February 23, 2019
By Ju-min Park
HANOI (Reuters) – Cars stopped and tourists gawked on Friday at what appeared to be North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wandering the streets of Hanoi.
Days before the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, to be held in Vietnam’s capital, a Kim impersonator appeared at the Metropole Hotel, a back-up location for the meeting.
Howard X, an Australian, has been cashing in on his resemblance to North Korea’s leader, especially his haircut.
“Kim, please get a proper haircut. It looks awful,” Howard X said, adding it takes him three hours to prepare his outfit and get into character.
The impersonator visited Singapore in June before the first summit, where he performed satirical stunts and said he was briefly detained by authorities.
He also showed up at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where he danced in front of an appalled North Korean cheer squad before security hauled him away..
“Last time we did it in Singapore, which is kind of his territory,” he said, exchanging handshakes and hugs with another impersonator dressed as Trump. “Now we are in my territory with my comrades.”
Vietnam, North Korea’s Cold-War communist ally, was more friendly turf, Howard X told reporters.
But that did not last long.
The Kim lookalike said Vietnamese authorities had questioned them and warned them of possible deportation after they had taped an interview at a local TV station, which did not air it.
“They then said that this was a very sensitive time in the city due to the Trump/Kim summit and that our impersonation was causing a ‘disturbance’,” Howard X said in a Facebook post.
He added he had reluctantly signed an agreement that he would not give interviews or do any impersonations in public.
Earlier, the impersonators were surrounded by reporters and television cameras at the hotel, before security staff showed them the door.
Hanoi is rolling out the red carpet for the real leaders and their delegations. The flags of Vietnam, the United States and North Korea lined main roads, alongside a summit emblem depicting two hands clasped inside a blue circle.
Howard X said he planned to eat Vietnamese food and play golf with his partner and Trump impersonator, Russell White, during the Feb. 27-28 summit.
Later, outside Hanoi’s Opera House, a crowd gathered, laughing and taking pictures.
Howard X was dressed in a Mao suit with a badge featuring the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who was Kim Jong Un’s father.
“I thought it was the real Kim Jong Un when I looked at his back, but oh well, it is not,” said Lee Sang-hyuk, a South Korean student doing volunteer work in Vietnam.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and James Dalgleish)