0001202 - To North Korea With Music Donald Blinken United...

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Spring 2008 The Ambassadors REVIEW 52 To North Korea With Music Donald Blinken United States Ambassador to Hungary, 1994-1998 y diplomatic experience proved valuable on the historic New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s February visit to North Korea in which my wife, Vera, and I participated. Before our departure for Pyongyang, the advice offered to us was, “Take food, you will be hungry” and “Take warm clothes, you will be cold.” One of our briefers, a Western diplomat living in Pyongyang comforted us by saying that staying in a hotel assured we would have both light and water at the same time. Because very few Americans have been to North Korea over the past 55 years (the United States and North Korea are still technically at war), we did not know what to expect. Also, such advice did not take into account our privileged status as guests of the government. As our chartered South Korean Asiana Airlines 747 descended toward Pyongyang, our first impression was of a desolate landscape and an airport surrounded by barbed wire. We were the only visible passengers and the only jet in sight. There were three propeller- powered planes parked off in the distance. The first sign that our hosts were eager to make us comfortable and put their best foot forward came immediately upon landing. After posing for group photos, we were promptly escorted to waiting heated buses and driven to our hotels. Our 24-member patron group stayed in a recently-built VIP hotel located in a secluded park. The hotel was built for Western visitors, principally Japanese, while the 120 members of the orchestra and the 80 members of the international press corps were housed on an island in a 45-story hotel built in the 1970s. Our hotel lobby featured acres of marble, blazing chandeliers and the ubiquitous portraits of the “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung (1912-1994), and his son, the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. The lobby was heated, yet the corridors leading to our rooms were frigid. To conserve energy, the central heating was off, but our rooms, warmed by electric heaters, were stifling. The urban scene was chilling. The streets were empty of people. There were no
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0001202 - To North Korea With Music Donald Blinken United...

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