September 01, 2012

Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight

On a cool evening last spring, I strolled down Vladivostok’s Verkhneportovaya Street, just south of the Trans-Siberian Railroad’s last station, and entered the Café Pyongyang for dinner. All that marked this modest outpost of the North Korean government was the curled edge of a green pagoda roof hung over an entryway in the side of the shabby Hotel Korona, and a red sign advertising a “Korean Cuisine.”

Inside, a cute North Korean waitress sat me at a booth near several brawny Russian men who toasted with glasses of champagne before opening a second bottle of vodka. Three Korean men entered after me and the waitress admitted them to a side room. The Café Pyongyang is segregated: one room for North Koreans, another for everyone else.

Murals of dramatic cliffs rising from a mountain stream adorn walls strung with fake bamboo leaves. The soft blue of the ceiling resembles the sky, which extends west to a dim area above the bar that is illuminated with flashing Christmas lights to create the illusion of day fading into starry night.

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