The Rason border is around 2 hours from Yanji, and any journey starting at 8 am following the kind of night we had, was always going to be somewhat of a painful one, with the majority of the group sleeping for as long as humanly possible before the border.
Now I have crossed China-DPRK borders on more than 100 hundred occasions now, and whilst I am quite used to it in general, the Rason one is slightly special. Initially you pass through Chinese immigration, which whilst relatively hassle free, due to the relative lack of foreigners, tends to take a little longer than it should. You then go through and wait for the bus to take you over the Tumen river, and Korean immigration, which due to the time difference closes at 11 am for lunch. We arrived at 11.01, to be greeted by our local guide, someone I had worked with before, but who was not exactly my favourite.
Now this is where it gets different not only from most international borders, but even with the other ones in the DPRK. You are required to remove and give every computer, Ipad, electronic book, written book and USB to the friendly guard who then takes them to a room, and in practice randomly goes through them, how thorough they are seems to depend on a number of factors, most prominent seeming to be how busy they are, but they and will ask you to put a password in if its password protected, and go through what they like, end tell you to delete stuff if they see fit to it. Rumours for this being the case is the black market in movies, and information flowing in from China, and materials which might be deemed anti-state. In fact the seemingly forgotten Korean-American Keneth Bae, who was arrested here last year (and is seemingly still in the DPRK), was allegedly carrying books and materials that any normal person would realize might equate to trouble. It’s a serious border.
In actual fact it went quite smoothly at about an hour, which believe it, or not is quite successful by DPRK standards, from where we boarded our bus and set off to Rajin city where we would be spending most of the next 4 days. The drive of about an hour is one of my favourites in the country, roads built by China, and thus comfortable, with scenery unlike anything else you see in the country. This is rural Korea at its most picturesque. This was also my first time in country since the liberalization (relatively) of the phone issue, with my phone maintaining signal, and internet ability for the first 30 minutes of the journey. I actually thought (wrongly) that perhaps there had been some new deal to allow Chinese phones in country. There isn’t.
Traditionally we went for lunch for first at the RITA (travel company) restaurant. The DPRK much like old socialist states tends to have company restaurants still, in this case sources of at least some foreign income. It was nice to have good kimchi again….
Every trip to the DPRK is pretty much always started with showing of reverence to President Kim Il Sung, with us a group presenting pictures to his mosaic, which conveniently was situated next to the telecommunications centre.
Now as I mentioned before this year has marked a liberalization in the phone system of the DPRK, with foreigners not only now allowed to bring their phones, but apparently also being able to link upto the 3g network of the country. The plan was that even though it was crazy expensive we would still try and get a card. Rason as I said is not mainland DPRK, and only foreigners (Chinese) living in the country longer than 3 months are entitled to a phone. Denied in usual DPRK fashion.
We then went to the port, a highlight in usual circumstances, but this time particularly important due to the fact that the brand new allegedly 5 star cruise ship from Singapore. The ship, which does actually look pretty pimping is planned to run monthly cruises for up to 800 pax, ambitious perhaps, we will see.
Following dinner we went back to our hotel. Now to describe this hotel as best as possible. This is a new hotel, that the travel company in Rason seem to be quite keen on getting us westerners to go and stay in. The hotel is on 4 floors, has space for 88 people, and is situated opposite the sea. Good early signs, but as of now its only facilities are two shops selling alcohol and a few soft drinks, a kind of seating area, and a sort of board roomish type feature, but nowhere really to party, or even socialise in any kind of way. The rooms are quite comfortable, but give me communist kitsch any day of the week.
(original story courtesy of www.clearlynotthecase.com).