Kim Opens Talks With Humor
President Roh Offers Lacquerware, DVD Sets as Gifts
By Kim Tong-hyung
The morning after media outlets had a field day about his ``stony'' expression, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il seemed back to his satirical-self Wednesday as he eased into his summit talks with President Roh Moo-hyun in Pyongyang.
Opening the talks at the Baekhwawon State Guest House, Roh thanked Kim for his appearance in Tuesday's welcoming ceremony upon the South Korean president's arrival in Pyongyang.
Kim, flashing a quick smile, didn't miss the opportunity to reveal his unusual sense as a jokester.
``The president has come and how can I be bunked at home if I am not sick in bed,'' Kim replied, allowing the talks to start with lighthearted laughter.
Kim's self-depreciating humor inadvertently showed that his famous vigor is still very much intact as he began to play the role of an unpredictable but charismatic host.
The North Korean leader didn't take himself too seriously in his Pyongyang meetings with then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 either.
``Europeans say that I live like a hermit,'' Kim then told the former president.
``But now with your visit President Kim, you have freed me from my life of seclusion,'' he said.
Kim's cheerful approach contributed to a bright start in the second day of the summit as the two heads of state began discussing ways to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula and strengthen economic cooperation.
A big surprise awaited Roh in the afternoon, as the North Korean leader showed up his counterpart yet again by suggesting he stay in Pyongyang a day longer. Roh, however, declined the offer and will be returning to Seoul Thursday as planned.
Bag of Presents
Kim seemed eager to get the day started, arriving with his entourage at Baekhwawon around 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than planned. Roh soon joined Kim at the hall and revealed a massive package of presents he prepared for his counterpart.
They included a traditional-style folding screen hand carved of lacquer-ware inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the work of master craftsmen in Tongyeong, ceramic teapot sets and plates, and South Korea's regional tea specialties.
Roh also gave Kim a DVD set of Korean movies and television series, including the ``YMCA Baseball Team,'' ``Strokes of Fire,'' and the hit drama ``Daejanggeum,'' which features Lee Young-ae, known as one of Kim's favorite South Korean actresses.
``The stories are good but the qualities of the pictures are just as good. These days, there are a lot of movies that gather a lot of attention with good visuals,'' Roh told Kim.
Kim simply replied with a ``thank you.''
Roh spent the night at Baekhwawon at the end of first day itinerary in Pyongyang which included a lavish dinner reception hosted by Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, at Pyongyang's famous Mongrangwan Restaurant.
The South Korean delegation was served with a variety of North Korean food specialties, including boiled beef, stewed ribs, carp stew and trout soup.
Pyongyang's famous blueberry wine and Ryongsung beer was served during the dinner, and watermelon and roasted chestnuts were saved for dessert.
After opening statements by Kim and Roh, the atmosphere was turned joyful in the restaurant with shouts of ``cheers'' heard from table to table. Roh then suddenly approached the podium with a glass of wine and some words for the mike.
``To achieve peace and economic prosperity for the two Koreas, there are some preconditions. One is that chairman Kim (Jong-il) should live a long and health life, and the second is that supreme assembly chairman Kim (Yong-nam) should be healthy as well,'' Roh said.
``In my opening toast, I forgot to wish for the health of these two men. Let's toast for health of chairman Kim and supreme assembly chairman Kim,'' he said, followed by an shouts of ``cheers'' and applause in the restaurant.
The reception ended around 9:10 p.m. as Roh checked into his room at Baekhwawon.
Roh will have lots to talk about with Kim over strengthening the economic ties between the two Koreas. In this vein, President Roh made his first contribution to the North Korean economy when he bought souvenirs on his way to Pyongyang.
On a 20-minute stop Tuesday at the Sugok Rest House, on the highway linking Gaeseong and Pyongyang, Roh bought the drawings of a tiger at a shop at the motorway station, while first lady Kwon Yang-suk bought a drawing of Mt. Baekdu.
Roh also looked around the products on display and showed particular interest in the selection of blueberry wines.
``South Koreans love to use North Korean liquors as presents. I have tried blueberry wine before,'' he said.