PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea's capital is still a pretty quiet place compared to most urban centers around the world, but it gets its start early — and orderly.
Rush hour generally hits its peak at about 7 a.m. Pedestrians hustle along the sidewalks or peddle along on the city's bike lanes, usually narrow strips of sidewalk painted green that started to appear about a year ago, while workers and students who can't walk or bike to where they need to go load onto the subways and fill the city's buses and electric streetcars.
By about 6:30, long lines of men in neckties or olive-colored work clothes and university students in their uniforms — white shirts or blouses, and dark trousers or skirts accentuated by red ties or scarves — can be seen waiting for their cross-town rides, which are usually standing-room-only. Retirees pack up their folding chairs and head out to the Potonggang and Taedonggang rivers to begin fishing shortly after sunrise.
Cleaning crews, often made up of elderly people or elementary school kids, are also out early to trim grass and pick up litter, a big part of which is inevitably cigarette butts, since North Korea is one of the most smoker-friendly countries in the world.
Work for most in North Korea's capital starts at about 9 a.m. and schools an hour earlier.
With North Korea now on one of its "loyalty drives" stints, when the citizens are called on to show special devotion to leader Kim Jong Un and often put in extra hours to boost productivity, Women's League units are out in force in front of subway entrances and other strategic locations to dance and wave red flags as loud patriotic music blares from boom boxes.
Sometimes they are joined by middle school brass bands in their morning ritual, which is intended to encourage workers to start their day off with more vigor. For good measure, there are often small vans around with loudspeakers blasting propaganda.
The current loyalty drive is in about the 80th day of its full 200-day duration.
It was called shortly after a big meeting of the country's ruling party that was held in May to rally the people behind Kim's newly announced political and economic policies, or, basically, to just rally them behind Kim and his ruling regime. But its focus has recently been shifted to making a patriotic show of support for victims of major flooding that hit the country's northern-most province after an unusually strong typhoon hit late last month.
Along with the big red billboards that say "200 Day Battle" that are now all over the city, loyalty drive countdown signs are also posted outside of businesses and government offices.
Other billboards exhort citizens to work with "Mallima Speed," the country's latest catch-phrase. It's a reference to a mythical Pegasus-type horse that could travel tremendous distances at great speed.
A similar phrase was used back in the days of national founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un's grandfather, but in today's North Korea the speed has been multiplied by 10.
Sometimes the countdown signs aren't always in sync, with one poster giving a different countdown than another just a few blocks away.
But the message is the same — now is the time for all good North Koreans to show their mettle.