September 20, 2017

Border Line

A day trip to the Great Wall of China and the North Korean frontier.
Staying in China, of course I wanted to visit the wall. My initial plan was to see it near Beijing; however, that's the very same idea of pretty much everyone who's visiting the Chinese capital. So while the wall's sections there are scenic and well preserved, reportedly they are also packed as hell. A couple of my friends who went there spoke about massive queues and a nightmare traffic, nothing to be keen to absolve. Thus, when I found out that the wall is also within a reach from Shenyang, I went for it there.

A convenient way from Shenyang to the wall is to take a bullet train to Dandong - Chinese biggest border city, sitting on the Yalu River.

Getting from the Dandong station is similar to many other Chinese cities - the first sight is a massive waving statue of Mao Zedong surrounded with concrete housing and offices. But when you approach the river, things change as the water separates China from North Korea. Armed vehicles are accompanied by fences with signs forbidding from using drones and throwing objects to NK. Other signs say that the use of cameras is also prohibited, but this rule is ignored by literally everyone. Thing is, Dandong recently became a popular tourist destination, since it offers for many Chinese the first, and sometimes the only chance to see a glimpse of a foreign country.

On the river is also the most popular point of interest of the city - a duo of iron bridges:

the left is from 1943, "Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge"; right from 1911, "broken bridge".

Of the two, only one connects the two shores. It's because the Korean side of both bridges was bombed during the Korean War to cut out the Chinese supplies, and only the newer bridge was reconstructed. The old one was left with the damage and now serves as a cultural relic with some propagandist materials.

On its end, behind the damaged part, it offers a view into the North Korea...

the iron construction is ripped apart like if it would be paper.

..but all you can see is a Ferris wheel and a few smokestacks. More visually interesting is to watch continuous traffic on the newer bridge to your left, on which passes around seventy percent of all North Korea's trade..

...or the other side with Chinese riverfront, boasting an array of high-rises.

"Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky.." Oh wait. "Smog on the water, smog in the lungs.." That version.

The place was interesting from both historical and present significance, but it left me with a bitter mood - I spoke with some locals and many of them pointed out how "China bravely aided NK to resist American aggression" and "while the current NK program sucks, they are still better that the US." Oh, uh.

I also learned that, while most of the river is already Korean territory, the two countries have an agreement that allows both sides use the water - as long as they don't step on the other's soil. This lets fishermen and freight boats to do their job without conflicts, and at the same time it gives an opportunity to technically step into the NK without visas and such - as mentioned, this is a big business for local tourist agencies, so there are many places where you can take a boat up to some North Korean coves. Having the time, might as well...

On the river, we went behind a NK island, where was a view on a few watchtowers, barbed fences and most of all, wast rural landscapes. At the boat, local tour guide was telling something in Chinese from a speaker, and the crowd laughed. I asked around what's he talking about and got surprised when it turned out to be a joke about the hunger in the NK. This repeated a few times. And then the first farmer on the North Korean land came in view, and the crowd went crazy; shouting, gesticulating frantically and taking tons of pictures of him. It was like on a safari, where as the first animal appears, silly people start screaming in expectation that the zebra, elephant or giraffe turning around and coming closer; or, I don’t know, performing a dance. It felt weird, at best.

Soon the boat turned around and headed back to the port - and I was looking forward to check out the main reason for this trip, the eastern tip of the Great Wall of China, Hushan.

North Korean island in the foreground, Chinese Hushan mountain in the background. My next stop.

The section of the Great Wall here at Hushan was built during the Ming Dynasty, and the accessible part is about a mile long.

Nevermind the smoggy, overcast skies, what an exciting thing.

The wall climbs steeply up the hill, which then reveals a pretty outlook on the surroundings:

At the end of the section, you can choose whether to return the same way, or by a tad adventurous path following the water. I went for the second..

Once back in front of the entrance gate, it was time to return back to the railway station and later to the hotel I stayed at in Shenyang. The journey went quickly as I had a window seat and the track offers some neat views on local countryside...

...and abundant industrial facilities, notorious for the northeast China as a contrast.

See my previous articles about China, and follow me on InstagramFacebook, or Twitter for the upcoming ones. Thanks for reading.

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories

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