If someone made up North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (and his father, and grandfather before him), the character would be dismissed as over the top, preposterous. And if it weren’t for the violence and out and out mind-fuckery he inflicts on his country, the real-life Kim Jong Un would be a laughing stock. Oh, wait. He is a laughing stock. And I find myself laughing right along with it, until I remember his wanton cruelty. (A typical recent incident: he reportedly had his aunt poisoned because she was upset that KJU had killed her husband.)
I can’t imagine how awful it must be to live in a country under the thumb of such a depraved individual.
And yet, here he goes again, showing the world the idiocy of totalitarian rule in general, and his version of totalitarian rule in particular, this time going on the record with a stinging critique of a terrapin farm that failed to make a go of a lobster breeding initiative – a project that had been backed by Kim Jon Un’s father, Kim Jon Il.
There are so many paths this story could take me down…
The most obvious, of course, is promoting a luxury good like lobster in a country that in recent memory experienced a self-induced famine that may have killed one-tenth of its population. And which still experiences famine conditions with some regularity. I suspect that lobster is a delicacy that most North Koreans can only dream of. That is, if they’re aware of lobster’s existence to begin with. It’s not as if the countryside is full of summer shacks where you sit at picnic tables and gorge yourself on lobster, all the while drooling melted butter down your chin and onto your plastic lobster bib.
The average North Korean’s probably happy to have their rice bowl full, and to have spent another “free” day when neither they nor any family member was whisked off to a prison camp.
There is, of course, no such thing as a famine for Kim Jon Un, who is notorious for living the good life, replete with expensive booze, cigars, and food.
And then there’s that poor turtle farm. Just their luck that the Dear Leader would decide to come calling.
Kim expressed his supreme displeasure with Taedonggang Terrapin Farm for being out-of-date -- and worse, not revolutionary enough -- during a tense visit reported by official newspaper Rodong Sinmun. He was particularly angry that a two-year-old lobster breeding project never got off the ground, calling it a "manifestation of incompetence, outmoded way of thinking and irresponsible work style." (Source: Huffington Post)
Well, I too have worked in companies that were "manifestation of incompetence, outmoded way of thinking and irresponsible work style." But it never made the news, and, while we may have feared for our jobs, we never feared for our lives.
And to think – as I suspect the managers of the Taedonggang Terrapin Farm were thinking – it was just a few years back that Kim Jong Il was praising the farm for having:
…"proved in practice that the word 'impossible' is not to be found in the Korean vocabulary."
So what was this terrapin farm doing with lobsters to begin with?
Apparently Kim Jong Il put it all together in one of those epiphanies that supreme leaders tend to have, combining the notion of the impossibility of finding the word “impossible” in the Korean lexicon, and his desire to tuck into a lobster dinner. And why not? I suspect that KJI would be able to chow down on lobster without having to do any of the dirty work: no twisting, cracking, picking, pulling to get the precious meat out. No, there’d be some lackey to wield the lobster crackers, the lobster pick, the tiny little fork. (Having waited tables at both the Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park, I am past-master of working a boiled lobster, which means, I suppose, that I could have been that lackey…)
Anyway, Kim Jong Un was especially pissed off because the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea is soon upon them, and he was apparently hoping to have lobster on the menu for the celebratory clambake. (Wonder if Dennis Rodman will be invited.)
Of course, if North Korea had anything resembling a normal market economy, the farm managers, having gotten wind of the impending visit of Kim Jong Un, might have been able to scoot over to the local lobster pound or grocery store and stocked up on live lobsters. They then could have, quite humorously (ahem), scooped a wriggling crustacean out of the tank and held it in front of Kim Jong Un’s face – which surely would have been a Dear Leader pleaser, especially when they pointed out that the thick rubber bands on the lobster’s claws would prevent anything untoward – like a nip at his nibs’ nose – from happening.
Beyond the farm not having been able to produce lobsters – either via production or purchase – they were in for even further grief when Kim Jong Un discovered that:
…the farm did not even have a room dedicated to education about the "revolutionary history" of his family's regime. "The employees who failed to bear deep in their minds [Kim Jong Il's] leadership exploits could hardly perform their role as masters in production," Kim chided. He continued with the ominous warning: "They may bring such grave consequences as impairing the prestige of the party."
There were a few times over the course of my long career when I did something that ticked off the powers that were. But I never had to worry about “impairing the prestige of the party.”
All this went down a few weeks ago.
Wonder if the managers of the Taedonggang Terrapin Farm still have a livelihood. Or even a life.
Thank you, Valerie, for pointing this one out to me.