LONELY HIGHWAYS: On the road in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea

November 20, 2017 GMT
(AP Video/Eric Talmadge)
(AP Video/Eric Talmadge)
(AP Video/Eric Talmadge)

All distances from Pyongyang, the capital and center of the North Korean universe, are measured from a single spot in the middle of Kim Il Sung Square.

Hamhung, North Korea’s second-largest city, is just over 300 kilometers (180 miles) from that spot. But it’s also a world away.

Getting there by car entails cutting across the Korean Peninsula from west to east. A major mountain range awaits, then twisting, mostly empty roads that snake their way through hour after hour of undulating fields of corn. The sea at times bursts out from behind the hills in shimmering shades of blue.

The trip can easily be done in a day. But it can be done better in two.

Despite the bumps and potholes, there’s much to take in along the way. Highway rest stops. Revolutionary sites marked by red flag road signs. The “socialist realism” of propaganda billboards. Checkpoints, concrete obelisks rigged with explosives to block enemy tanks. The prospect of a quick detour to the Ulim waterfall, or the Masik Pass ski resort. With, all the while, vignettes of life on collective farms and in dusty villages rushing by.

According to North Korean statistics, there’s 78,700 kilometers (62,960 miles) of road in North Korea.

And most of it isn’t paved.