asia · North Korea (DPRK) · Travel

My journey into North Korea (Part 1: The Border)

Entering North Korea

The above photograph is of a member of the People’s Armed Police, these officers are responsible for controlling the borders of remote parts of China. It was here, at the border between China and North Korea where the journey really started. I took this photograph a mere hour before I would cross the into North Korea, but this was not what I would consider to be the first day of the adventure, let me explain why.

The photograph above was taken in a small city on the Chinese side of the border called Tumen. When we arrived in Tumen, it seemed not much different to any other industrial town in mainland China: grey, under construction, street barbecue on every corner, nothing out of the ordinary. But we were soon greeted by a lady, a lady we thought was a member of the hotel staff, we would later find out that she was a member of the Chinese secret police.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were told that we were not allowed to leave due to our proximity to the North Korean border. This didn’t sit well with me and one of my friends. Shortly after going to our rooms, we waited until everyone had settled down for the night and the staff in the hotel had gone away; we took the elevator down to the ground floor, the hotel receptionist peered his head around the corner to see where we were going, I raised a packet of cigarettes in the air to signal that we were just stepping out for a smoke, which is what we initially intended on doing.

We stepped outside and lit a cigarette each and gazed around, there was not a soul in sight. It was eerily quiet and dark compared to the usual bustle of a Chinese city, we both looked at one another and we already knew we were going to take a short walk. Needless to say, the short walk turned into an hour long venture, it was only when we got a quarter of a mile down the road that a black sedan turned the corner and drove slowly behind us, we took a few turns and soon lost the car. We eventually made it to the border, which was not the crossing border but barbed wire fences and wood panels erected at the side of the Tumen river, with the occasional flicker from the LED of a security camera. After seeing what we wanted to see, we started to head back, from the corner of my eye emerged the same black sedan which would continue to make an appearance all the way back to the hotel. We hadn’t even crossed the border and already things had begun to get strange.

Crossing the Boarder.jpg

The above photograph is the official border crossing over the Tumen river, separating North Korea from China, this was the last time I would be in China for seven days.

The relationship between China and the DPRK has long been a bit of a grey area. Whilst the modern world imposes trade embargoes and sanctions on North Korea; Chinese and North Korean civilians transition over the border every single day for work purposes.

Entering North Korea-2

The above photo is of the official border crossing between China and North Korea viewed from the Chinese side, this photo was taken a mere hour before we crossed the border into the Hermit Kingdom.  Over the next week or so I will be uploading a few photos documenting my week in North Hamgyong, the rarely visited province of North Korea.  Stay tuned!

Matt

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