Korean Chinese Lee Mi Ja, 20 Day Journey to North Korea

[imText1]Lee Mi Ja, a Chinese resident of Korean descendent living in Changbai of China visited Pyongyang, Baekdu Mountain and other places in North Korea by the North Korean government invitation from August 5 to 30.

Lee sent flour, medicine and aid worth of 50,000Yuan (approx. $6,500) to North Korea and in return, the North Korean government invited Lee.

There is a tradition of the North Korean government inviting Korean descendents abroad for tour in North Korea when they send aid. These descendents stay in North Korea for a month or so and visit many parts of North Korea. (editor’s note)

Following is Lee’s journal.

I made my business going back and forth Hyesan city of Yangang Province. Changbai is a Korean autonomous region, which is an officially recognized “Korean autonomous region” by the Chinese government, in no relation to Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.

I have been going back and forth of North Korea staring early 1990s. The North Korean people started to be poor after the death of Kim Il Sung. There were beggars in Jangmadang, and when they found out that we were Chinese, they would put their hands out and asked for money. It is only little different from now.

On August 5, I and twenty other people went to Pyongyang from Hyesan by train. I had permission so I went to Hyesan many times, but since the visiting areas were restricted, it was my first time to visit further than Hyesan. We could only travel by train and we could not step any further than the guards allowed us to.

Once the train entered Hamheung, the train was soon filled with sellers, military, and wanderers. No one smiled. They all looked tired and worn out making a living.

Soon the inspection started. The security officials blocked front and back of the train and started to inspect the sellers. It was not hard to make a guess that they would not make that much money carrying grain sacks. In China, 1kg rice is 1Yuan. They do not consider rice as business item.

At that moment, the official requested for travel permission from a skinny man with dark skin who looked to be in age around thirty. The man pulled out people’s certificate (ID) and travel permit.

The security looking at the picture and the man’s face asked, “hey, is this yours?” The man replied, “It’s mine.” The security slapped the man’s cheek. “You son of b**, you are lying to me?” It was easy to notice that the documents were somebody else’s.

The person sitting beside me whispered to me, “the security officials become heroes who have caught criminals when they catch someone with fake or somebody else’s documents.” I asked back, “Why would not carry someone else’s documents?”

He said the travel permit to local regions cost 10,000Won($5) to 30,000Won($15) and the permit to Pyongyang and border regions over 50,000Won($25), only then I knew why people would carry somebody else’s documents.

Kim Il Sung Statue Brightening in Gold

The vice director of Reception Department for Koreans Abroad who welcomed us said, “The Commander (Kim Jong Il) had mercy to allow you to visit the homeland and enjoy wonderful days” before he introduced himself.

Pyongyang, the capital city was different from local regions. First of all, it had electricity. From Jangbaek, Hyesan is dark, but Pyongyang had lights, although electricity was cut off many times for an hour or two a day.

We undid our bags in the Botong-gang Hotel on the ninth floor. It was in front of the 105 stories “Ryukyung Hotel.” That was our first day in Pyongyang.

Tour of Pyongyang started with offering floors to Kim Il Sung statue located in Mansudae, which was shining in gold. There were people on a crane rubbing the statue to be shining stretching their arms. The 20m high statue was so high that the people on the arm of the statue looked as small as an ant.

Keumsusan Memorial Palace, located 8km away from Pyongyang is where Kim Il Sung’s body is laid. With the solemn music flowing, Kim Il Sung looked as though he was still alive, only sleeping. I wonder if Kim Il Sung knows about this.

In 6 day schedule, we visited many places including Mankyungdae, the house where Kim Il Sung was born, Juche Ideology Tower, and Seohae Floodgate. The local visits included Keumgang Mountain, Myohyang Mountain, and Baekdu Mountain.

8Km Steep Mountain Slope, Rocks Carried by People

It was when we visited Baekdu Mountain. It was second time. The border was at the top of the mountain. In China, people call it Changbai Mountain.

The day before we climb up Baekdu Mountain, the guide told us that if wanted to return in the afternoon, we have to climb up early in the morning.

We spent a night in Begebong Hotel and woke up at 4am and got on a bus. We saw the sunrise in the bus. On the road headed to the top of the mountain, we saw shadows beside us climbing up.

It was of about a hundred young men clmbing up with two big pieces of rock in a line of two. They were properly faced granite. I asked the guide who they were and he said they were the storming group to build monuments of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il under the order of Kim Jon Il.

Young men with heavy rocks on their backs were climbing without a word. A person looking like a commander was shouting something constantly.

Why would men carry the rocks if a bus can go on the road? They could have easily used vehicles. It was about 8Km from bottom to top of the mountain. From simple sight, the rock looked at least 30kg each.

This is how we ended our trip of 20 days in North Korea. We did not have to return to Pyongyang, so we directly headed to Hyesan, then to China.

On the day of our return, Reception Department for Koreans Abroad cadre awarded us with “Korean Immigrants Patriotic Contribution Award” and said he hopes we can contribute more to the patriotic works.

I was happy to be awarded but I wished for North Korea’s reformation and liberation so the Koreans could go back and forth freely between China and Korea.