At what passes for rush hour on a Wednesday morning, there are few sounds in Kaesong's main traffic circle but the gentle squeak of bicycles and a tinny loudspeaker blaring anthems to Kim Jong Un, the baby-faced ruler who took power after his father's December death ("The footsteps of our respected General Kim! ... Spreading the sound of a brilliant future!").
Occasionally, a solitary car goes by.
There are no nightspots here, no modern apartment complexes, no electricity except for a few hours every evening. The shelves in most stores are noticeably half-empty, and dirt sidestreets lead to clusters of small houses, many little more than shacks, with bulging walls and broken roofs.
It is the reality of North Korean urban life — with the notable exception of the capital city, 80 miles north of here, in a carefully crafted totalitarian Oz. That contrast, between Pyongyang and every other city in the country, reflects an ever-growing chasm between North Korea's elite and the daily struggles of everyone else....
Like so much else in North Korea, the urban divide is really about the politics of single-family rule.
Pyongyang grew after the Korean War into a showcase of Stalinist propaganda, a city of hulking government buildings, enormous stadiums, broad avenues and omnipresent monuments celebrating the lives of founding ruler Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il.
It was proof to the world, the regime believed, of the victory of totalitarian socialism. More importantly, it was also a way to reward the regime's key supporters, and to keep them close.
Pyongyang is a closed city, sealed off by security forces that monitor movement at dozens of checkpoints. North Koreans cannot move there, or even visit, without official permission. Its estimated 3 million residents have been vetted for their ideological purity, or at least their connections to the inner circle.
In many ways, the capital is a complex mixture of facade and reality: blackouts remain commonplace in many neighborhoods; backstreets are dusty and potholed; the outsides of many apartment buildings are splattered with patches of mold.
But life is also far less grim than in the rest of the country. If nothing else, there is the appearance of opportunity.
Top officials in the ruling party, the government and the military live in gated neighborhoods closed to outsiders. They shop in stores filled with goods, and sing karaoke in wood-paneled restaurants. They live and work in constant proximity to power, opening up channels for professional promotion, business opportunities and black market profits.
So when the regime needs to ensure support, it knows where it needs to focus.
"The government is privileging Pyongyang as a political strategy," said Glyn Ford, a former European Union parliamentarian and international consultant who travels regularly and widely in North Korea. "The people who live in the capital are the people who count. They're the people who underpin the regime."