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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...


NORTH KOREA | Friday, 20 November 2015 | Views [748] | Comments [1]

Soldiers standing guard

Soldiers standing guard

Today we would visit a very surreal place in an already very surreal country. Our excursion to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) would take place today where I'd get to step across the border and shake hands with a DPRK soldier. The DMZ is anything but and soldiers stand on the border keeping guard making sure nobody tries to slip across from either side. This morning some of us would indulge in a Korean-style breakfast. I wouldn’t eat much and I don’t particularly like kimchee. The drive to the DMZ would be three hours each way. We were told this morning that if we got back early enough we could go to the supermarket and have an opportunity to shop using local currency. Immediately that became a priority for us. Many of us would fall asleep shortly after the journey began. Due to the long days of sightseeing I think many of us are very fatigued. As we drove out of Pyongyang we drove past the Arch of Reunification. As I awoke, Jessica offered us additional options for lunch: we could try dog or ginseng chicken. Ethically I couldn’t eat dog but I opted to try the ginseng chicken. A group of us put our money together to share one. Stopping at a resthouse halfway into our journey I got a ceremonial photo of me with my thumb out for a lift to Pyongyang.

Someday I’ll be able to hitchhike from Busan to Dandong!  As we closed in on the DMZ we had to go through several military checkpoints in which Lim told us to keep our cameras down. Soldiers stand guard many places yet we’ve seen remarkably few guns. Driving into Kaesong, Lim told us a lot of broken families live here, hoping someday they'll get to reunite with their loved ones south of the DMZ. Not long before the actual border is a souvenir shop selling ginseng, T-shirts, and so forth. Photos are only allowed in a select few places as it's a very sensitive military area.

Rules must be followed anywhere in the DPRK but doubly so in the DMZ. A soldier was our guide during our time in the world's most heavily fortified border. The first hut we visited was where the armistice argreement was signed. Here I'm at one of the desks.

As we drove even further south we had an opportunity we had all been waiting for! Making sure it's OK I snapped photos of the soldiers and the border where there are three blue huts straddling the border. It seems to be a tourist trap but this is a very serious area where there is no room for messing around. Upon entering the hut where various talks take place we had our chance to ceremoniously step into the Republic of Korea. This concrete slab is the border.

In this photo I'm actually in the Republic of Korea whilst some of the people behind me are in the DPRK.

The table straddles the border, and representatives from Korea and the DPRK sit at their respective sides during talks. Unfortunately there's no way to stand outside on the border. Tours exist coming the other direction and their only option is to enter the hut from a door on the other side. At the end of our tour of the DMZ I got to shake hands with a DPRK soldier!

It was after 2 PM already and it was time for lunch! We drove past the concrete apartment blocks of Kaesong to the restaurant where I could see yet another large statue of the Great Leader off in the distance. Once inside we were served this enormous platter of various concoctions. Seaweed, pork, bean sprouts, dried fish, egg, and so forth lined the small metal bowls, and I didn't eat everything.

The ginseng chicken and dog were served to those who ordered it. Who could eat man's best friend? I mustn't complain because when in the DPRK, do as the Koreans do and if you don't want to eat it, don't eat it (at least we had that choice here). I'll admit the chicken was rather unappealing and it didn't make me hyper. My mother used to take valerian and ginseng supplements and sometimes she'd give me a valerian tablet to calm me down. After our tasty lunch it was time to visit the stamp shop. I picked up a postcard for Jo and then one to send to myself with stamps of the President, the Great General, and the Grand Marshall all in a row. In total I'll have sent only four postcards, for Jo, Maria, myself, and my mother. 

To visit the supermarket we had to get there by 7 PM so that was our priority! At one of the checkpoints Dominique, the older Swiss gentleman, had to get off the bus because the soldier thought he had snapped a photo. Curious more than anything else the soldier just had a quick talk and a look at his photos and we were on our way. From the long days of our tour we're all very weary and tired but were looking forward to BBQ duck this evening. After a long nap I awoke as we were driving back into Pyongyang. Stopping for photos at the Arch of Reunification our next stop was Kim Il-sung's birthplace. We had to walk fast! It was getting dark and it turned out the home where the Great Leader was born wasn't open, so we walked hurriedly back to the bus. Getting to the supermarket in plenty of time we had some time to wander round the supermarket on our own but we couldn't take our cameras. Exchanging some Chinese yuan I had some DPRK won in my hands! Going upstairs to see what was for sale I had a glance and chance to get some chips. For 7,300 won (about $2) the chips took awhile but I had a chance to observe locals indulging in noodles, meatballs, and so forth. With my greasy chips I headed downstairs where I got some soju, sponge cake, and a couple of canned coffees. Holding onto a 5,000 won note I now have two DPRK notes and I'll be sure to hide them in separate places amongst my luggage. With our shopping excursions done it was time to feast on BBQ duck! Duck is said to contain a lot of fat but it's what keeps them buoyant when on water. Expecting a whole duck, I was surprised to see bits of raw meat on a plate. 

You roast the meat to your liking on a hot plate in front of you, dip it in a special sauce and then wrap it in a lettuce leaf. Sticking with my old habit of eating things separately that's what I mostly did. Some people might not understand but I've almost always eaten a hamburger patty and the bun separately, as with other foods. This trip sure has been 1,000 times better than I expected! In addition to being a unique experience it's been a culinary experience! Hot pots, pizza, ginseng chicken, dog, and BBQ duck have all been part of the culinary smorgasbord here in the DPRK. Along with duck I would indulge in a lot of soju, and then it was off to the brewery. This trip has been a lot like my Contiki trip to New Zealand back in '06: a large group of backpackers where we learn and are active by day and get drunk by night, and even though it's the DPRK there's no shortage of alcohol. Soju has been my drink of choice and tonight I would indulge in far too much! It was too the point where Margo walked me to my room. I couldn't sleep and then I got really, really emotional. Edward then walked me up and we sat and chatted for a bit. I think it might've been that I'm sad I'm leaving tomorrow. The DPRK has really made an impact on all of us, and in addition to "demilitarized zone" DMZ could stand for something like duck, memories, and zigzagging (our way to the border). 



Learn how tenses work, please. Very distracting to keep jumping between past, present, past-continous, etc. And lay off the exclamation marks!

  Nick R Dec 23, 2015 5:32 AM

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