2. Rocket launching
On 13th morning, they were waked up by the Koreans to gather for morning activity. Sima Nan bought a Russian made leg ointment (Russian products seemed to be more available) at the hotel shop, before getting out of the hotel entrance. Then he saw a group of people with armbands of journalist insignia outside the entrance. When he asked where there were going, they answered that would be leaving for the rocket launching site.
Sima Nan then asked his interpreter: “How come they can visit the site? And where shall we go next?”
“You will know when we arrive there”.
In reality, those group of some 160 journalists did not visit the launching site. They visited the rocket launching news center at Pyongyang Library. It was while waiting there that the North Korean launched the rocket with satellite. Launching time was 7:36, but the rocket blew up into atmosphere at height of 120 km, dispersing much the remains into the Yellow Sea.
The first to report on the failure was CNN web, which mentioned: US Defence Department official has confirmed that a North Korean long range rocket was launched on morning of the 13th, but is believed to have failed soon after. Thereon the world media pickup and disseminate this piece of news.
That day, the arranged program was to visit Kim Ill Sung’s old residence in a suburb of Pyongyang. The old residence compound had been refurbished; the grass cottage seemed new – the commentator sobbed with strong emotion when describing it.
At noon, they returned to their hotel, and in their own room, they watched BBC news and then only knew about the failure of the satellite carrying rocket. Later Sima Nan asked his North Korean comrade: “The rocket has been launched. Do you know about it?”. The translator had the puzzled look, and answered that he did not know. He refused to talk further.
“My translator mentioned that he did not know, though the incidence was widely reported by the international media. The Korean comrade might not be unaware of it, after all they were prohibited from watching foreign TV channel in the hotel. The other possibility is that they were pretending ignorance in order to avoid losing face”.
On 14th of April, the sleep loving Sima Nan was again waked up from his sleep by the Korean. The activity for the day for the time being would be a visit to the Chinese-North Korean friendship monument.
“We were not informed in advance of the real activities ahead, as they want to maintain secrecy. Usually we only knew about the actual activity when we arrived at the venue. Before that they would only tell you what you could bring along. Later on we realized the rule: if we were to be participate in activities involving attendance of high ranking leaders, then we would need to be at the venue 4 or 5 hour earlier for security check. The North Korean security check is even stricter than that of US airport. The checks were conducted by military personnel – even key or wallets would not be allowed to be carried”.
When Sima Nan asked the North Korean side them divulge the plan for the day, they were apologetic but would not be persuaded. The frustration led him to a little outburst with them: “Your rule should be applicable to you only; It should not be used on us as we are your invited guest. Rules should be discussed and agreed by both sides, and not issued by one side only. We are forced to go by you even if we do not wish – this is disrespecting your friends!”.
In the afternoon, the translator said; “Now, I will bring you to a very nice place”.
(To be continued …)