March 23, 2005

PGHA: Why is North Korea so grumpy?

I was at my regular grocery store, walking down an aisle in the produce section. I had a craving for something fresh, but I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted. So I wandered aimlessly, in what looked like a fruitless search.

I had just about given up when I noticed one of the produce workers bringing in a tray of cherimoya . Man, what an ugly fruit. But I had heard that they were very tasty, so I picked a nice fresh looking one off the top of the display. (I hoped it was fresh. I couldn’t really tell, but it was on top.)

I zipped through the rest of the store, getting everything else on my list. Then, juggling my selections, (real men don’t use carts) I paid for everything and headed out to the Jeep.

Halfway across the parking lot, I fished out my fruit and tried to figure out how to eat it. Hmm. This could be harder than I thought. I was still puzzled over this as I reached the Jeep. I tossed the rest of the bags in the back and set the fruit on the bumper. After choosing which one of my regular brace of pocketknives to use, I cut the cherimoya in half.

But instead of being filled with a tasty tropical delicacy, the fruit was instead filled with a rolled up piece of paper. Well, more accurately, two pieces of paper. My razor sharp knife had cut the note in half. I was starting to have a familiar sinking feeling as I lined up the two halves and started reading.

Agent GEBIV, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the reasons for North Korea being so darned grumpy.

Now these are a bunch of crazy communists, so be careful on your mission. These guys make Californians look normal. If you are captured or compromised in any way, we will be unable to help you or even acknowledge your existence.

Oh, and while you’re over there, pick me up some kim chee. I haven’t had any since they kicked me out of the Navy. American FDA rules make it impossible to find any authentic kim chee around here. Well, that and the fact that no one else likes fermented cabbage. It’s almost as hard to find as baalut outside the Philippines.

Mmmm. Now I’m getting hungry…

Anyways, this message will self destruct in 10 seconds.

I crammed the paper back into the fruit halves and pitched the whole thing into a nearby cart corral.


The shopping carts were propelled across the parking lot like wire-frame missiles. I jumped into the Jeep and expertly navigated the metallic minefield. And as I watched several thousand dollars worth of door dings occurring in my rear view mirror, I knew that it was once again time for another…

(Cue Theme Music) I decided to get some help on this one, so I called my blogless brother up on the phone as soon as I got home. I hoped that he was done moving into his new house, and would be available to help me. But busy or not, he was still the best man with a search engine that I knew. I was in luck, and he answered his phone on the second ring. “Hey, Culbrez,” I asked, “can you help me out on this assignment? I need to find out why North Korea is so grumpy.”

“Sure.” He replied. “I’ll see what I can find, and then I’ll get right back to you as soon as I get something.”

Half an hour later, he called me back. “Find anything?” I asked.

“Sorry, nothing definite.” He said. “But I was able to book you on the next flight into Pyongyang.”

“What!?” I exclaimed.

“Well, I was able to hack into some military surveillance satellites over the Korean peninsula. And when I ran the pictures from them through that grumpiness detector you gave me for Christmas last year – oh, by the way. Thanks. That has been a real lifesaver on my last couple of dates. As soon as she starts getting grumpy, I know it’s time to retreat. – But where was I… oh yeah. I ran the pictures through it, and found that, nearly all of the grumpiness in the entire country is emanating from Pyongyang.”

Then he added, “After that, I checked some blown up photographs of the city, and it seems that the focus of the grumpiness is right in the presidential palace. So I booked a flight for you so you can go and investigate it yourself. Personally, I’m betting Kim Jong Il is the source. But you’ll have to find out what makes him so grumpy.”

“Gee thanks.” I was sure that it was Kim Jong Il myself. But I wasn’t planning on having to go to North Korea. I was grasping at straws, but I asked him again. “Did you find anything else?”

“Just one more thing. Kim Jong Il is going to be staying at a health spa just outside the city this week. You might be able to catch up with him there.”

“Well, that’s something. As long as he’s not at the palace, I might have a chance to get close to him.” I was now resigned to my trip. I just hoped that I would be able to use the flight towards my Sky-Miles.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” my brother added as I was saying goodby, “the flight is a cargo carrier going to pick up a load of basketball sneakers. So dress warm, they don’t always heat the cargo holds.” *Click*

Oh boy.

I packed up my stuff and locked up my apartment. I had to hurry to catch my flight. On the positive side, at least I wouldn’t be getting any airline peanuts on this trip…

Twenty hours later, I felt the bump of the landing gear as we touched down at Pyongyang International. I slowly pulled myself out of the folding chair that I had been buckled into. A groan escaped my lips as the blood returned to my legs. Maybe I should have paid extra to sit up with the crew. I thought to myself. But I wanted as few people to know I was in the country as possible, and as long as I stayed in the cargo area, only me and the crew chief knew I was back here.

*Clack* The sound of an AK-47 being chambered made me freeze in place. OK, make that me, the crew chief, three North Korean officers and the twelve North Korean soldiers holding the rifles pointed at my head. Time to go to plan B.

“Hi,” I said as brightly as I could force myself, “My name is John Liberal. I’m Michael Moore’s personal assistant, and I’m here to do research for a documentary.”

I kept my hands in the air while I watched the two officers debate what they heard. One of them broke away from the others. “You no Michael Moore.” He accused in broken English. “Michael Moore no fit on plane this small.”

“No.” I tried to clarify my lie, “I’m Mr. Moore’s assistant. I work for him.”

“Oh.” He seemed to understand me, and he took this new information back to the discussion. Suddenly, the other two both smiled. The highest-ranking one (I’m guessing that stars on the shoulders mean the same there, as here.) walked up and shook my hand. “How can we help the assistant of the famous Mr. Moore?” he asked in much better English than his lower ranked associate.

“I’m here to get some background information about your ‘Glorious Leader’ Mr. Kim Jong Il.” I said. “That way Mr. Moore will be able to put him in the best possible light. We want to make him the Castro of the East!”

“Better yet,” joked the general, “make it so Castro is called the Kim Jong Il of the Caribbean!”

I laughed along with the other officers. I knew that as long as I was with them, I had to pretend to be a commie loving liberal. I just hoped that the strain of acting contrary to all of my beliefs wasn’t too much for me to handle.

In what seemed like no time at all, I was being ushered into the “Presidential Suite” at the health spa Mr. Kim was staying at. The limo ride over had been rather uneventful. Unless you were paying close attention, you wouldn’t notice that the healthy, happily waving people that we kept passing were all wearing uniforms under their “simple peasant garb.” I was given the standard Hollywood treatment. They were making sure that I didn’t see anything that would disillusion me about the wonders of communism.

I was seated by myself at a small table in the center of the ante-room to the suite. I was in a comfortable, but plain chair. It didn’t look like it had any means of restraints built into it, so I wasn’t worried about that, yet. My only concern was with being able to pull off the charade. Would the formerly poofy-haired dictator believe that I was really there to interview him for an upcoming movie?

After sitting there for half an hour, other thoughts started to nag me. Could they be calling Hollywood to check my story? Were they too paranoid to trust a seemingly liberal gift horse? Were they at that moment preparing a cell in which to lock me up and throw away the key? Did I leave the stove on at home?

I gave myself a mental slap. Pull yourself together. And then because I don’t like it when someone slaps me, I slapped myself back. That was about to escalate into a mental knuckle and skull brawl when the door going into the next room opened.

A man dressed in a valet’s uniform told me that I could come in. I quickly composed myself and tried to look as much like a Hollywood liberal as I could. (Without looking totally gay, that is.)

Finally, I was standing in front of the “Glorious Leader” himself. I could see that even though he was trying to put on a good face for me, someone he thought was going to be making a movie about him, he was still pretty grumpy.

I started in with the movie pitch, and hoped for the best.

“Mr. Kim Jong Il,” I started, “what we’re looking to do, is show the rest of the world, the caring and sensitive side of you that those evil conservatives are always saying you don’t have. We want this movie to say to them, you’re a great guy!” Boy, I was laying it on thick. I just hoped that we didn’t need hip waders soon.

“So can you start by telling me a little about yourself? How are you feeling right now?” It was silly, but maybe I’d get lucky and he would tell me.

“I’m not in a real good mood right now.” He confessed. “I’ve had things bothering me for a while. That’s why I came to this health spa this week.”

Jackpot! I did a couple of mental cartwheels. This was going to be easier than I thought!

“Can you tell me what’s bothering you?” I asked. “Maybe I can help, somehow.”

“Well, the first thing that was really bugging me was the neighbors.” He started. “Those South Korean’s dogs were barking all night long!”

“Ah,” I said, “So you haven’t been able to get any sleep?”

“No, no.” he replied. “I’ve been sleeping just fine. All that barking made me hungry. But once I’ve had my midnight snack, I usually feel just fine.”

“Oh… well that’s good news.” Strike one. I was sure that I had found the cause of his grumpiness. “Anything else bothering you?”

“My favorite sit-com was canceled last month. They stopped making ‘I Love Loo Chee’ right in the middle of the season.”

“I can see why that might make you a little angry.” I commiserated.

“Oh, that didn’t make me angry. Just hungry again.” He said.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“They replaced it with ‘Lassie’ re-runs.”

I barely managed to keep the nausea I was feeling out of my facial expression. I swallowed back the bile I could feel and asked him again, “Was there anything else that was bothering you?”

“Yes there was.” He said. “I had a pair of underwear that was really chafing me.”

“Is there anything that we can do to help?” I questioned. If all it took to end North Korea’s political saber rattling were some new underwear, it would be worth the purchase.

“No, that’s all taken care of. I gave them to my cousin. It used to be I could wear one pair for a whole year without taking them off. But now I can only seem to get six months out of them.” Suddenly an idea seemed to hit him. “Maybe I should try washing them once in a while!”

Must not vomit! I thought to myself. Out loud all I said was, “Yeah, that might help.”

I was getting desperate. I didn’t think that I could take any more of these personal revelations from the North Korean. But I had to find the real source of his grumpiness. I hope this time I get the real answer. I thought as I asked, for what I hoped was the last time. “Is there anything else bothering you right now?”

“There is one thing that has been really making me grouchy lately.” He admitted.

Oh please, don’t let this be about eating dogs, or poor personal hygiene. I prayed. “What is it?” I asked him.

“I just haven’t been happy since the NHL lockout.” He said. “I miss my hockey so much.” He added with a moan.

“I can’t agree with you more.” I agreed. For the first time, I was not lying to him. A small tear formed in the corner of my eye, the cancellation of the entire hockey season had hit me hard too.

While hockey wasn’t my entire life, I could definitely understand how the loss of the season could drive a man to threatening nuclear war. I’d probably react that way myself if a whole football season was called off.

A feeling of compassion for this little dictator spread through me. I was really starting to understand him, and he didn’t seem that bad a guy.

However, his next statement completely erased any good feelings I was starting to have.

“I was really hoping the Rangers would win the cup this year.” He mused.

This time I was unable to keep the look of revulsion off my face. “You monster!” I cried. “How could you root for them?”

His reaction to that statement was as severe as mine was to his. “Blasphemer.” He cursed. Then he yelled out, “Guards! Arrest this man!”

Fortunately, none of his guards spoke English, and before he could repeat himself in Korean, I was out of my chair and racing for the door.

I burst out into the hallway, and saw the guards at each end. Using the stairs to escape was now out of the question. I spotted the laundry chute set into the wall. Hey, sometimes clichés are the only answer. I dove for the hamper door.


Ouch! It was locked shut. I guess the security detail for the spa had seen all the same spy movies I had. Well that egress was out. I had to come up with a different way out. And fast. Kim Jong Il had remembered to yell for his guards in Korean, and they were approaching fast.

I ducked into a doorway across the hall from the presidential suite I had just left. From the décor, it was another large suite. I locked the door behind me and ran to a window.

As the soldiers started kicking in the door, I pulled open the window and jumped out. I knew I was on the top floor, but I was getting desperate.

I was in luck. Below me I could see a swimming pool. Bad news was, it was only March, and there was no water in it! Good news was it was filled with snow. I hoped that it was light and not too hard packed.

I landed with a soft thud. I quickly climbed out and ran for my life. Fortunately, being completely covered in snow, the soldiers had a hard time picking me out among all of the snowdrifts and none of them got any clean shots at me.

I made my way back to the airport, and managed to hide myself in an outgoing crate of sneakers. I just hoped that the shipment was going to Buffalo. Or at least somewhere in the North-east.

As I settled in among the shoes, I realized two things. One, North Korea was grumpy for the same reasons as most of Canada and the Northern U.S.; no-hockey meant no-happy.

And two, I had forgotten Harvey’s authentic kim chee. Well, TNT would probably appreciate that…

Posted by GEBIV at March 23, 2005 06:27 PM

Yeah, I am back in the missions.

Posted by: Culzephyr at March 30, 2005 11:02 AM
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