外文标题：Dandong A peep into North Korea
North Korea remains as enigmatic as ever, but the view from Dandong, separated by the Yalu river offers a revealing look at the hermit kingdom
Keep your cameras away when you see a North Korean soldier!" "Do not take any pictures of military installations!" Those were the orders barked by my otherwise affable guide as we neared North Korean waters near Dandong in China's North-eastern Liaoning Province. An entire tourism industry had sprung up due to Dandong's proximity to the North Korean city of Sinuiju. The two cities are separated only by the Yalu River. Along some stretches, the distance apart is as little as five metres.
While it's not impossible to enter North Korea as a tourist (travel agencies offer tours to North Korea and they will settle your visas for you), the cost is often prohibitively high, and tourists are not allowed to venture about without a chaperone. And given all the stories about North Korea's nuclear ambitions and its pariah status, it's no wonder the country is not packing in the crowds.
The other side
However, interest in the North has always been high, more so after the recent death of Kim Jong-il. So along the Dandong riverfront, enterprising vendors have set up shop offering North Korean memorabilia, from North Korean banknotes to badges bearing the images of the Kim Jong-il and his father, the founder of North Korea. And for just RMB 10 (S$2), you can peer into a pair of binoculars and see what the other side looks like.
But little did I expect that I would be a stone's throw, or in my case, a pack of cigarettes' throw away from North Korea when I took up an offer by a travel agent along the riverfront to have a closer look at the hermit kingdom. For RMB 100 (S$20), the agent had promised a boat ride along the river that separates the two countries.
The embarkation point was about 20 minutes north of downtown Dandong, along a seemingly unguarded part of the border. For the first ten minutes or so, the boat cruised down the length of the river before it abruptly turned east and headed towards the North Korean shore - a move that should perhaps be considered alarming.
But when I saw how the eyes of the two middle-aged South Korean tourists in my group were flashing with excitement, I figured I was going down a well-trodden tourist route.
The North Korean side is perhaps as expected, given the reports of food and power shortages that have been coming out of the reclusive state. There are only a couple of ramshackle peasant huts and a few concrete bunkers. This lies in stark contrast to the Chinese side which contains several shiny high-rise buildings, countless vehicles and is generally bustling with life.
The smoke screen
But even though Sinuiju, as glimpsed from the river, is generally devoid of the human activity, what it does have are soldiers. And two beckoned to us as we got closer. A wave of apprehension arose within me. But it turned out that they merely wanted cigarettes, which my guide threw to the ground from the boat. Other North Korean soldiers continued squatting on the ground, staring blankly.
Back on the Chinese side, my guide said that this sort of black-market trade is extremely common along the border. In return for items like cigarettes, rice and liquor, the guide is granted safe passage to ferry sightseeing passengers right onto the doorstep of North Korea. However, according to news reports, a much more lucrative trade in drugs as well as expertly forged US dollars also takes place along this border.
Being the largest Chinese city along the North Korean border, Dandong is said to be teeming with spies and undercover agents searching for defectors. But while all these activities might appeal to your inner 007, the reality is more mundane. It's just a regular third-tier Chinese city albeit with lots of North Korean influences which you can't escape from.
The main attractions all revolve around North Korea and the Korean War. So there are sights like the Broken Bridge, which was bombed by the Americans during the Korean War to frustrate Chinese support for North Korea, and the Museum Commemorating the War to Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea (what a name!). There's also a North Korean restaurant run by actual North Koreans and there's even a stretch of the Great Wall that runs along the Chinese-North Korean border. But these are side attractions to the main draw, which is the inscrutable country to the east. Watching the sun set and with the innumerable neon lights of Dandong lighting up the streets, I watched as North Korea descended into darkness. The only lights came from the trucks that were exiting North Korea via the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. I recalled the stories I've read of starvation, gulags, power shortages and nuclear bombs. But if even Uncle Sam can't figure out North Korea, how could I? So I turned my back on North Korea and re-embraced the capitalist world of modern China.
FLY from Beijing to Dandong in less than two hours. There are two trains a day from Beijing - one takes 14 hours, and the other over 21. The 14-hour K27 train departs at 5.30pm, and arrives in Dandong at 7.15 am the next day.
nice article...but again very less info about north korea!!
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when i was in Beijing one year ago there were lots of advertisements on TV about the new port of Dandong.
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Its such an irony, you write about they not letting you take pictures of military setups, and talk about the sunset and beauty etc, but the only picture that you post for the readers is that of a battle tank!
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karthik BR (Espoo)
I dont know who will dare to go and visit North Korea.
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Indur (Jaipur) replies to manab
If you have North Korea Visa than even you can take train from Dandong to Pyongyong & have more information about this country. But one thing is sure & have seen that from Dandong Chinese are putting lot of investment to other side of Border! That is reason Chinese are advertising North Sea Port of Dandong to ferry goods to other part of world from N.Korea!
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North korea cannot be tamed simply because North korea is "person's" home that is i Kim home, if he allows any kind of outside influence he is doomed so there is no way to communicate with them.
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Hmmm.... poor North Korean people. Economically poor is tolerable in a way, but being kept arrested in a dictatorial country is a pure suffocation.
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Slippery EEL (Bangalore) replies to TJ
I don't think he has been there. He probably copied the article from the internet and posted it here.
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A very interesting peep and read on North Korea!
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chuttyfanta (Saudi Arabia)
I dont why always US and its allies are showed as Hero of the World and Islamic Nations, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba are shown as terrorist of the World
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Samik Mukherjee (Pune) replies to chuttyfanta
Because autocratic states fails in long term, whereas democratic government survives. It is a wrong perception, that USA, UK, France, demonizes,KSA, North Korea, former USSR. These commies, monarchies, are autocracy, where there is nothing called civilian concern.
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Nature Lover (Mumbai) replies to chuttyfanta
It is just because of democracy where people are treated with freedom unlike these communist and Arabic nations.
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sam (melbourne) replies to chuttyfanta
Because even though there is corruption, there is a minimum assured living standard in US and European Nations, No one is let starve, die because of no treatment. While none of these nations assure minimum living standard to its citizens, even the oil rich gulf Countries & Russia.
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scintels (India) replies to chuttyfanta
Because that is a fact.
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no way (india) replies to chuttyfanta
Why would the hell would I want to go to North Korea? I'd rather go to South Korea, or Japan.
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hope Jeremy had valid visa papers carried with otherwise it was impossible to touch the bodyline of North Korea. sometime ago 2 or 3 Koreans without valid visa papers entered North Korea and were put behind bars. Only when Bill clinton reached Pyongang that they were released.
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I don't know whether the Chinese are helping North Korea , or making Dandong an internationally famous city for tourism, by converting it into the stepping stone for North Korea(NK). I do not believe that the Chinese govt is so benevolent to help NK.