jn82’s Epic Adventure

Day 119 [28 May 09] – Dandong

Posted in Dandong by jn82 on May 29, 2009

As you can probably guess, I woke up very late today and missed the free breakfast due to the football game from the night before. Brooklyn came to the hotel around 1pm to pick us up for the day trip around Dandong. The first stop was to the Cenotaph of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, quite a mouthful to say. What this place is basically a museum set up by the Chinese dipicting how Chinese volunteers aided the North Korean soldiers during the Korean War, which started when the Americans decided to get involved in what was a Korean civil war. I will not do into details here or my views of the war, so you can read about the history of the war itself from the internet and make your own judgement.

I paid 15 RMB in the panoramic warzone at the Cenotaph for a printed and laminated photo with me in the war zone background dressed in an authentic (or so I am told) Chinese Voluntary Army uniform. It is an amazingly cheap souvenier I think, when compared to the S$25 I was asked to pay for a souvenier photo inside the mouth of the Merlion at Sentosa.

After the war museum, we were driven back into the city to 鸭绿江断桥 (Yalu River Broken Bridge), which is actually located right in front of our hotel. The reason it is broken is again due to our friends the Americans who bombed it back in 1950/1951, following which North Korea dismantled their half of the bridge. We first set out on a cruise of the Yalu River, from where we went under both the broken bridge and the bridge that is function now between Dandong and North Korea. After the bridges, the boat brought us close to the North Korean coast line, and from here we could peer in and have a look. Well not much going on really, a few boats, buildings standing by themselves and building cranes scattered along the grassy coast line, with a few North Koreans sitting around and looking, not waving back to the tourists on the boat. I had read that the average Joe North Korean is not allowed to interact in any way or even make direct eye contact with foreigners, so this is probably the reason for their lack of response, that and the binocolous using armed North Korean guard hiding in the trees (who had his eye on the boat) with a gun slung across his shoulder which would shoot them if they did anything.

40 minutes later when we reached back to shore, we saw a very displeased Brooklyn waiting for us. It was here and now that he delievered to us the bad news that we will not be able to make our trip into North Korea tomorrow, as the embassy was no longer issuing tourist visas for travel into North Korea as of today. Wow. What a disappointment. Earlier in the morning, I had read that the North Koreans had nullified their end of the 55 year old cease fire agreement with the South, but thought that this would not really have a major impact on the trip. Brooklyn said that the embassy assured him yesterday that everyday was okay, but only this morning had the news come from the North Korean government that no more tourists were allowed, for the tourists safety could not be guarenteed when the North was preparing for war. Extremely disappointed I am, but at least I am alive and will be for some time to come.

Heading back to the hotel for a very short rest before dinner, we decided that we would go to Harbin after Shenyang, since we would have an extra three nights now in China. Brooklyn bought us a very good Korean influenced Chinese dinner as he had planned yesterday, and the poor guy was very apologetic about everything, although it was no fault of his own. He also purchased a souvenier North Korean stamp book and a replica Kim Ill Sung pin as souveniers for each of us.

Following dinner, I went back to the same place as last night for a massage, this time opting to do a longer massage, which cost me 68 RMB (S$15) for 100 minutes, still an extremely reasonable price. My masseuse tonight must have been a champion farm plough girl, because she is extremely strong and really applied lots of pressure to my back and shoulders. The massage was good albeit painful, and I now at 3am as I sit and type this at the hotel, I can feel and see the multiple bruises on my back.

Today’s pictures here.

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Day 118 [27 May 09] – Dandong

Posted in Dandong by jn82 on May 29, 2009

This morning, we took the subway to the Shanghai Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train station. The Maglev is a fast train which travels at 300km/h, reaching Shanghai Pudong airport Terminal 2 in only seven minutes from the city. The record speed for this route is 500km/h, but I guess for operational efficiency the top speed is capped at 300km/h. Costing 40 RMB one way if you can produce a valid airline ticket (50 RMB otherwise), it is not an extremely cheap way to reach Pudong airport.

We got to Pudong Terminal 2 about an hour and a half before our scheduled China Southern Airlines flight to Dandong city, so after checking in we had some lunch at a noodle cafe. The price of airport food in Shanghai is not as ridiculous as other Western city airports, but more expensive compared to downtown Shanghai. At around 12.45pm, we boarded the Boeing 737-300 CZ 6755 bound for Dandong. The flight itself was okay, and was filled with mainly PRCs except for two Indians and one Caucasian man. Although they did serve a simple lunch of either chicken or beef with white rice, there was no in-flight entertainment available. It did feel like a pretty budget flight as the plane was a narrow body single asile aircraft, where the seats were pretty narrow and had well worn cushions, and the whole plane itself was old. Around two hours later, we arrived in Dandong.

The airport was the smallest one I have ever seen, where there is a single runway which leads straight to a large concrete area outside the main airport building and control tower. There is no space for more than one aircraft at a time here. After a short walk from the plane, past the seemingly bombed out control tower, we arrived at the main airport building, if you can call it that. The building just consists of one baggage carousel and two toilets! Amazingly small, and I was very amused. Flying in to Dandong, you will not guess that the city itself has a population of 2.5 million as I later found out, with >700,000 people living downtown.

We met out guide Brooklyn at the airport, and he brought us to our hotel 中联大酒店 to check in and leave our bags. The hotel is a four star one, as you can see we are sparing no expense now, ha ha. No really, it is quite cheap at 388 RMB per night for a twin share, so works out to just S$42 per person per night, inclusive of breakfast. After dumping the bags, we proceeded to the travel agency to make the payment for the upcoming North Korea trip. Once that was done with, Brooklyn drove us 20 km out of the city to Tiger Mountain

Tiger Mountain is a small mountain range located almost at the border with North Korea. It is here that the Great Wall of China started, and so is quite a landmark in Dandong. Unfortunately in the years after the many wars and invaders China has had to fend off, the stones of the original wall were removed by the locals for the building of their houses, so the wall that stands at the site today is largely a reconstruction which was completed in 1993. At the base of Tiger Mountain, we got to have our first glimpse into North Korea, which was just one metre away across a small stream. All we saw in front of us was lots and lots of light brown coloured farm land, not very exciting. We walked from the base to the highest point of the wall, and from here you can look into North Korea and compare the difference between these two countries for miles. There is really quite a big difference, where although on both sides you see farmland, on the North Korean side there is a distinct lack of any other visible infrastructure, while on the Dandong side you can see many roads, buildings and cars around the farm land.

We left the mountain area around 7pm, and headed to the city where we got dinner, and cheap foot reflexology for only 38 RMB (S$8.20) for 40 minutes! We headed back to the hotel around 10.30pm, afterwhich I stayed up all the way till 5am to watch Manchester United get defeated 2-0 by FC Barcelona in the finals of the Europeans Champions League with her.

Today’s pictures here.

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