Well I hope I got your attention as it has been a while since I have blogged because I was working on my new book, “Going to the Upper Amazon”. While travelling in Asia and specifically in China I decided to go to a City Dandong that had an interesting Location and a population reported at slightly less than a million. There was an interesting monument on the bank of the river Yalu, it was a bridge. The bridge was a connecter on the Sino-Korean border. Both of these bridges we bombed repeatedly during the Korean War in an attempt to cut of the supply lines from China to North Korea. This bridge was one of two bridges next to each other that the US Bombed. The North Koreans did not repair the bridge they said it was so the US could not deny the fact that they destroyed the bridge. Another great monument was the Hushan (Tiger Mountain) Great Wall. This is the east most section of the Great Wall of China and also a land border with North Korea. This section of the wall was specifically designed to protect China from the Koreans. The wall at its peak, according to http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/scene/liaoning/hushan.htm is around 1080 feet but there appears to be some problem with the math. Normally not a tough hike but add that I was in Jeans and Italian leather shoes and you can understand that it was a slippery trek.
Dandong City was obviously a tourist city; even CNN ran an article a few years ago saying that if you want to see North Korea go to Dandong City, China. There was an interesting backstory, one of my coworkers was actually from China and her grandfather who fought in the Korean War was injured and still impacted by the wounds today and my father was in the Korean War also and came back with injuries and more impacted then all of his time in World War II. So I would take this trek to North Korea with the Grand Daughter of my father’s enemy, Zoe, and she would go with the son of her grandfather’s enemy. Very cool! So we arrived in Dandong City and immediately were mobbed by people offering to get us into North Korea, to a local water side village. They also said that when we got there we could make donations to the locals, bring bread and rice and walk amongst the locals. The cost was 100 Chinese Yuan, per person. I took out my Satellite phone and called home for advice. Everyone said do not go. I think that if I believed I could have helped the children for real I would have risked it – but something tells me that an America would be worth more than 100 Yuan given current circumstances and conditions between North Korea and the USA. Instead we walked to the Broken Bridge for a tour of the bridge. Ever conscious that I needed to step on the Korean Peninsula in order to complete the trek of stepping in every country that my father had. I would revisit the danger after the bridge.
I grabbed my team some tickets and off to the bridge we went. I took many photos and noticed something odd. Many of the Korean’s and Chinese were using me as a background for their picture. It was an “ODD” feeling. Zoe, Coco, Li, Jairo, Jesse and I continued on the bridge and went to the end, this is where the bridge was tangled and twisted, there were a few spent bombs and a monument that said this is where the US air force bombed and destroyed the bridge. I stood at the end of the bridge and clicked photos of North Korea, a strong stone’s throw away. I had noticed a father or grandfather and son or grandson taking photos by the monument. I thought to myself it would be cool to get a picture using the man as a foreground to my picture. Not only was I wrong but I felt bad, he looked so angry and perhaps disgusted. Maybe a friend of his was killed in one of the bombings, maybe he was a veteran and there I was what I promised never to be – an idiot American with no consideration for the significance of a monument. I wish I could have spoken Chinese so I could have said that I was sorry but alas, all I could have said was Xie- Xie and that did not fit the circumstances.
After the bridge we decided to go to lunch, and of course we looked for Korean food and we found a Korean restaurant and a Bonus was that the waitresses were North Korean and they discussed their life’s a bit and said that they went back over every night. We ordered Ice Noodles, evidently unique to Korea. We had some tea, lots of food and just had a great time, I did not like the ice noodles, but the soup and vegetables were great. We called the driver who was taking us around to check times and we headed to take a boat. It was a slow boat that would take us down river under both the Broken and Friendship Bridges and then we would hang a right and cross the maritime border into North Korea, when duty free would be available! We had intended to go to a museum but the driver said take a pick, the wall or the museum. We picked the wall and headed for the boat. The boat was 60 Yuan and my coworkers would not let me pay – it is a western eastern thing I think – as the senior guy I wanted to pay.
So off to the boat we went. I actually recorded a funny video when the boat cast off, it can be found on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0xnt3nd4_o&list=UU1cJ9Y0HrWzj9eYUBPa591g&index=2 , it is me acting like a reporter asking Zoe what she thinks of the trip. There was an announcement when we crossed into North Korean waters and it got real, we were close enough to see an amusement park that was not open, people washing clothes in the river and then some docks. At one of the loading docks a young boy, seven or so was picking up sticks to throw in our direction and then a rock or two. I guess I would too if a boat of like 30 people cruised by me to take photos. Then we passed a last dock and turned back toward the center of the river. I turned on my 7D into the Video mode and filmed something interesting – the difference between the Democratic People’s Republic or Korea (DPRK) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) it is a tale of two worlds, the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NfSoFJkRNE&list=UU1cJ9Y0HrWzj9eYUBPa591g&index=1 . It was stark and it was the same all the way down the river, do not think it was just the docks! Duty free was closing so I bought some cigarettes (North Korean) for JohnnyMac in Boston and then just kicked back for the rest of the ride. Also, as I crossed the Maritime border I decided I can get a North Korean Border, albeit Maritime and I could get a flag for the ceiling of my office – ordering now on Amazon.com actually!
Once back we called the driver and awaited the car to pick us up to go to the great wall. When we got there it was a short walk to the entrance, some photo opportunities and we were there. We started up the wall and if you leaned over the wall you saw the barbed wire fence that marked the border with North Korea. It was literally a few feet away. Further up we were able to descend the wall to no man’s land and walk in the shared region that was the region between the PRC and DPRK. There were no Chinese guards just North Korean guards. We walked down the wall and then down toward the high barbed wire fence. I was a bit concerned when a North Korean Solider followed us, was I going to be on CNN this night as a trekker on the wrong side? We got to the fence after passing farmers with OX to pull plows. We took the pictures at the signs and noticed several Korean Soldiers and still no Chinese representation. We asked if we could go further into North Korea and the Army guy said he did not care – but the guards on the other side of the small stream might. We turned around and went back to scale the wall. In retrospect I do not think that my friends were as worried as I was! We continued up the wall and ended up in two small groups, the kids – that climbed on every stair and wall and then ran up the mountain and the others that went a bit slower – if my Swahili is still correct – pole-pole! Slowly we went up the wall. At one point the kids went ahead and I hung back and looked over at a friend and said Yes or No, it was about 500 foot near straight up at that point and my friend said yes and we headed up. When we approached the summit a friend, Coco, came down and said that she had signed our names at the summit as she did not think we would come up, I said whatever and went to the top and signed my Names, Rob Y and Wang Long, and had a red bull, my second of the Day – coco said “red bull is good” and I said “whatever”!!! We all climbed the Great Wall, Saw North Korea, Signed our Names on the great wall, crossed the Maritime border into North Korea and had a great day of team building more or less.
This one day in Dandong marked a visitation by grandchildren and children to a past conflict, a building of a team and beyond all an adventure – what is life without adventures? I do not know the answer, but I can tell you with certainty that life without adventure is not what I consider life as at all! Welcome to China… Now next stops to more EU, AU, Middle East and Africa Offices – I hope the General Managers can find something as exciting as Dandong City for me and my teams!
More North Korean Photos on Shutterfly