as a means of survival. 

Earlier, I mentioned about training camps. They are actually euphemism for lifelong detention. Those who are deemed the nation's traitors are locked up in those camps. 

Even their children (including those born into the camps) are vicariously punished for the sins of their fathers.

These children are considered forgotten for their sufferings were never known or published until an escapee named only as "Shin" lived to tell the tale in the book "Escape from Camp 14" (Blaine Harden). 

Although purely anecdotal, and the authorities have fully denied it, Shin related one account that broke my heart. 

At Chapter 2 of the book, Shin recalled an incident when he was in the camp's school with a class of about forty plus six-year-old.

One day, the teacher conducted a spot check and rummaged through all their bags. 

When the teacher found five kernels of corn in a girl's bag, he shouted at her, "You bitch, you stole corn? You want your hand to be cut off?"

Shin remembered that the girl was "short, slight and exceptionally pretty." 

The next part is best left to Shin's own words in the book. 

"He ordered the girl to the front of the class and told her to kneel. Swinging his long wooden pointer, he struck her on the head again and again. As Shin and his classmates watched in silence, lumps puffed up on her skull, blood leaked from her nose, and she toppled onto the concrete floor. Shin and several other classmates carried her home to a pig farm not far from her school. Later that night, she died."

She was only six years old, caught for stealing corn. 

I know one should not get too emotional about such anecdotal stories, but I believe - from the many horrid accounts from defectors - there is a kernel of truth in Shin's narration because we should never underestimate the length and breadth a man or regime will go to maintain and horde power. 

So, when Vivian toured the capital of N. Korea recently, what caught my attention was his gushing comment:-

"There is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand. I was very impressed by what I saw on my trip to Pyongyang. It is clean, modern, and beautiful with clear evidence of ongoing construction around the city. There are many high-rise buildings and modern designs. The streets of Pyongyang are also well-maintained and lined with greenery. It is clear that the government has been hard at work to upgrade the city infrastructure."

I guess there are other parts of the country that he did not visit and thus he may not have the full picture. 

But then, politicians will be politicians, as the ultimate goal of diplomacy is always to be short on memory and long on cordiality. The past is the past, let's look forward to the future to change things, right?

That I guess is why this historic summit is so important to change the fate of those who are suffering and have died for what they believed in. 

It is always for the people, even one as young as six years old, that we look to leaders for hope, safety and protection. 

Let's hope that this is a crossroad for N. Korea towards a positive trajectory, especially for the silenced and buried voices of the invisible people. Amen. Cheerz. 

Sources from "Nothing to envy" by Barbara Demick and "Escape from Camp 14".

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