PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Girls' soccer teams waged a fierce battle outside a huge gymnasium. Two young brides, one resplendent in a white gown and the other in deep pink, married sweethearts in a snowy square. Parents pulled toddlers on plastic sleds. Pedestrians lined up at kiosks to buy baked sweet potatoes and pancakes.
A six-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, that ended last Tuesday offered carefully monitored glimpses of a land where reality and fantasy are routinely conflated. While there were no obvious signs of impending collapse or political intrigue swirling around the fate of North Korea's ailing leader, the visit offered hints of why the North might be particularly eager now to resume international aid and trade.