Goodbye DPRK

At breakfast Mats tells us an amusing story about his mailing experience from the night before. He went down to the post office in the lobby with a bunch of postcards ready to mail them. The lady takes the postcards and starts flipping through them one by one, inspecting them closely. Every once in a while she stops to scrutinize something and gives him the old “communist glare” (yeah, you know the one I’m talking about). Suddenly there is something wrong and she calls over her colleague who takes a look at the postcard and nods in agreement. Post office lady points to the stamp on the offending postcards and shakes her head. Close inspection reveals that there is a miniscule tear on one of the teeth of the stamp. That might have been okay on any other stamp but this stamp bears the likeness of the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung and is therefore sacrosanct. Mailing the others is okay, but that one postcard is rejected.

Following breakfast we’re taken to the train station and boarded on a rather luxurious Chinese train, with flat TV-screens in every coupe. The train ride is slow and the scenery uninspiring, only the occasional freight train livens it up, mostly due to the unimaginable sorry state they’re all in. Gaping rust holes half a meter in diameter seems to be the norm. Some of them are actually transporting people as well, crammed into regular ore carts.

We head over to the lunch cart which looks more or less like a school canteen from the seventies with some surly North Korean party officials enveloped in noxious cloud of cigarette smoke. We sit down at a table ordering some beer which is the only thing the staff manages to understand, Henrik tries ordering a bottle of water by making the international sign for water (moving a half-closed hand repeatedly up and down) to no avail. Suddenly the lights go out and Mats seizes the opportunity to slap himself on the thigh and yell “You bastard!” in a girlish voice. There is general amusement as the lights come back on, but only at our table it seems… Deciding that we’ve overstayed our welcome we leave shortly after.

After some positively horrid box-lunch we reach the border in the late afternoon. Now starts the circus we’ve heard so much about where the border police take their good time going through all the pictures in our respective cameras. Any offensive photos are promptly deleted, and by offensive I mean embarrassing to the North Koreans. I get only one photo of an, from appearances alone, generator gas driven truck deleted while Ingar gets a total of 15 deleted. Getting ahold of Kimberlys video camera containing some four hours of film the officer decides to do the only sane thing and hands it back over after watching a minute or so. All in all it’s about two hours before we start rolling again and we get back the bundle containing our mobile phones.

Passing over the Yalu river that separates North Korea and China is somewhat surreal. On one side are wooden sheds and on the other the shiny highrises of Dandong. It’s also a bit strange to enter one of the more oppressive regimes in the world with a feeling of freedom. Originally the plan was to go by boat to Seoul, South Korea, from Dandong, but due to the Moon festival all boat traffic is canceled so we board a bus to Shenyang instead. What’s the first thing you do after escaping one of the last dictatorships in this world by the way? You go to McDonalds for a McMao (no, there is no such thing, but wouldn’t it be great if it did?!) of course! (and getting the best service I’ve ever received a McDonalds anywhere, you’re hardly done placing the order before it’s on your tray)

We arrive in the tiny podunk town of Shenyang (6.5 million people) by nightfall and boy is it a sight! The whole place is lit up in neon like a classy version of Vegas, it finally feels like we’re back in civilization. Checking in to the really fancy New World hotel we gather in the hotel bar to digest our North Korean adventure.

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