Live and unfiltered: Kim Jong Un captivates South Koreans

Live and unfiltered: Kim Jong Un captivates South Koreans
In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace each other after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)

South Koreans watched as history unfolded and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader they normally only see in heavily edited footage, walked across the border and had his every word broadcast live and unfiltered on airwaves across the country.

From train platforms to tech forums, South Koreans took a pause from their normal routines to get a glimpse of Mr Kim as he became the first leader from Pyongyang to visit South Korean territory.

Major television networks cancelled their usual programming for wall-to-wall coverage of the inter-Korean summit with President Moon Jae-in.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line to the South side at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. Kim made history Friday by crossing over the world's most heavily armed border to greet his rival, Moon, for talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons. (Korea Summit Press Pool via AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line to the South side at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. Kim made history Friday by crossing over the world's most heavily armed border to greet his rival, Moon, for talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons. (Korea Summit Press Pool via AP)

"I can't believe I'm listening to the voice of Kim Jong Un. Someone I have only seen as a jpeg is speaking now," South Korean Lee Yeon-su wrote on Twitter.

It is a dramatic change for South Koreans, who under the National Security Act are banned on threat of jail from accessing media considered pro-North Korean.

Websites for the North's official Korean Central News agency and Rodong Shinmun newspaper, which regularly publish propaganda images of Mr Kim, are blocked in South Korea.

South Koreans used the rare opportunity of seeing raw footage of him to speculate on everything from his speech habits to his health. Some even said they found him cute.

"Most South Koreans probably heard his voice for the first time. I found his way of speaking friendly, like a guy living next door," said Ryu Seok-woo, a reporter at a local news outlet.

Some noted that the reclusive leader, who rules his country unquestioned, seemed to drone on and on in his first speech. They speculated that he had never been stopped or interrupted when speaking before.

There was a moment many South Koreans noted when he made an off-the-cuff comment about naengmyeon, cold buckwheat noodles that are a North Korean delicacy popular among South Koreans and are to be served at the summit's dinner meeting.

"Pyongyang naengmyeon that came from afar. Ah, I shouldn't say it's from afar," he said before the two leaders started their morning meeting.

He appeared to be making a joke about the distance between the two countries. The remarks, which did not seem to fit with the intimidating image most South Koreans have of Mr Kim, went viral on social media as people shared them in disbelief and even suggested he has a future in comedy.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace each other after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace each other after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)

"I thought he had a sense of humour. He's certainly different from his father's generation," said Lee Seung-won, an office worker. "I thought I would never see such scene before I die."

As Mr Kim walked a few hundred metres from the border and climbed stairs to the Peace House where the summit was taking place, some South Koreans questioned whether the heavyset young leader was physically struggling.

When he was leaving a message in the guest book, his shoulders appeared to be moving up and down as if he was panting.

"He probably doesn't walk a lot and seemed to be having a hard time," Cho Jin-joo said, noting that such a common struggle made him seem real. "Before I found him intimidating on the news but today I felt like he was much more human," she said.

In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)

Some were sympathetic to Mr Kim.

"Ah, Kim Jong Un panting hard after walking that much. It strikes a chord with people who don't like walking," Kim Somi said in a tweet.

Between Mr Kim's jokes and big smiles, some on social media and elsewhere said the rival leader looked cute.

"He was so different from what I saw on the news in the past. He looked friendly. I thought he looked like a teddy bear," said office worker Yang Hae-ra, who watched the footage live on her phone.

Such comments raised the ire of others on social media, who thought it distracted from the fact that Mr Kim is an authoritarian leader.

- PA

More on this topic

Tradition that sees South Korean babies gain extra year on January 1 challengedTradition that sees South Korean babies gain extra year on January 1 challenged

Firefighters extinguish most of South Korean forest blazeFirefighters extinguish most of South Korean forest blaze

South Korea launches 5G smartphone networks ahead of scheduleSouth Korea launches 5G smartphone networks ahead of schedule

South Korea considers lifting sanctions on the NorthSouth Korea considers lifting sanctions on the North

More in this Section

Corbyn declares war on rich and powerful with ‘manifesto of hope’Corbyn declares war on rich and powerful with ‘manifesto of hope’

Ukraine probes pursued at direction of Donald Trump, impeachment inquiry toldUkraine probes pursued at direction of Donald Trump, impeachment inquiry told

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu charged with fraud and briberyIsraeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu charged with fraud and bribery

Greenpeace activists spell out climate message on Angela Merkel’s officeGreenpeace activists spell out climate message on Angela Merkel’s office


Lifestyle

This truck serves as an excellent metaphor for what needs to happen in our education system. A colossal truck needs to barge in front of it.Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher: Time to ditch private schools

Sorting out Cork people for ages...Ask Audrey: Is it still ok to just lob the gob after 10 pints?

Nip those winter ailments in the bud with the help of garden bounty. Fiann Ó Nualláin shows you how.Have a berry merry Christmas with the help of garden bounty

Dig a planting hole around three times the size of its pot and around the same depth, loosening the soil around the hole.Your quick guide to planting trees

More From The Irish Examiner