N. Korean and US embassies couldn't be more different

Top: The North Korean Embassy at High Street Centre, where its ambassador and three other embassy staff operate out of a suite of rooms. Above: The sprawling, high-security US Embassy in Napier Road, built at an estimated cost of US$30 million.
The North Korean Embassy at High Street Centre, where its ambassador and three other embassy staff operate out of a suite of rooms. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, ST FILE
Top: The North Korean Embassy at High Street Centre, where its ambassador and three other embassy staff operate out of a suite of rooms. Above: The sprawling, high-security US Embassy in Napier Road, built at an estimated cost of US$30 million.
The sprawling, high-security US Embassy in Napier Road, built at an estimated cost of US$30 million.ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, ST FILE

The 15th floor of a mundane office block in North Bridge Road is shared by 10 tenants, including a language school, a business equipment supply firm and a food and beverage company.

Along the nondescript corridor that links the offices - and with almost nothing to set it apart from the others - is a door next to a bronze sign and security pin device.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea's diplomatic mission in Singapore goes almost unnoticed.

However, its situation says much about the country's image here, especially when compared to the sprawling, high-security United States Embassy in Napier Road, built at an estimated cost of US$30 million (S$40 million).

The US Embassy, flanked by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British High Commission, the Australian High Commission and China's embassy, features a reflecting pool, a landscaped colonnade and materials including Minnesota granite and Vermont marble.

Meanwhile, behind a frosted glass front door, North Korean Ambassador Kim Chol Nam and three other embassy staff operate out of a suite of rooms in High Street Centre, an unassuming building which overlooks Clarke Quay and stands opposite Parliament House.

The embassy operates from 9am to noon and 2pm to 5pm on weekdays. It reportedly moved to its current site in 2016 from a "five-bedroom, 7,500-sq-ft house" at 60, Joo Chiat Lane.

Before that, it was located at Golden Mile Complex.

Singapore established diplomatic relations with North Korea in November 1975 and with the United States in April 1966.

US relations with Singapore go back to 1836 when Joseph Balestier was appointed as the first consul-general, according to the US Embassy website. His wife was the daughter of American revolutionary Paul Revere, famous for warning "the British are coming" on his midnight ride.

Tan Shu Yan

Nathanael Phang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 13, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korean and US embassies couldn't be more different'. Print Edition | Subscribe