First lady Ri

North Korea’s First Lady, Ri Sol-ju, is a good-looking 27-year-old former pop star with a voice so soft that it has been likened to the sound of raindrops on roses.   Did you know that she once visited Incheon?  If not you haven’t seen Evan Ramstad’s interview (Video).  If you don’t want to watch the video you can read more at ABC News (July 26, 2012):

Ri is from an average family, graduated Geumsung 2 Middle School in Pyongyang and studied abroad in China majoring in vocal music.

She has also visited South Korea in 2005 as a member of North Korean cheerleading team for the Asian Athletics Championship held in Incheon, said the agency. Ri was one of the 90 cheerleaders back then who chanted “We are one!”

The cheerleaders wore Nike caps, danced with South Korean college students, and attended a dinner party with government officials.

She may have also “attended a tree-planting ceremony hosted by South Korea’s Red Cross at the North’s Mt. Kumgang resort in March 2003, and also attended an inter-Korean meeting of teachers at the resort in 2004 hosted by the South’s Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union.”

In her article with Asia Times (October 5, 2012), Tatiana Gabroussenko describes the North Korean first lady as possessing behavior that:

seems radically unconventional. Instead of mastering the preparation of some particularly fragrant variety of kimchee deep inside her kitchen like a traditional ajumma (married woman) would, or devastating European boutiques like the regular wife of a regular Oriental dictator, Ri follows her husband to every political destination. She smiles broadly for cameras, wears provocatively short skirts and puzzles foreign analysts desperately attempting to conjure up a meaning to all these new changes.

One thing that doesn’t change is the extravagance.  According to Business Insider (October 5, 2012) she is well accessorized with a bag that cost almost $1,600.  The average North Korean is used to his/her leaders being dressed in high-end items and can probably overlook her display of extravagant accessories but can not overlook her lack of accessories.

China Org. Cn. (October 16, 2012) reports that First Lady Ri may have been banned from public appearances for her failure to wear pins honoring KIS andKJI from her formal wear.

On Oct. 11, the South Korea media cited a source familiar with DPRK protocol in saying that the first lady seldom wore any badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the most public occasions with her husband, provoking much criticism among the country’s ruling party’s veterans as well as the army who deemed her so-called behavior to be “completely unacceptable, with repercussions to ensue.”

According to a North Korean rebel, the country’s adults must adorn their formal wear with their top leaders’ badges on formal occasions; a rule nobody can or may violate, not even the country’s first lady.

Kim and Ri
JoongAng Daily has its piece on her disappearance from the public view here (October 15, 2012).

The Chinese newspaper asserts that:

[Ri] is nothing more than a prop used to adorn Kim’s image and this young woman can barely control her own destiny [and  is] facing great pressures with the fear of becoming another Song Hye Rim, Kim Jong Il’s second wife, who is believed to have died in Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital in 2002 after years of estrangement.

Kind of interesting because Song does not sound like a person who could be described as having a voice sounding like rain falling on roses.  According to Los Angeles Times (December 22, 2o11):

Born in 1937, Kim Young-soon was a trained dancer and a close friend with Sung Hye-rim, the first wife of Kim Jong Il. The marriage circumstances were scandalous: Sung was already married, with a child, whom she left to be with Kim — who was five years her junior.

Pyongyang officials worried that the sordid details of the union wouldn’t exactly make school textbook reading. So the regime did the kind of unspeakable things that regimes do.

They rounded up everyone who ever knew Sung Hye-rim and sent them to prison. Kim Young-soon was part of the roundup.

She spent a decade in cruel confinement, and she was lucky.

There is some question as to where she died.  This source says she died in Ulan Bator.

Of course, all North Korean first ladies are going to have a hard time living up to the legacy of Kim Jong-suk, the first wife of Kim Il-sung.  According to Tatiana Gabroussenko:

Kim Il-sung’s memoirs in which he describes his early years of marriage with Kim Jong-suk, their life and their fight together in a guerrilla camp in Manchuria are permeated with examples of her extraordinary devotion. For instance, he recollects how during battles his wife would crawl to him and their comrades under enemy fire and put boiled potatoes in their pockets, despite being starved herself. In the winter taiga, where there was no possibility of lighting a fire for security reasons, Kim Jong-suk is said to have washed her husband’s clothes in icy-cold water and then dried them with her body heat, even though it made her shake with cold for hours afterward.

For all their years together, Kim Il-sung would wear woolen socks that Kim Jong-suk, being busy during the daytime, knitted for him at night. Even in the Manchurian taiga, she managed to get wool and knit socks for her husband, while she never cared to obtain such socks for herself. Believing in an old superstition that bullets could not reach a person through silken wool, Kim Jong-suk quilted a jacket for Kim Il-sung with this wool and insisted that he wear it during battles. He writes with regret at having never asked his wife where she had obtained expensive silk in the taiga.

The closing of Tatiana Gabroussenko’s article seems a good closing for this post:

While it is too early to make the final verdict in regard to Ri Sol-ju, some events demonstrate that the young wife of Kim Jong-eun may be a good addition to the Family.

For example, during one of the recent visits of Kim Jong-eun to the new homes of workers’ families, Ri Sol-ju’s public behavior could be deemed impeccable. She softly followed her husband, one step behind him and carrying bags with presents for the workers while he was empty-handed. During conversation with their hosts, Ri was involved and sociable with no tint of arrogance; she cheerfully chatted with children and smiled warmheartedly to everyone. What is more, at the end of the visit Ri helped the hostess clear the table and then moved to the kitchen to wash dishes.

Kim Jong-suk would surely do the same.

Here is a link to RedState and its spoof on Ri’s first words of wisdom as reported by Oh Goh-Ahn.

Photo Citations: Both photographs are from China.Org.Cn