Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dandong-North Korea

Sunday I went with the BCA girls on another excursion to Dandong. It's a border city right on the China-North Korea line. Danny, our director, rented a van and picked me up at my place at 6:20 in the morning. It's a three and a half hour drive, during which we mostly slept.

When we arrived, we were at a riverbank, staring at a barren strip of land across from us. I joked, Please tell me that's North Korea...and it was! We took a boat ride up and down the bank a bit, and it was crazy because on our left we saw Dandong- skyrises, apartment buildings, restaurants, cars, colors, life, etc. On our right we saw North Korea- a barren wasteland of dead trees, one or two abandoned buildings, and loads of old decrepid boats lined up next to each other. These looked like fishing boats from the 1920s, like the tugboats you'd see in old cartoons. We even saw some North Koreans fishing and others washing cabbage for what we can only assume is going to be kimchi. We were only about 50 feet away from them as well in the boat; I can't imagine how painful it must be living there and staring at Dandong constantly.

Then we walked on the bridge over the river that was bombed by the US in 1950. The end was still pretty mangled but it looked redone; like they'd smoothed the edges and repainted the bridge. Next to it was the newer bridge that still goes over to North Korea, but not surprisingly there was no one crossing it.

We had lunch at a delicious Korean restaurant next to the river, then trekked over to the "Memorial Hall of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea" -or what we refer to as the Korean War. The museum was pretty cool, there was the general museum stuff such as artillery, propaganda, old pictures of soldiers...but what made it really neat was the viewpoint. Just like the name of the museum, everything there- all the captions, the summaries- was written in a very pro-China, anti-American voice. The US was referred to as "the US imperialists" and the propaganda they had displayed from the US side was even pro-Chinese. 

The propaganda was actually my favorite part; they all perpetuated the idea that the Koreans and Chinese were 'lenient with POWs' and seemed to even be pushing soldiers to be captured and 'end this useless war.' There were magazine clippings saying things like "Mrs. Johnson is happy now because she knows her husband is safe in a Chinese POW camp" and "Stop your mother from worrying about you. Think about it!"

After the museum we headed back home, arriving about 7:30. We'd only spent about six hours in Dandong but I think it was definitely a very productive trip.

 China--Bridge--North Korea

Also, a completely irrelevant sidenote- It started snowing today in Dalian!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election from abroad

It's easy to be left out of the loop when living abroad. I have no idea what movies or songs are popular back home right now, what the latest trends are, what's the big marketing campaign for Halloween and Thanksgiving, and I'm okay with all that because it keeps life simpler.

The only real downside was when it came to the election. I woke up Tuesday morning slightly excited about the election, about change on the horizon...only to remember that I was 13 hours ahead of the States (Daylight Savings Time couldn't have been pushed back another week, no?) and had another 36 hours to wait for results.

Wednesday morning I bolted out of bed at my normal time of seven am...only to remember again I still had yet another hour before polls started closing. Leanna was worse than I was; halfway through our first class she remembered about the election, after which she started to freak out, "What if Obama doesn't win?"

We get three breaks during our four hours of class, and during each break someone was running back to the dorms to check the votes. After the first break it was 77-34 Obama, but an hour later he had already climbed past 100. At the last break Sam, a Korean American friend, rushed into my classroom and raised his arms into the air and yelled, "Obama's our new president!!", effectively making all the Koreans and Russians very wary of us Americans.

To be fair, they had good reason to be wary. Many of us, like myself, had been abroad for the majority of the campaign season, including the climax over the last few months. Our celebration was weak at best, and constituted mainly posts on each others' facebooks and texting each other in all caps (it was only 1 pm our time after all), but we were rejoicing the fact that after all the turmoil we could only read about and missed out on, we had at least one reason to look forward to going home.
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