May 04, 2009 14:30
Dandong is a Chinese border city situated at the mouth of the Apnok (or Yalu) River. When the night comes, Sinuiju, the North Korean city opposite Dandong, is shrouded in darkness while Dandong twinkles with bright neon lights. Here, people from both Koreas mingle: there are a restaurant run by the North Korean government, hideouts for North Korean refugees, South Korean businessmen, senior members of the North Korean Workers' Party who are visiting on business, and many more.
Torrential rains had been falling for a week when a Chosun Ilbo news team arrived in Dandong. It was Aug. 9, 2007, on a special tour program called "human safari." The program provided a rare chance for the news team to take a close look at residents on Ujeok Islet, a North Korean island in the Apnok River. The boatman raised his thumb, saying, "It'll be worth your money."
The charge for a group of four was 800 yuan (approximately W114,000). Passengers also had to buy some 800 yuan worth of food and other goods. "The more cigarettes, sausage and juice you bring, the more you can enjoy your sightseeing," the boatman said. "This tour is most popular among Chinese tourists." When the boat reached the midpoint of the river, we could see two North Korean naval vessels lying at anchor 50 m ahead of us. We clearly saw North Korean flags fluttering on them.
The boatman stopped only 2 m from Ujeok Islet and went round the boat to push the bow ashore. In other words, we had landed in North Korean territory. The guide threw sausages onto the shore. Suddenly, two men came out of the thicket and hastily tucked the sausages into their pockets. The cigarettes the boatman threw disappeared in a moment, too.
"Hello? We're from South Korea." When the Chosun Ilbo news team spoke to them, they vanished into the brush without saying a word. "Isn't this surprising?" the guide whispered. We traveled for about five more minutes before we saw North Korean women doing their washing. The guide threw a bag of food toward them. "Don't do that again! Do you think we're beggars?" The women flew into rage, picked up their laundry and went away.
About 30 minutes later, when we returned, we found the foodstuff bag gone. "They got angry because a North Korean border guard was standing nearby." We continued our tour. Beyond the riverbank, we saw some 10 brick houses whose walls were filled with such slogans as "Long Live Gen. Kim Jong-il, the Sun of the 21st Century!" "They are houses built for senior North Korean border guards. They're there for propaganda purposes," the guide said.
A moment later, another man appeared on the shore. The guide hinted that he was a "senior member of the North Korean Workers' Party." He warned us not to speak Korean. "Give me money," the man said. We gave him 100 yuan. He demanded more, saying, "Give me ball-point pens and cigarettes."
The boatman got angry. "You guys are always asking for anything and everything, aren't you?" We moved another 400 m ahead, when three children waved to us, gesturing as if they were counting money. "Go away," the guide yelled at them. We met about 10 more North Koreans. They too came quietly near us and took the food we had brought with us. All the North Koreans who got angry at us also ended up taking the food.
The North Korean-Chinese border was literally falling down. Across it, one group of North Korean refugees follows another every day. Those who don't are treated like animals at home.
By Park Jong-in, Lee Hark-joon
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