Seeing North Korea from the Sino-Korea border

When people asked me why I would like to go to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) because it was such a fucked-up and dangerous country, people there lived in lies and I would only see what they wanted us to see balabala, I told them I wanted to see the most enclosed country even though I had known all of what they had told me. The trip turned out worthy even though everything was restricted. If I had to describe this trip, I would use three words: CRAZY, EXCITING and EYE-OPENING.

We first went to Dandong, a bordering city in China from where most visitors go to DPRK. There we went up to the Hushan Great Wall, the eastern starting point of the Great Wall, where visitors could have a view of Sinuiju of DPRK over Yalu River. “Look, there is a North Korean walking on the path.” “Look, a man and a cattle…” When seeing North Korean farmers, we were as excited as kids seeing animals in a zoo for the first time. This was my first impression of DPRK – blue sky, hills stretching from west to east, vast farmland, houses in a row at the foot of hills, few people doing farm work… If it wasn’t because of its current troubling situation, this neighboring country could be a nice place for Chinese people to escape to from their hyper city life.

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One of the most famous spots in Hushan Great Wall scenic is “One Step Cross”. Obviously it means just one step over the narrowest part of Yalu River, you are in the other country. I wonder how many brave North Koreans ever took the risks to step over to China, and how many of them were found fleeing. Here there was a sign saying “National Border of P.R.C and D.P.R.K Reminder: 1. Please do not climb or cross separation obstacles such as barbed wires. 2. Please do not throw any objects over the border. 3. Please do not converse or exchange objects with people on the other side of the border. 4. Please do not take pictures or videos of the military installations.” On China side there was also a solider on guard. When we were ready to leave, my friend noticed a North Korean frontier guard walking towards us along the barbed wires. The solider was skinny and short, which was a sharp contrast with the tall and strong solider on China side. We decided to wait and see what would happen.

When he was close to “One Step Cross”, he started to shout in neither English nor Chinese, as if he was shouting at someone else instead of us. After a few shouts, I heard another voice coming from our behind. I turned my head and saw a profile of a man in the sunset. The two men talked in North Korean for six minutes or so and stopped. Seeing us standing there, the solider said “Hello” in English. In return, we only waved our hands because we remembered what was written on the sign, not to mention the Chinese solider was watching. Surprisingly, he asked: “English?” It seemed he really wanted to converse with us. My friend answered: “Yes, we speak English.” He then proudly told us that he could speak English. We gave him a thumbs-up. I was eager to talk to him and ask tons of questions, but couldn’t. So he stated to play with his gun, either because he was too bored walking back and forth at the border, or just because he wanted to show off his gun.

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When walking back, we decided to interview the man whom the solider shouted with.

“Hello.”

“Hello.” He didn’t stop his work.

“Do you speak Chinese?”

“I can.”

“Are you North Korean?” I thought so because he could speak North Korean and he looked like North Korean.

“I’m Chinese.”

“I see. Do you know him?”

“We used to play together when we were kids.”

“How come? There are separation obstacles.”

“It was 1980s when were little. At that time the border was open and we could come and go freely. Now they always ask us for things like food.”

“Isn’t it not allowed to throw any objects over the border?”

“Yes it’s not allowed, but sometimes we can.”

“Do you always chat with each other like this? Do our frontier soldiers ever stop you?”

“We knew each other at a very young age, so now we always chat like this. He once studied in China.”

They are not alone. Thousands of friends and relatives who used to live together got apart because of political reasons. They are so close to each other, yet so far away from each other. These two men are lucky – one is a frontier guard and the other works in the scenic spot which is just one step away. At least they can chat with each other, and maybe the North Korean can even get some daily necessities from his childhood friend.

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