Saturday, October 11, 2008

Days 44-45: Dandong, China -- and Sinuiju, North Korea

First of all, I want to apologize for not uploading more photos in the past 2 weeks. In Shenzhen I had no time to do that, whereas in Guangzhou the Internet was way too expensive in my hotel--and Internet cafes were too far away from where I stayed. Finally, in Beijing, I had Internet access, but my memory card malfunctioned. It still says it is locked for "write protect," so I will take it to an Olympus or Fuji service center here in Seoul to get it checked out. It should be a piece of cake for the experts to unlock. In any case, I wanted to upload my photos from another memory card in Dandong, but, strangely enough, this blog was blocked in Dandong. Not in Beijing, not in Shanghai, but in Dandong, of all places. It seems that the Great Firewall, as it is known, is controlled more by local authorities rather than the central government. I never encountered Wikitravel blockages in Beijing (for the English language version, at least) like last year, but in Dandong sites such as The Economist were blocked. Even foreign currency conversion sites were blocked. Anyway, I am in Seoul, South Korea, right now. I have quick, good Internet here, but don't have much time right now. Hopefully within the next day or two I'll upload the 100 or so pictures I've been wanting to upload for the past few weeks. The three pictures uploaded on this post of Dandong are not mine, although they are not any different in substance. I found them all on Google and will upload my own pics hopefully tomorrow or the day after.

Dandong, China, was bigger and more modern than I expected. There are many shopping centers, several KFCs, and many western-style clothing stores. Most people, such as me, come here to see the North Korean border. Luckily, there is also a ferry that goes from Dandong straight to Incheon, South Korea. The standard price in econ class is $141 (960 RMB), but since I locked in a student fare back when I was a student, I only paid 780 RMB ($111). The journey takes 16 hours, but more on that later.

Dandong was interesting. It felt like a small Chinese city, which it is, with only some 640,000 people. It had a recently remodeled but propaganda-laced America Korean War Aggression Museum. All of the exhibits excoriated the Americans no matter what. The museum felt like it was built back in 1960s China. Nonetheless, it was very interesting. The basic gist of the museum was as follows: Americans started the Korean War and are to blame; the North Korean "brothers" deserve their independence and are China's friends; and South Koreans are American cronies. There is some semblence to the truth in some of the aforementioned, but the museum just beats this horse to death one too many times. After three exhibits, it starts to be very redundant, but that did not make it any less interesting because of the topical issue of the war.

Aside from that, the only other attraction in Dandong--and the most popular by far--is the ferry along the Yalu River. There is a Friendship Bridge between North Korea and China, which is probably only about 200 meters long. This is the bridge that is North Korea's window to the outside world, as some 60% of its Chinese trade comes from here. I witnessed cars and trucks passing by about every minute or two. This bridge was built after the North Koreans blew up a neighboring bridge some time ago, which effectively cut it off from the outside world. Near these bridge-and-a-half are several vendors selling North Korean souvenirs, such as the worthless North Korean currency, North Korean cigarettes and stamps, and pins of Kim Il-Sung. I bought all of them except the pin. Now I regret I didn't buy the pin, since I have exactly 25-30 yuan remaining (exactly how much the pin cost).

We took a fast 30-minute, 50 RMB ($7) ferry up to about 15 meters away from the North Korean shore. We saw several commoners, who all seemed to be dressed the same. We saw border guards with guns and several fisherman, one of whom waved back to us (!) after someone from our ship yelled anyong haseyo (Korean for "hello"). I also saw boys playing basketball and some girls entering a building. There were many boats, trucks, and construction machines parked. There was also a ferris wheel, which has apparently never been in use and was built simply to serve as a propaganda tool. Once our boat had come back to China and the sun had set, it was dark--and a very different story. The China-North Korea border could not have been any more different.

In short, it was an eerie scene. The Chinese half of the bridge was illuminated and "shining." The North Korean half, though, was pitch black. In fact, it seemed as if the bridge just ended half-way through--just where the Chinese half ends and the North Korean half begins. Sinuiju, the North Korean border city, only had a few specks of light coming from one place, whereas Dandong was alight all over. I can only imagine what the natives of Sinuiju think when they see Dandong at night and compare the scene to their own plight. It's a depressing picture, to put it mildly.

1 comment:

Vitaly said...

OFfigenno, eshe' odno dokazatel'stvo chto jeleznii' komunism ne rabotaet. A da govoryt glava severnoi' korei uje davno me'rtv.