Nude Adventures in Shenyang

My roomie Janne wants to start the day with some chess and I oblige, beating him three times in a row before deciding to head out and explore the town. Adjacent to the hotel lobby is a classy store, the kind where all the clerks wear suit and tie and I wander about looking at all the overpriced goods. After a while I happen upon a box of bird’s nests used for making soup from, it’s a certain kind of cave-nesting swallow that builds its nest out of saliva. Very hard to get of course and therefore automatically a delicacy I guess. They’re hideously expensive; just over 10 000 yuan (about the same in sek and just shy of $1500) for a box of sixteen. I snap a picture and is politely interrupted by a lady explaining that photography is prohibited.

I head back to the lobby and run into Karina and Ingar who have been out for a bit already. I tag along and we end up at a Starbucks near what seems to be the center of town. After a cuppa joe we’re ready to explore and brave the murderous traffic in the roundabout surrounding a giant Mao statue. By the looks of it you’d think you’re back in DPRK, the thing is easily ten meters long and about as high, surrounded by hundreds of flowers. Our photography is interrupted by a big tanker with a guy on the roof wielding a water cannon watering the lawns and plantations. It’s really an absurd sight.

Even the city center is full of back alleys with sordid-looking holes in the wall masquerading as stores and we steer clear of them. After a while our feet are sore and we start looking for a place to get a foot massage. There doesn’t seem to be any places that serve both men and women so Karina and Ingar go by themselves and I’m left to explore on my own. One minute I walk by watch stores where I can’t afford to even look at the watches and the next I walk by houses ready to fall over, it sure is a diverse town! After a while I feel nature calling and I head into a large building looking like it would contain a toilet. Some sort of clerk gesturing for me to take off my shoes, so I do and head over to the doorway with a mans silhouette over it. A kid escorts me over to a locker and gestures for me to undress. At this point I start to suspect that this is in fact not a toilet. My suspicions are confirmed when a portly Chinese man walks by, stark naked, farting loudly. I decide that the bath probably has a toilet somewhere and take off my clothes, but after some unsuccessful spelunking I decide that I don’t want to see any more naked men pouring water on each other and quietly leave.

Hooking back up with Karina and Ingar we finally find what looks like a proper shopping district, we go down what looks like a subway entrance to find an underground mall. This is like the coolest place ever! There are tunnels in all directions, lined with tiny shops selling anything and everything you can think of. It’s almost like I can stretch my arms out and touch both walls simultaneously. The place is crowded, but not overly so and I start wandering off on my own. There are lots of cool local brand clothes, not like in Beijing where everything are copies of well known brands. Many of them with hilarious engrish-style prints and others just plain weird. I try lots of clothes but find to my dismay that I’m a tad too large for the majority of the clothes. Normally I’m a medium to large guy but here I’m lucky if XL fits.

As I walk up and down this underground mall for hours on end it strikes me that I haven’t seen a single tourist all day. It’s a really cool feeling and it also means that you don’t have to haggle so much when buying stuff since the prices are already reasonable. Having bought more than I’m sure that I can fit into my pack I finally head back to the hotel for some workout in the hotel gym, followed by a dip in the pool. The evening is rounded off with us stuffing our faces at the fabulous buffet.

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.