SEOUL, South Korea
Eric Talmadge, who as North Korea bureau chief for The Related Press tenaciously chronicled life and politics in one of the world’s least-understood nations, has died. He was fifty seven.
Talmadge died this week in Japan after suffering a coronary heart attack whereas operating.
A many years-long resident of Japan with deep experience on Asian security and army issues, Talmadge appeared to have discovered his preferrred job when he was appointed in 2013 to steer the AP bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. From his base in Tokyo, he traveled virtually monthly to report on the nuclear-armed nation’s exceptional evolution underneath its younger chief, Kim Jong Un, who took over after his father died in 2011.
“For years, Eric’s sharp work in North Korea has helped shape how the complete world saw a rustic that many of us knew little about,” stated Sally Buzbee, AP’s government editor. “He took that duty very critically, and it was never far from his mind.”
Talmadge was certainly one of just a few worldwide journalists with regular entry to North Korea, the place the AP established a video news office in 2006 and a text and photograph bureau in 2012. Together with his steadily unique on-the-ground view, Talmadge latched onto and reveled in the small, telling particulars that upended widespread Western stereotypes about North Korea.
There have been few journalists extra insightful concerning the North’s push to develop atomic weapons able to hanging the USA. However Talmadge also crammed the AP wire with stylishly written tales of day by day life, typically seeded with traces of his bone-dry sense of humor.
He wrote a few beer pageant in Pyongyang, where “brews are low cost and carry the ruling household’s seal of approval.” He wrote concerning the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans using cell phones and the recognition of a recreation referred to as “Boy Common,” describing it as “a by-product of a brand new TV animation collection that is both superbly produced and genuinely fun to observe.”
His clever, curious eye also frequently seized on the moments that always received misplaced or ignored in the frenzied coverage of the lengthy-operating nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang. “He noticed which means in every little thing he came across,” stated Ian Phillips, AP’s vice chairman for worldwide information.
In 2014, Talmadge wrote of a weeklong street trip by way of North Korea — unprecedented for overseas reporters — that stopped at the forest-coated Kaema Plateau, generally known as the “Roof of Korea.”
He showed readers the “blink-and-you-miss-them villages,” the federal government propaganda slogans that coated posters, murals, banners and stones, and the isolated truck stops the place aged people sat on weed-coated embankments and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes.
“It is fairly potential,” he wrote, that “none of them had ever seen an American earlier than.”
Talmadge was candid concerning the constraints of reporting in North Korea: No interviewing random individuals; no pictures of checkpoints or army installations; no breaking away from ever-present authorities minders, “even on the loneliest of lonely highways.”
In an instance of the clear-eyed wit that always appeared in even his most technical reporting on army hardware, he wrote that the street journey’s preapproved route, “to no one’s surprise, didn’t embrace nuclear amenities or prison camps.”
Ted Anthony, who as AP’s Asia-Pacific information director supervised Talmadge from 2014 to 2018 and accompanied him on multiple trips to Pyongyang, stated Talmadge as soon as warned him: “Don’t ever assume you really perceive the North. It has more corners than anyplace I’ve ever been.”
“Eric was completely sure that with sufficient work and curiosity and stick-to-it-iveness, he might genuinely help the world understand North Korea. And he did,” Anthony stated. “He needed to succeed in people who’d by no means actually thought much concerning the nation, and he would pull out all of the stops to point out them the North Korea they never knew existed, and make them assume critically about it.”
Born in Renton, Washington, Talmadge spent much of his life in Japan, where was a high-faculty change scholar. Fluent in Japanese, he appeared typically on Japanese TV as a commentator on North Korea. He was an avid bowler and meditator, and beloved driving his bike and swimming. He was the writer of a 2006 e-book, “Getting Moist: Adventures in the Japanese Tub.” He’s survived by his wife, Hisako, and two grown youngsters, Sara and Eugene.
Talmadge joined the AP in Tokyo in 1988 after working for the Mainichi Shimbun, one in every of Japan’s nationwide newspapers.
He reported all through Asia for the AP and was a serious contributor to the news agency’s award-profitable protection of the lethal earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, and the nuclear disaster that happened in its aftermath.
Before turning into Pyongyang bureau chief, he led a group of AP journalists targeted on army and safety issues within the Asia-Pacific area, while also serving as the news editor for the Tokyo bureau.
Mari Yamaguchi, an AP correspondent who joined the Tokyo bureau the same yr as Talmadge, stated his reporting pursuits ranged from Japan’s imperial family to the yakuza legal gangs to the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which carried out a deadly fuel poisoning on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
“I was all the time impressed by his fairness, stability and sense of justice,” Yamaguchi stated.
But Talmadge seemed especially suited to reporting in North Korea. His Instagram and Twitter accounts have been full of photographs of cute youngsters mobbing him in Pyongyang on their means house from faculty, with photographs of the town’s pizza supply providers and aerobics courses and, in fact, with video of mesmerizing rows of goose-stepping soldiers.
One video tweet from Yokohama, the port city outdoors of Tokyo the place he made his house, showed sightseeing boats gliding beneath the ephemeral cherry blossoms of early spring: “As a result of every thing isn’t about where I’ve to go for work.”
Talmadge’s humorousness shone via even in his inner AP memos on the Pyongyang bureau’s operations. A picture of a sequence-smoking 19-yr-previous chimpanzee mentions dryly that the ape smokes a few pack a day: The Pyongyang zoo officers “insist, nevertheless, that she does not inhale.”
Wong Maye-E, who worked alongside Talmadge in the course of the five years she spent as chief photographer for North Korea, remembers sitting of their lodge in Pyongyang during an influence outage one night time, decompressing after a troublesome day’s reporting, the room’s windows thrown open and Steely Dan enjoying on Talmadge’s telephone as they watched the blinking lights from the flashlights of people going up and down the stairwells of nearby condominium buildings.
“He was very affected person in a place that basically checks your endurance,” Wong stated.
His love of bowling, Wong stated, also got here in useful in the North, the place he favored to amaze residents by displaying off how his intense bowling habit had made his proper arm rather more muscular than his left.
Talmadge regularly pushed to broaden the AP’s presence in the North, negotiating with the government for extra and longer reporting journeys and better entry. He prided himself on protecting his stories free of the clichés about North Korea so prevalent in outdoors media.
“I feel there is a tendency abroad to caricature North Korea in ways in which aren’t constructive, and to resort to dismissiveness or mockery much too simply,” Talmadge advised The Washington Publish in 2015. “Throughout my time there, I have been stunned, and reassured in a approach, to see how average North Koreans care about the identical issues everyone else does — their family, their finances, their health, their associates, how you can get by.”
And, he stated, his immersion within the North made him recognize much more his life outdoors the nation.
“Each time I come back house, I wake up the first morning considering, ‘I can go anyplace I would like right now,'” he informed the Submit. “I might go to the seashore, I might go see a movie, I might get on a aircraft and go to Florida if I needed. Even if, in the long run, I just keep residence and eat potato chips on the couch, it is a very liberating feeling. I do not take it as a right anymore.”
Related Press author Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed.