asia · China (PRC) · North Korea (DPRK) · Travel

My journey into North Korea (Part 9: the last day, returning to China)

For most people in the west, China will be seen as quite an oppressive country, but god damn, I couldn’t wait to get back over the border into China towards the end of the trip.  If you’re new to this series then welcome to the blog and in particular this series about my journey into North Hamgyong province in the DPRK.  You can find all of the other parts here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 , Part 7  and Part 8 I hope you enjoy it:)

So, by this point we’d stayed a night in the ‘famous Hoeryong hotel’, we’d hung out in the Hoeryong Seaman’s Club, we’d travelled around Mount Chilbo, seen various performances from children in the elementary school, wrestled and played volleyball with Koreans and seen our fair share of museums and libraries.  The whole trip was incredibly eye opening and now it was coming to an end, we spent the last day visiting various monuments and places of interest before being driven back to the border.

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Loving those ‘sunshine smiles’…

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I thought this was a pretty impressive monument depicting the North’s struggle in the Korean war.  Here’s a bit of a fun fact…North Korea are quite possibly the best and most skilful monument producers in the world, so much so that their craftsmen have been commissioned by a number of African countries to build monuments for them.  Given North Korea’s status on the global platform you’d think this wouldn’t go on but where there’s money and a badass statue to be made there is always going to be a way.

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The statue above shows the true skill that has gone into it’s production, I mean look at that fucking thing, it’s spectacular, and the DPRK has statues like this and much greater than this one dotted all over the country.  The statue depicts the founder of the DPRK Kim Il Sung holding his clenched fist in the air, his other arm is around the man that would later be referred to as ‘The General’, the late Kim Jong Il.  It was Kim Jong Il who took the DPRK from being the struggling relic of the cold war to becoming the nuclear armed paranoid schizophrenic it is today.

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The house in the image above is said to be where Kim Il Sung was raised by his mother before the Japanese occupation and subsequent Korean war.  It’s hard to imagine the North Korea of the past under the leadership of it’s leader Kim Il Sung, the once relatively prosperous nation supported by the Soviet Union would have been a very different place prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s which led to the collapse of its economy, leaving it in the mess it is today.

By the time we had seen the last monuments, we were literally an hour away from the border and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say we couldn’t wait to get out.  Despite how fascinating the trip was, I felt like a kid whose parents constantly keep them on one of those human leashes, we couldn’t wander off at all and we drank and ate when we were told we could, it was a bit strange not having the level of freedom you’re used to having but I am thankful, because what I describe as a lack of freedom would have been a luxury for most North Koreans to experience.

We were heading back to the border, I had all of my gear but only one thing was worrying me, I had my memory card full of juicy photographs, most of which were forbidden to be taken by the supervisors.  If I were caught with the memory stick I didn’t declare at the border with all of these unauthorised photographs I don’t know what could have happened.  If I’m completely honest, I was shitting myself, but I thought it’s do or die and put my faith in their primitive equipment at customs, so I stuffed the memory card behind my belt buckle.  When we finally got to customs, the process wasn’t as stringent as I though it would have been and I sailed through the border.  Once I got onto the bridge and was walking back, seeing the Chinese border 100 metres away seemed like I was looking at an oasis in the desert, it sounds ridiculous but I almost felt like running for the place.  I was on the bridge, I had experienced the place I’d had on my bucket list for so long, I was safe and had my prize tucked away behind my belt buckle.  I felt pretty good.

The next segment is going to be the last so stay tuned, I am going to try to explain the best I can what the trip was like, my general feeling of the country and the ‘come down’.  Hope to catch you in the next segment 🙂

Matt

 

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