Back from a trip around the east of 辽宁省 Liaoning Province. Went a little off the beaten track as well as visiting the most easterly site of 虎山长成 the Great Wall. Almost running parallel to the wall is the North Korean border and we took a walk down to the very edge to a place called 一步跨 One Step Across. On the other side were lots of farm workers moving earth and all wearing the same coloured clothing. They stragitically planted a North Korean flag in the earth next to where they were working, though you’d have to be a complete cretin to unknowingly cross the border as the river is about 20 feet wide – although there are stepping stones if you really want to take the risk.
It was really interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. Also managed to visit lots of sites that are not particularly well known for tourism and so are still un-spoilt from the droves of giftshops and vendors trying to sell tack. There’s actually a lot to see in and around the Dandong region If you’re prepared to find it yourself as the lonely planet guidebook is next to useless.
Dandong is cheaper than Changchun, clothes and shoes cost less, and it’s a good place to get authentic North Korean cuisine as well as cheap seafood.
Got on one of those Chinese mini-bus tours (150元), took all day and saw so much. As with my previous experience with these tours (if you don’t mind visiting the odd place of not much interest to you) in return you get transportation everywhere, food and free admission. Indeed I think without going on such a tour it would be almost impossible to see everything, unless of course you have your own car and you know where you’re going, such were the distances travelled.
All the guide books mention the broken bridge 断桥 (20元）and the boat rides you can get along the river (20元）which gets you pretty close to the other side. It’s interesting but there really isn’t much to see apart from a few rusting North Korean trawlers and the odd person looking back. Did see a couple of soldiers with rifles and some fishermen wearing traditional looking clothing and hats. Of course you’re not meant to take photos – but being China what are rules for! – and everyone does it regardless, much to the annoyance of the North Koreans.
Went to a dam called the 太平水电站 Taiping Hydro Electricity Station. It is where the Yalu river is dammed, changing it from a fast flowing waterway into something reminiscent of a Scottish loch. There was some confusion as to whether I could cross the dam along with the other tourists in the bus, as the other side is technically in North Korea.
The Chinese tourists (or people who look Asian, they don’t actually check papers – just see if you’re white or not!) are allowed to go to the other side to get the ‘I’ve actually stepped in North Korea’ photo.
After the mini-bus pulled up at the border point, the soldier asked if there were any waiguoren in the vehicle and that they would have to 下车, everyone else thought it was rather funny and started laughing and it was all in good humour. I got off the bus and waited in a nearby office. Beforehand I didn’t actually realise that the mini-bus was going to go over the dam, had I known in advance, of course I would have got off the bus earlier! I think it will probably be the first and last time that a Chinese official has done me a favour without asking for a bribe! Afterall If he wasn’t doing his job properly I might now be in some North Korean prison, who knows.
On the other side the road just stops, there is a memorial to the Korean War or as the Chinese call it ‘The War to Resist US Aggression’ and I thought its was a UN force not just US – anyway; there is also a couple of soldiers standing there too.
Looking at the pictures, I don’t think I missed out on much! 🙂 Then we visited another bombed-out bridge, left untouched just the central span missing. The Chinese side bustling with tourists, the Korean side quite the opposite, just fields of crops and unfarmed hills speckledwith huge hundreds-of-year-old trees.
Had another one of those lessons in ‘how to argue the chinese way’ on the train from Changchun to Dandong. Being in the hard sleeper was fine until about mid-day when it got too hot for me to bear. I idiotically assumed that the hard sleeper at 89元 (being the most expensive ticket on that train) that there would be A/C. So I walked down the train and into the next carriage which was the soft seat section where there was air conditioning. So the cheaper seats have air con and the more expensive beds (about 25% more) have none!
Anyway the plan was to downgrade. I felt a little bit farsical, like something from a Monty Python sketch ‘I wish to downgrade my ticket’ .
The air-con carriage was almost empty, infact the train was only about half full so I thought this would pose no problem.
The ticket inspector was a rather dull woman who tried to move us from the carriage saying we didn’t have the correct ticket. So I offered to buy another ticket, she responded with ‘不可能’ Impossible! ‘Okay then I wish to change my ticket for a different ticket since this seat is empty, so is that one and that‘ Now i’m pointing all all the empty seats. She just says no and says we must move even though the temperature now in the hard sleeper carriage is hovering at a tropical 37C.
Then the Old Bill show up, the train police, three of them all very polite and straight forward – yet they sided with the ticket inspector when it was plainly obvious she was wrong. So it was time to go grudingly back to the kiln for another 3 hours or so, though I think my point was made.
But lo and behold not five minutes later, the same policemen came by and said ‘you can go in, no problem’ ‘please come’ ‘come’ even referring me to as their ‘foreign friend’. They knew that the ticket inspector was wrong, the other people in the carriage knew she was wrong, the nearby farmer’s rabid-goat knew she was wrong, maybe, even she knew it?
I think this is a very good example of the sometimes farcial Chinese attitudes towards ‘face‘ – you’re wrong and you know it, but can’t publicly admit it in front of others for fear of losing face. And from where I see it, face seems to be everything. I know the same logic extends to some business practices – You’re really a sloppy worker but I can’t tell you this to your face even though it might make you a better worker – so i’ll just sack you .
Took the coach back costing roughly double the price of the train, but taking 7 rather than 10 hours. In my experience the long distance buses are sometimes great or sometimes a nightmare, it really depends on the roads and on the bus. Luckily this bus had plenty of leg room (even for me) was really comfortable and was air conditioned!!