Kim Jong-Illin'

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June 29th 2007
Published: August 8th 2007
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To North Korea
After staying two days in Jilin City (story to be written soon), we decided to hop a bus to nearby Yanji, capital of China's Korean Autonomous Region. Tucked up between Russia and our true motive for going, North Korea, we figured it would be an off the beaten path-type of escape. Almost true...

Turns out Yanji is actually a pretty lively city. Much cleaner and newer looking than Beijing, the area's beautiful surroundings also caught us a bit off guard. I would say much of the rolling hills and small rivers resembles a really green Colorado. Gorgeous and a perfect climate.

Our first morning here, we had little idea what to do first. The Lonely Planet guide for the area is a bit slim, though a small map of the greater Jilin province gave us our first direction. West. To a small town named Tumen. More importantly, a border town with North Korea.

We hired a cab to take us on the 45-minute ride, arriving at Tumen a little before noon. Prior to the excursion, we were both a bit nervous about the adventure ahead. Though no one around here seemed to think much of heading to the border, a trip to North Korea isn't exactly an everyday jaunt. Surprised yet again, the town was busy and seemed to be doing quite well for itself in comparison to my expectations.

The Tumen-Nanyang Bridge is the crossing between the two countries. Divided by a natural border, the Tumen River, the bridge and the sights on each side were pretty good indicators of the economic situation of both countries. Yellow lamps dotted the Chinese side of the bridge, in generally good repair, only ending suddenly at the line in the middle. Blue poles, some missing, some crumbling, on the North Korean side tried desperately to match their counterparts.

The Chinese side of the bank saw an explosion of construction. New buildings were dotting the shore up and down. Across the river, a portrait of Kim il-Sung hung on a forlorn building, smiling upon a small village of tattered structures and dirt roads. People darted across the Chinese streets in mass unison - only two guards and a single citizen were spotted with a telephoto lens on the opposite.

We climbed to the top of an observation deck, getting a good panorama of the closed country on the
Kim il-SungKim il-SungKim il-Sung

and his Pearly Whites
other side. Thirty minutes of video and photos seemed like enough until Kaelyn discovered the true meaning of travel hazards...

While changing tapes at a small table on the wooden deck, a sudden crash sent pure fear down her back. I whipped around, worried by the loud bang. Gun shots? Bombs? Much worse. Lying waist deep in the floor boards was a frightened Kae, her eyes wide with terror. Shoddy construction or just years of rotting wood had sent her leg straight through the floor. Some Chinese tourists, rather than helping of course, began screaming "Weixian! Weixian! Dangerous!" and stepped slowly back from the debacle that had just unfolded.

After getting safely down, we were allowed to take a short walk out to the bridge border line. A Chinese guard accompanied us out to the middle (afraid we'd run to the other side?). One last glimpse of Kim's portrait and his gleaming smile across the way.

Before leaving the town, we made one quick stop at perhaps the most surreal location known to man. Up on the river front, with NK in the background, was what could only be described as a child's playground from hell. Just look at the pictures...

A telescope was set up for our viewing pleasure, though a small fee was attached. The operator asked where we were from. "Oh America! Come take a look at the place your country hates!" He was kidding of course, a pearly smile plastered across his face, but it was a nice touch at the end.

You might think that visiting the NK-China border once is enough, but as is in our nature, we went back again today. This time to beautiful Changbaishan and its Heaven Lake, about 4 hours south of Yanji by bus. I'll let the pictures speak, but it was a stunning sight. A crystal clear lake tucked high up in a volcanic crater. A place of legend, it is apparently where Kim Jong-il was born...or so his official biography says.

Additional photos below
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16th June 2007

watch out!
Kaelyn... if Peter said "step back - just a little further" in taking your photo on the edge of a cliff... don't do it! Stay on the concrete! Love to you both! Take care...
27th June 2007

June 27, 2007
Hi Peter, I spoke to Anne yesterday wishing her a happy birthday. She gave me the link to your blog. You are truly seeing some amazing things. Take care you two. Chris

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