My brilliant Korea: Kim Jong Il's weird world
The Dear Leader's recent no-show sparked yet more odd tales about him
Even for the weird world of Kim Jong Il, it has been an eventful week. He was dead, then alive but felled by a stroke, or a heart attack; bedridden, unable to walk more than 30 yards; healthy as a horse, but fed up with speculation about his health. On Friday, South Korean sources reported that North Korea's 66-year-old leader was suffering from "convulsions". From across the Sea of Japan came the most alarming claim of all: the Dear Leader went to the Great People's Republic in the Sky five years ago, and has been replaced by a double.
Sparked by Mr Kim's no-show at the North's 60th anniversary celebrations, the stories piled up like crash-test dummies, fuelled by "unnamed US intelligence officials", while Pyongyang responded with its usual irritation, blaming Western "conspiracy theories". Wiser heads reminded us that we know almost nothing about what goes on in the Dear Leader's court, except for what comes from the odd insider lucky enough to escape, and the extravagant propaganda pumped out of Pyongyang – and that's wacky enough. Here's a selection of our favourite dispatches.
In North Korean biographies, Mr Kim's birth in 1942 (or 1941) was foreseen by a swallow and marked by a double rainbow and a new star. Movies extolling his great mental and physical prowess record that he came from the heavens, accompanied by a huge snowstorm. "When he shouts, huge storms happen," said one.
Colourful and hugely unlikely stories punctuated each stage of his life. On his first round of golf, he hit 11 holes-in-one and finished 38 under par. His god-like father, Kim Il Sung, boasted even more impressive gifts: during the fight against the Japanese in the Second World War, he is said to have walked on water.
Kim junior's morbid fear of flying has kept him grounded for 40 years. Visits to China, most recently in 2006, and to Russia in 2002 were made in his private train, stretching the return journey from Moscow to Pyongyang to 24 days. The train is reportedly equipped with a widescreen TV and a karaoke room.
Mr Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, 37, often considered his heir apparent, seems to be continuing the family tradition of generating bizarre stories for the international press. As an eight-year-old, Jong Nam reportedly ordered the kidnap of a South Korean comedian whom he grew to like while watching TV.
He may have been copying his father, who ordered the 1978 kidnapping of one of South Korea's most famous film stars, Choe Eun Hee. She was forced to make propaganda films with her movie-producer husband, Shin Sang Ok, until they escaped nine years later. "He likes horror and sex movies, and James Bond," Ms Choe later told the world.
A huge Mickey Mouse fan, Jong Nam caused a major diplomatic flap in 2002 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport, apparently on his way to Tokyo Disneyland. Mr Kim's second son, Jong Chol, also a possible successor, admires the music of Eric Clapton. Japan's Fuji TV secretly filmed him at a Clapton gig in Germany in 2006.
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