I Google ‘North Korea funfair’ and my phone seizes up and says the internet isn’t available, leaving me to wonder if something sinister is afoot.
Which of course it is, although funfairs don’t really come into it, but stick with me for a moment.
Last week we had a Korean professor of economics to stay for the night. He was from the south naturally enough, as professors from the north, if they exist, are almost certainly banned from professing anything. And they aren’t allowed to stray to an Airbnb room in York.
Our visitor was a married man with three children, but he was touring Britain alone – “My family is jealous,” he said, with a shy smile. Well, you can see their point.
Anyway, over breakfast our guest told me about his visit to the North Korean funfair. Some years ago, the border opened and for a short while people from the south headed north for ‘fun’.
Google has now recovered itself, allowing me to find details of this unlikely source of merriment – an amusement park in a country notoriously short on amusement. The Mangyongdae Funfair moves an Australian travel website to ask: “Is this the world’s most depressing theme park?”
CNN is kinder, saying that this is “the happiest place in North Korea”, although you suspect that isn’t a long list. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes visited the fair in May of last year, and his report is still on the BBC website.
Our visitor went for the day, and said that people flooded over the border. It was his only visit to the closed-off part of his country as soon enough the border was slammed shut again. His English was difficult to follow and I didn’t manage to ask how he felt about Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump squaring off at each other. I don’t think he lived in Seoul but he did live close enough to the world’s most militarised border.
I showed him my phone, which is a Samsung, and pointed to the television – also a Samsung – and said that both had come from his country. South Korea is busily connected to the rest of the world, while North Korea is a closed-off dictatorship and one of the world’s scariest places.
This morning Donald Trump is threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea if any threat is made to the United States. North Korea is “carefully examining” a plan for a missile strike on Guam. This tiny island in the western Pacific is a US territory with a population of around 160,000, including thousands of US military personnel.
Trump says that if this happens, North Korea would face “fire and the fury like the world has never seen”. And never mind that he still conducts himself like the villain in a Batman movie – less the Joker, more the Tweeter – this is scary stuff.
To even contemplate that the balance of world peace lies in a ballistic willy-waving contest between two such leaders as Trump and Kim Jong-un is just the prospect to cheer you up on a soggy August morning.
How did we end up with a world run by such lunatics? The visiting Martian traditionally called on to offer an outsider’s opinion just looked at me and shrugged.