The train for paradise leaves Peking on Monday at 4:30 PM. It arrives 23 hours later here in the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- North Korea -- a country officially proclaimed the People's Paradise in 1977.
As in heaven, so too in Korea there is a god. The god here is President Kim Il Sung, leader of the country since 1945. North Koreans shrink from mentioning His name without the ritual formula "Great and Beloved Leader". Newspapers feel compelled to remind privileged readers that Kim Il Sung is not a normal human being, but a man who has attained divine majesty. Only out of the goodness of His heart does He also love His people.
So, I board the train filled with profound emotion. Finally I am on my way to Paradise; a rare honor. According to the scriptures, many are called, but few are chosen.
I was called when the Paradise Embassy in Peking telephoned at 6:30 one morning. They were inviting me to their Holy Home because of an article I had written two years before when Kim Il Sung officially chose His son as His successor. One sentence in particular had convinced them I was eligible: "In a degenerate bourgeois democracy, suffering the agonies of Capitalism, any upstart can become head of state. But, in today's socialist and progressive Korea, the wise and enlightened Kim Il Sung has initiated a truly revolutionary system for transmission of power, by choosing his own son."
North Korea is like an unidentified flying object. Everybody knows it exists, but almost no one has been on board. Seventeen million people live on an area of 75 thousand square miles with about 495 thousand acres of arable land. Official figures state that the per capita income is $1920 a year. The United Nations puts the figure at $1000.
In Pyongyang, the capital, everything is big. Skyscrapers, stadiums, theatres, museums, monuments, avenues, parks, public squares are built on a scale reflecting the magnificence of the Great Leader and the enormous happiness He brings His people.
Coming from China, a country with an imperfect socialist system, North Korea is the land of the unimaginable, thanks of course, to the Great Leader. Here is where all the prophecies came true -- where word was made flesh.
The avenues are silent and empty. A few buses drive past, a few cars -- only Mercedes and Volvos cruise the streets of Paradise. Every two hundred yards, policemen direct nonexistent traffic. Pedestrians walk silently, purposefully, staring ahead. On the large boulevards there is a fifth lane, right down the middle. It is reserved for the exclusive comings and going of the Great Leader.
The city is decorated with innumerable statues and portraits of Kim Il Sung. Everything is clean, sterilized in his honor. Everything is perfect. The People's Paradise seems to be wrapped in a modernized sudarium (the ancient white funeral cloth) made of silence, ritual and mysticism.
The most popular place to go in Pyongyang is the barber shop. Equipped with the latest in barber shop regalia, the shops are subsidized by the coupons which come with every worker's salary. The Great Leader not only wants his people combed and shaved, he wants their fingernails clean.
Paradise apparel is dignified, proper. Men don jackets, ties, leather shoes. Women are enshrouded in green suits; their skirts fall to their knees. Girls from six to eighteen wear blue jumpers and decorate their heads with a plastic flower the size of a softball. Shoes are modestly low-heeled. The boys are decorously attired in blue jackets and pants, sometimes with a matching cap.
All the citizens of the People's Paradise wear a picture of the Great Leader pinned to their chests. The population of Paradise consists only of the decorated.
But isn't this a uniform, the reactionary will ask. Of course not, for when you are acting in the greatest show on earth, you must have a costume suitable to the part. The show here is called "Socialist Happiness" and the roles are well-defined. You do not wander out on stage when it is not your turn, nor, in Pyongyang do you walk on the street when you have nowhere specific to go. When you leave your house or apartment, you always follow the same path, a path designed especially for you. The Beloved Leader has ensured that neither you nor the streets of his country shall ever be confused.
Life is so easy in Paradise that you do not even have to choose your own shoes. When you need them for a special part, such as accompanying a foreign visitor or performing in a mass celebration in honor of the Great Leader, your work unit will provide the shoes for you. Only the sensibilities of a decadent bouregois capitalist would be offended by the paper label with the size handwritten on it which is glued under the laces.
Handsome, refined, solemn, grave, at 70, Kim Il Sung is agile as a gazelle, modest as a model worker, radiant as the sun at dawn, colorful as a rainbow, enlightening in the night sky. The protecting spirit of Korea is omniscient and omnipotent. Nothing can escape his eagle eye. The country is marked by his immeasurable wisdom, prodigious foresight, vast intelligence, boundless culture and penetrating thought, "more penetrating than ever before in the history of mankind," as Korean newspapers inform their readers.
The unenlightened may believe reports that Kim Il Sung has an ugly tumor growing on his neck, but in the numerous statues, portraits and photographs of the Great Leader, there is no evidence of such ugliness. True, some capitalist reporters claim to have seen a tumor on the Great Neck when He was visiting Peking last September. But, under questioning, surely they would admit that this is a tumor befitting the Great Leader.
For almost 40 years, He has held the country in His hands. His primary goal has been to create a showcase for socialist euphoria. Here, happiness is not a right, it is a duty. His political line is straight as an arrow. Kim Il Sung has better lines even than Euclid, the creater of geometry. Officials point out that "There are no factionalists or counter-revolutionaries in Korea, thanks to the straightness of his line." When He says "one", we answer "one", never "two" or "three."
Thirty thousand people are taken every day to marvel at the birthplace of the Great Leader. An expressway has been built solely for these daily pilgrimages. After reverently bowing to His portrait, the deeply moved guides explain that in this kitchen the "Great" grandmother prepared revolutionary food for the Great boy. Alas, the recipes were lost in the turmoil of the Revolution.
Warrior against the Japanese and the United Nations' imperialist aggression, Kim Il Sung is also an august thinker and lofty philosopher. The whole world recognizes his sublime thought by sending gifts which are stored in a 10-story windowless building "national in form and socialist in content." Some of the more remarkable gifts are on display in a special room, for example the Sandinistas' gift of a stuffed alligator standing on two feet serving drinks from a wooden tray.
Officials of Paradise expect that the "unchosen" also wish to honor the Great Leader and they asked me what I had brought. I asked them how I, a no one, a capitalist journalist, could dare offer anything to the most perfect being, the Emperor of the Kingdom of Happiness, the Omnipotent.
"We accept symbolic gifts," they replied. "Our leader is magnanimous. However, your suitably humble words are appreciated."
The Leader not only receives gifts, he also gives them, usually on the occasion of His birthday on April 15, a national holiday. On his 70th birthday, he bestowed dozens of Mercedes on his highest officials and 40,000 gold Swiss watches. After a long and deplorable dispute with the famous watch company, which refused to replace their name with the portrait of the Great Leader on the faces of the watches, a compromise was reached; the back of each watch was inscribed "personal gift of the Great and Beloved Leader."
As a thinker, He has given the world "Juche-idea", a whole philosophical system, miraculously summarized in twenty (20) heavy volumes. Every school in North Korea, from kindergarten through university, contains a "Holy Chapel" reserved for studying the Juche-idea.
The work has been translated into a dozen languages to enable the world's working class to enjoy His ideas. The capitalist world tries to sabotage the spread of Juche-idea, but Kim Il Sung, in his boundless generosity, often buys full pages in important western newspapers to print syntheses of his wisdom.
The words of a capitalist journalist are not adequate to explain this awesome philosophy. It is best represented by the monument erected to the Juche-idea on Kim Il Sung's 70th birthday. The tower is 170 meters tall built from 25,550 pieces of stone, the number of days the Great Leader has lived. On the top, a giant red light bulb in the form of a flame 20 meters tall is constantly burning. This is the greatest monument to nothingness yet known to mankind.
The monument was conceived of by the son of Kim Il Sung, a 40-year-old replica of his father.
Modest, despite the fact that he has been chosen as successor to the Leader of Paradise, Kim Jong Il prefers not to be mentioned by name. He does allow people to refer to him with vague epithets: Bright Star of the Country, Genius of the Creation, Perfect Incarnation of Revolutionary Ideas, Guiding Focus, Affectionate Master with a Tender Heart, Protector of Political Life, Dear Leader. He has at least 25 such modest titles.
The Dear Leader, like his father, is expert in infinite fields. This Genius of Creation is a master of urban engineering. He personally designed Pyongyang; buildings, bridges, museums, theaters, all were created at his instigation and under his guidance. He decided that the avenues should all be built with a center lane reserved for the Great Leader.
The Dear Leader gives continuous on-the- spot instructions. The variety of museums is due to him. In one museum, for example, the Great Leader's Statue is 20 meters tall and made of marble; in another it is made of bronze and only 15 meters tall. In every room portraits of the Leader stare down at you, all different. Here, he is thinking; there he is fighting. Sometimes he is listening to his people, other times he is giving instruction. Surrounded by soldiers, surrounded by children, portrayed in oil or in water color, the Great Leader is always changing.
Korean papers proudly inform the people that, as a child, the Dear Leader smashed the fallacy of bourgeois mathematics when he refused to accept that one plus one always equals two. He conclusively proved that when you add one drop of water to another, one plus one equals one.
Capitalist literary circles ignore the Perfect Incarnation of Revolutionay Ideas. But, Korean papers report that "in the well-known and highly sophisticated philosophical schools in Sierra Leone, Togo, Benin, Ghana, Madagascar and others, the Dear Leader's books on His father's thought are highly appreciated and deeply studied."
But the Bright Star shines the most in the realm of culture. Energetic as Michelangelo, sensitive as Chopin, intuitive as Leonardo da Vinci. He has created a new genre of opera. The music, choreography, costumes, text, lighting, actors: He has chosen and directed them all personally.
For the performance of these materpieces, two theaters were built under his direct supervision. The design of the Opera House is the latest in modern architecture. Encircled by 150 fountains colorfully lit every night, the theater seats only 300 spectators.
The main lobby issawe-inspiring. The Great Leader's portrait, circled by plastic flowers, welcomes you. He stands over a fountain spraying multicolored waters. On the right, a double circular staircase tastefully carpeted in kelly grof een and pig pink frames a mountain landscape, highlighted by the optical illusion of a waterfall whose noise is real and comes from fountains installed behind the stairs. Enormous mirrors give you your reflection, even in the toilets.
The spectacle itself might shock the uneducated, corrupt capitalist. Words cannot describe it. Try to imagine a Mahler symphony played by a village band with majorettes, directed by the village idiot.
On stage -- "Songs of Paradise," a true socialist musical. Joyous singers shout "Happy are the People under the care of the Great Leader," "Boundless the joy and Happiness the Great Leader brings Us," "A People's Paradise has Blossomed Here, with the Leader who unfolded this Paradise, we shall live for generations to come." This is fun, but there's more.
At the People's Theater which seats 20,000 people, 5,000 -- yes, 5,000 -- artists are simultaneously on stage acting in "Songs of Glory." This is the Great Leader's biography, set to music. Five thousand voices are raised in a unanimous scream, "the Paradise of the People swims in Happiness" "We sing the Song of Glory to You, Our Respected Leader," the Fatherland is Here to Say Thanks to You, it Shines Brightly in Your Embrace." The acting is extraordinary.
After 10 days experiencing the show of Happiness, I did not lie when a top official asked for my final impression. "North Korea is a great show. These have been days of uninterrupted shows of happiness. People from Hollywood should come here to learn from you." Encouraged by their appreciation of my sincere words, I went ahead with my toast at the parting banquet I was hosting: "For the good of the Korean people, I hope the producers of this show, the Great Leader and the Dear Leader, will soon enter into Eternal Life." My final act received warm applause from the officials present.