Sunday, September 10, 2006

Axis of Evil - Part 2

When I was quite sure that I had seen all of North Korea that Dandong had to offer I remembered that Dandong is also the eastern terminus of the Great Wall. I certainly couldn't leave town without seeing the Great Wall so I asked the concierge at my 4 star hotel, the Zhonglian. Her English was passable, certainly better than my Mandarin but she had no idea what I was talking about. She called over a bellboy and they chatted in Mandarin about this strange laowai request. The bellboy also had no idea what I wanted. Temporarily defeated I retreated to my riverview room.
Traveling with a laptop is puts the world at your fingers, even in China where the central government has the nasty habit of censoring the web. Some things on the web were conspicuous by their absence; some blogging sites were unreachable as was the cache option at A little research revealed that in these parts the Wall was referred to as Great Wall at Tiger Mountain. I returned to the concierge with my rephrased request. She still had no idea what I was talking about. But the English speaking bellboy did. "Oh, Great Wall!", he exclaimed. He explained it all to the concierge. I had them arrange for a taxi to take me there. They told me that it would cost 130 Yuan. They didn’t seem to recognize the term “round trip” so I didn’t know whether the driver would just abandon me out there or not. She wrote my destination for me in Chinese, the bellboy summoned a cab and I was off to the Great Wall. If I worked for a government entity with a world famous attraction in my jurisdiction one of the first things I’d do is make sure that the road from the biggest city around to the attraction was paved. Once my driver and I left the Dandong city limits the road became a dusty, rutted, potholed path, only the bridges were paved.

Admission to the tourist zone cost me another 30 Yuan; I passed on paying for admission to the Museum Commemorating the War to Resist American Aggression and Aid (North) Korea. When we arrived I paid my driver, he indicted that he’d wait for me. Would he? With the language barrier I was nervous. I had a train to Beijing to catch that evening and with the place deserted if he took off I'd be marooned. The Great Wall in this region is in great disrepair so if I worked for that government entity, the 2nd thing I’d do once I got that road paved is to spruce the place up a bit, put the missing tiles back into the footpaths and put in new ladders to replace the dangerously rotten wooden ones.

Above: my driver walks back to his red cab. The parking lot was almost empty OK, so the place needed some work. But this is the Great Wall of China! I looked around, it seemed that I had the whole place to myself. But I didn't want to let that cab out of my sight. But there was still plenty to see.


When I got back to the entrance my driver was still there, smoking a cigarette and listening to the radio. He looked at me and asked , “Choson?”, pronounced in a fast bark, Chow-sien. I already knew that the word Choson meant North Korea and thanks to the Internet I knew that the border in this area was just a small creek; perhaps he was offering to show it to me.

He took me to the creek that forms the border between China and the DPRK and pointed out 2 armed soldiers from the Korean People’s Army in the distance. He started to shout and wave at them. At first they ignored him but they soon started walking our way with their rifles slung over their shoulders. When they got closer a woman selling tourist nick-nacks from a cart indicated that I should buy a carton of cigarettes from her (around $6 US) and throw them across the creek. The soldiers asked who I was, the driver replied that I was an American. The woman indicated that now was the time for me to hurl the carton of smokes into North Korea. I hit the shore with the carton, the soldiers pretended not to notice. But when I lifted my camera up to my eye to get the shot they noticed that and protested loudly. When they walked away without the carton the woman who sold me the cigarettes gestured that it was alright to take a picture. I had read that the soldiers would come back for the cigarettes when there was no one around. So that’s 1/3 of the Axis of Evil. I didn’t see any actual evil on either my boat buzz of Sinuiju or my encounter with the KPA but perhaps the Kim family is keeping their reservoir of evil someplace else where I couldn’t see it.

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