January 18, 2019

Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train

Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train


North Korea’s state news media has occasionally covered the leaders from inside the train, offering a rare glimpse at some of the many specialized cars.

In 2015, Kim Jong-un was seen seated at a long white table in what appeared to be a conference room. In a similar video from 2011, his father, Kim Jong-il, is seen holding court in the same venue. In the older video, a flat screen television is clearly visible, and in the more recent one a laptop computer is seen.

In footage of the elder Mr. Kim’s trips, the leader is seen in an audience car with plush seats, leading a meeting in a dining car and attending a banquet in a car paneled in dark wood. In that footage, Mr. Kim is seated at a table filled with food as entertainers perform in tuxedos and evening gowns.

The former leader’s office car, including a desk and computer, is preserved as a museum exhibit at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Kim Jong-il’s mausoleum in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Photo


Kim Jong-il, the former leader of North Korea, on board his train in 2006. He was rumored to have had a fear of flying and preferred to travel on his train.

Credit
Yonhap/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lobster, wine and ‘lady conductors’

Kim Jong-il was rumored to have had a fear of flying and preferred to travel on his train, which was outfitted with modern communications technology and a large staff that catered to his whims.

“It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine,” wrote Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who traveled with the former leader during a 2011 trip through Russia.

Mr. Kim insisted that live lobster and other fresh delicacies be delivered to the train as it crossed Siberia on trips to Russia. Cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines were flown in from Paris, Mr. Pulikovsky recounted in his memoir of the trip, “Orient Express.”

When bored, Mr. Kim relied on a group of female entertainers known as lady conductors to serenade him in Korean and Russian.

It is unknown what his son, Kim Jong-un, does for nourishment and entertainment while on board, but the younger Mr. Kim’s appetite is known to rival his father’s. He reportedly prefers Swiss cheese, Cristal Champagne and Hennessy cognac.

Tragedies on the tracks

The train has been at the center of several events in modern North Korean history.

More than 3,000 people were killed in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border, in April 2004, when trains laden with combustible material exploded because of a collision or an electrical malfunction.

There were initial rumors that the explosion was part of an attempt on Kim Jong-il’s life because the leader’s train had passed through the town hours earlier.

According to the state news media, he would later die onboard his train after a heart attack in December 2011.

The arrival of the train in Beijing on Monday led to speculation that his son Kim Jong-un was meeting with Chinese officials to prepare for planned peace talks with South Korea and the United States.



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