Saturday, May 12, 2007

DPRK, Day 8

Day 8. USS Pueblo, train back to Beijing.

Before our long train journey back to Beijing we made our last sight seeing stop by the river where the USS Pueblo is moored. On January 23, 1968 the USS Pueblo was attacked and captured by North Korean navy vessels while carrying out her surveillance mission. One man was killed and 82 surviving crew members were held for 11 months.

On board we were shown a couple of propaganda videos. On which we were informed of the US imperialist aggressors' plan to spy and invade North Korea.

The communication room with the high-tech spy gear. There's even a digital clock!

For more information on the incident visit the Pueblo site.

The Central Pyongyang Train Station was bustling. The platform was just as crazy as any train station in the world.

There were 2 carriages destined for Beijing, 4 for the Chinese border before heading to Moscow, a dining cart, and the rest were local carriages.
We were suddenly overwhelmed with a warm and fuzzy feeling when we saw the Chinese crest on the carriage. Who would have thought we could ever take it as a sign of relief(and perhaps complacency)? It's all relative huh.

We could have flown back but we wanted the full experience and a chance to see the country side. We saw lots of farms and country houses and sometimes small towns during our 5-hour journey to the border.

We didn't really relax until we got through the border checks. North Korean officers came on the train, checked our passports, briefly searched our luggage, and we were each given a metal detector search with the beeping thingy. The officers were generally friendly with lots of smiles. They didn't check the images on our cameras but they did ask to see our wallets to make sure that no North Korean Won was being smuggled out. (The smuggled won was all under the mattresses instead, but that's pretty much an open secret.) Meanwhile the local train carriages behind us were being detached, and a new locomotive attached to our now very short train for the border crossing.

A river naturally sets the Korean/Chinese border. The Chinese border control was very quick and easy. Again officers came on, check our passports and landing cards and that was it. The Russian-bound carriages were detached and a long series of local Chinese carriages was merged behind us. At long last (after 3 hours and a bit) we were heading to Beijing!

The bunks were actually quite comfortable and roomy. We were given blankets and pillows and there was hot water available from the charcoal fueled water heater! (The water was so hot it melted our cabinmate's water bottle!) Sleep was much needed and we pretty much slept our way through to Beijing.

Before the trip we knew we would be going back in time but we didn't realise quite how far. People often compare North Korea with 80s China. Now just actually seeing the stark difference between China and North Korea at the border is mind-blowing.

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