I'm in Tumen now, a small town on the border with North Korea. After a gruelling 24 hour train journey from Beijing, we are now on the brink of our journey into the unknown. Our party is small. Chris, the guide, is from Northern Ireland and he has been to Pyongyang 15 times; Fabian, a Canadian has done two North Korean tours before but everyone else is a DPRK virgin. Well, all except Yong Lee who was born there. He's an American citizen who was orphaned in WWII, went to the south to live with an uncle and then migrated to the US in the sixties. He has sisters in North Korea and had a brother... who died in a labour camp. Our band is seven souls in all, it is enough.
Tumen is small by Chinese standards but still over 100,000 people. It has a riverfront which overlooks North Korea. We peered over at what we would soon be entering and saw people like ants walking about and two large paintings of the Kims adorning a building. At night it is darker there than the neon glare of modern China.
Tumen is a largely Korean city. Everything is in two languages here. We dined at a restaurant which sevred Korean barbeque. Yong Lee asked on the street and everyone said that it was the best in town. The food was some of the best I've ever tasted, even beating yakiniku. And afterwards I had a suggestion: Korean baths. Yong Lee asked and we were shown the only one in town. By Japanese standards it was basic but after 13 years to sink into a genuine onsen was unreal. Nothing beats it.
Except perhaps tomorrow when we enter the most secretive state on earth.
Uncle Traveling Matt