Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a not-very-subtle warning to his North Korean allies this week to stop holding the world hostage. But there’s still one place where the Chinese and North Koreans can find some common ground.
Pyongyang Haitanghua is a well-known restaurant in Beijing, staffed by North Koreans and serving the impoverished country’s cuisine. As tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to rise, I was curious to make reservations to dine there this past weekend. On the phone, we were asked if we were Americans—but nobody seemed to hold it against us.
North Korea’s neighbors may have been fretting about a possible missile test, but there wasn’t any tension at Haitanghua, which was about half-filled with Korean businessmen and tourists. A television displayed an endless feed of North Korean entertainment shows (more Lawrence Welk than Gangnam style), interspersed with shots of Kim Jong-un being greeted by joyous citizens bowing and beaming at the chubby dictator.
We ask our waitress about him.
“He’s great,” she says, with a smile that is coy and a little flirtatious. “He’s very capable.”
But, we ask, isn’t he young?
“Yes, he’s young,” she answers.
Isn’t he too young for the job?
“No, he’s just the right person to be our great leader,” she says.
Do you think there will be a war?
“We’re not afraid,” she responds.
Yes, but do you think there will be one?
“We don’t want to have a war,” she answers, “but even if there is one, we’re not afraid. Our people are young and our nation is strong and we’re prepared.”
Our waitress is 23 and has been in Beijing a year. She’s on a three-year international services internship offered by the Chinese government, after which Pyongyang will assist her in getting another job back home.
After our meal, which was a bit bland but perfectly edible, we paid our bill—384 RMB, or $62 for the three of us. By 9 pm, the restaurant was deserted.