Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chinese Tourists seek glimpse into North Korea

As six North Korean fishermen stand shirtless and up to their knees in the gently flowing waters of the Yalu River, a Chinese craft loaded with 70 gawking tourists putters in the water just a few hundred metres away.

Dandong, a city of 780,000 (including some 20,000 ethnic Koreans) on the north bank of the Yalu River, is as close as one can get to North Korea without having to actually set foot inside one of the world's poorest and most isolated places.

The contrast between the two sides of the river is unmistakable. At night, the streets and buildings of Dandong glow brightly while Sinuiju suffers through a fuel shortage in near-complete darkness. “I feel like they light up their side as much as they can, just to humiliate us,” said a young woman who works as a tour guide on the North Korean side.

Indeed, some of those who take the boat tour and snap up trinkets are younger Chinese in their 20s and 30s who laugh as they pose for pictures with North Korea's desolate landscape in the background. Others are a little older, and seem more pensive as they stare across the river at a country that still lives under the type of totalitarian system that many of them grew up in.

“They come on the boat to see the other side of the river, to look at North Korea,” said a boat operator who gave his name as Mr. Kang. “People want to see the houses, the ordinary North Korean people walking along the river, and the soldiers patrolling.”

“Our tourists are mostly interested in the exotic scenes in North Korea. Some people come to recall the days of China in the past.”

[Source: Globe and Mail]

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