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North Korea in First Expo as Kim Jong-Il Visits China


Reclusive North Korea is one of several nations participating in a World Expo for the first time. Its participation comes as the country faces a grave economic crisis, and its leader is on a rare visit to China.

North Korea's pavilion is nestled in a corner of the Asia section at the World Expo, next to Iran.

The design is modest. The outside of the rectangular building features a large mural of blue skies and a photo of Pyongyang's Chollima statue, a horse that is said to symbolize the heroic and unconquerable spirit of the North Korean people.

Inside, there is a replica of Pyongyang's Juche Statue, a small waterway that represents the North's Taedong River, a traditional bridge and large fountain with colored lights.

On top of the fountain, a group of white marble statues of naked boys encircle two others. One boy holds the other up in the air as he lifts a dove into the sky.

In one corner, there is a small cave that contains a reproduction of a mural from the North's Koguryo Tombs, a World Heritage site.

Along a wall, beneath the phrase "Paradise for the People," a row of television sets plays videos depicting everyday life in North Korea.

Some of the videos show North Koreans leisurely bowling, playing golf and ice skating. Although some of the footage appears to be recent, other shots seem to be decades old.

Many who visited the pavilion Tuesday say that aside from the fact that there were no lines to get in, they wanted to visit because, as they put it, North Korea is so mysterious.

Gu Nan and Chen Gaoxiang, say they are not particularly impressed with what they saw.

Gu says the pavilion is pretty small. Chen adds that it is rather simple inside.

But both say they would like to visit North Korea, regardless of Pyongyang's image in the international arena.

Gu says he does not really care about what other countries might think of North Korea and that for him there are really no obstacles to interaction between people of other cultures and of other countries.

North Korea is considered to have one of the most repressive governments in the world, and its economy is failing. It also is under United Nations sanctions for its nuclear weapons programs.

Neil Zhao is a high school student from central China who has traveled to the border with North Korea. He says the display at the pavilion is quite different from what he saw when he looked into North Korea.

"There are not many lights [on the North Korean side] at night and you can contrast that with China and in Changbai [Korean Autonomous County], that's opposite from there [North Korea], you can see there are many buildings and lights and there [in North Korea] it is just dark," Zhao said.

Regardless, Neil says he would like to visit North Korea some day to see for himself. He also feels that with China's growing influence in international affairs, it could play a role in helping the North develop more.

North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-II is currently in China on a rare trip that has prompted speculation that he is seeking help to rescue his country's economy.

China is a major ally of North Korea and its most important source of food and energy. Even before Pyongyang bungled a currency reform late last year the country was suffering from power outages and food shortages.

The currency move closed food markets, triggered sharp inflation and sparked rare signs of discontent with the government.

Smile Song, a university student, says the rest of the world should not be concerned with conditions in North Korea.

Song says that one's happiness really is not something for other people to decide. What really matters is how one feels and whether they are happy or not.

Like others, Song felt it would best to go and see North Korea herself. She said that there was a higher chance now of doing that, since China recently opened up tourism across the border.

The World Expo is typically an opportunity for countries to showcase their products and experiences. But North Korean officials said they were not interested in an interview with VOA.

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