The press bus took a wrong turn. And suddenly, everything changed in the official showcase of North Korean achievement. Dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past crumbling concrete apartment buildings. Old people trudged along the sidewalk, while two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were stores with no lights, and side roads so battered they were more dirt than pavement. "Perhaps this is an incorrect road?" mumbled one of the North Korean officials tasked with restricting reporters.
The bus riders got a rare look at the grim, run-down reality North Korea fastidiously hides from the press. The journalists stared. And outside the bus, the North Koreans who never expected to be seen stared back. Cameras madly clicked, as the bus turned for its intended destination: a spotlessly clean, brightly-lit, and nearly empty music information building, the site of one of Kim Jong Il's last public appearances. "I hope that the journalists present here report only the absolute truth," said the official, her voice trembling, "about how much our people miss our comrade Kim Jong Il." (Read more Kim Jong Il stories.)