14.12.2018 - 16.12.2018
I had a pretty good sleep the night before on the bottom bunk of the sleeper car. Nobody did anything annoying the whole time, it was pretty amazing. Getting to the hostel from the train station was easy. It was on its own little island in the middle of the Yalu River (Moon Island) along with other more ritzy homes and hotels. I had the whole dorm to myself and a view of the Moon Island bridge. It was nice and quiet.
I thought it was a little late to go to the Great Wall, so I stayed in town for the day. My first stop was the "Museum to Commemorate US Aggression". It was a little difficult to find, tucked away in a residential area in the north end of town. I eventually found it, but it was a big mess. Massive renovations were evidently underway.
OK... so now what...
I continued to the next destination, Jinjiang Pagoda, just two bus stops up the road. I climbed 200 steps to the top and what did I find there?
More construction, or some sort of precaution for the winter months... It was meant to provide a clear view into North Korea but not for me.
So, I had some of the raisins I kept in my pocket and slowly made my way back down to the Broken Bridge.
I got quite lost and walked back and forth, fixated on finding the bus there, not realizing I had covered almost the entire original distance and I would've been very close if only I had kept walking towards the river instead of trying to find the stupid bus!
Anyway, I made it to the bridge before it was closed, but I was too scared to take any photos. I had just finished listening to the As It Happens podcast in which they interviewed one of the Garretts who were detained in China for two years. They had been missionaries in Dandong and Chinese officials were suspicious of photos they had taken of this very bridge. They detained them on charges of spying. I'm not sure that was the only reason for their detention, but I wasn't going to make it one of my reasons for being detained.
The bridge only spans half the river from China to North Korea, because it was bombed during the Korean War. It had a unique mechanism on the inside which allowed it to detach and collapse into itself at a moment's notice. The newer bridge still stands and there is a little bit of traffic crossing into China. I didn't see anyone going the other way into North Korea though! What does it mean?
I walked for a bit along the riverside park and then back through Korea town, where I had a bi him bap and called it a night, frozen to the bone.
I didn't manage to get out of bed until 9:30 a.m., so I headed downtown to catch the 10:50 bus out to the Great Wall. There is a rarely visited section that is very quiet, even on a Saturday. I was the only one who got off the bus and probably only one of maybe 15 or fewer people trudging up the steps that day.
In my guide book, it said that there was a different path to take back to the entrance. It wound its way along the cliff and past a narrow part of the river they call "Just a Step Across". Naturally, I wanted to see that, so I took the little dirt track. However, I came to a part in the path where it appeared that a boulder had been rolled across the way, making it impassable or too dangerous to try and get around. I gave up the little trek. While contemplating my situation, I glanced over towards North Korea, which was about 50 metres from me. As I looked out onto the field I saw some cute ducks paddling in the little half frozen stream. But then I also saw some movement in the bushes. There was a dark shape moving quite quickly, creeping along the ground towards me. It looked like two humans trying to be stealthy. Were they refugees or border guards? I didn't want to stick around and find out. I didn't get a great look because I turned around and bolted back as fast as possible, the same way I had come. They seemed to make remarkable progress in the few seconds it took me to recognize their human shapes.
NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE, my brain screamed at me and my legs followed as quickly as possible back up the hill. My conscious intellect had nothing to do with it.
I got out of there safely and made the long walk all alone back to the bus stop, jumping and quickening my pace at every crinkle of hay and crack of twig various ducklings and chickens made in the farmers' fields beside the road. There was a bus ready to go , so I waved at it and thank god they waited for me. That was enough of North Korea for one day.
I went back to the hostel and out to dinner at a "steam table" restaurant. They threw a bunch of food in a steamer at my table, overcooked it and charged too much for the privilege. They brought me some "bacon" wrapped mushrooms, which they proceeded to steam. When I tasted it, I almost puked. Maybe it was bad meat, but it was most probably because it was the absolute most awful texture I'd ever put in my mouth. I never paid for that bacon and I'm never going to a steam table restaurant again.
I slept in a bit again, this time I went to a Korean restaurant where they recommended a big plate of huge clams for about $10.
It was great and afterwards I went to a baker that sold a ton of stuff made with rice flour, where I probably spent $20 on a huge bag of various rice cakes and crackers.