DOTOK DOTOK DOTOK…

engine driver with teapot

PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21.

Girls dig in the trenches - heads on the rim

April 2011

Dining car - What is flashing through her mind?

THE TRAIN  is moving at a leisurely pace through the hills and fields, crossing large riverbeds, some carry only a trickle of water.

...passing by - men with shovels...

Repairing the trenches

View from my sleeper bed

Workers head to the field

The railway track-sills need repair, some are broken.

We travel at 30-50km/h

We head to the restaurant wagon over luggage and people in the gangway.

Goods for Pyongyang

...sleeping...

Passengers are playing, eating, talking, sleeping.

Dining car – we are in good company

The supper we had ordered is ready and we mix with the Chinese who bring their goods to Pyongyang. It takes us 26 hours to travel from Beijing to Pyongyang at a speed of 30-50km. The heart and mind has time to adjust – from China to North Korea we travel back in time. Sometimes it looks like the Middle Ages but more often the horrible Stalin area comes to my mind.

a KAFKAESQUE LAND with aspects of BRUEGHEL and a BUCOLIC touch, DPRK

prime PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Tool of the land

A bucolic touch...

As THE TRAIN pulled out of the Korean border station two hours late – the customs inspection had taken over four hours all in all – it suddenly became clear to me that we were on our way to a KAFKAESQUE land with aspects of BRUEGHEL and a BUCOLIC touch.

...as far as the eye could see...

As far as the eye could see: groups of farm workers, schoolchildren moving by foot to the fields, a few on bicycles, detachments of soldiers with shovels, some on military trucks, farm workers with ox carts, men ploughing the field.

men – women – soldiers – children

Men and women of all ages hacking and working in the water channels and the rice fields with almost no mechanized help beside an old tractor here and there, cows pulling the plows, the rest all handwork. Cooperatives and villages dotted the land.

A Cooperative Farm in the background

Farm workers

But the BRUEGHEL and BUCOLIC touch soon gave way to the harsh reality of a hermetically sealed of population with no exit out of the cooperatives, the villages, the cities, the country without official permission. If the desperate and the hungry flee over the border to China, Big Brother shows no pity. He sends them back to North Korea where they end up in labor camps or are shot dead as it had happened during the horrible flooding catastrophe in 1974 when 3 million people died and starvation followed.

NORTH KOREAN CUSTOMS at DONGAN

End of China - we cross over the river to DPRK - attraction point for the Chinese

iPHONE PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.-21. April 2011

FOUR AND A HALF HOURS it took us to pass customs control from China to North Korea.

DPRK customs official comes to railcar Nr.12

It was not a pain in the neck, not at all, it just took time.

As we entered Dongan border station, there was a load of Chinese business men flooding our two railcars each with a mountain of luggage. We got two brothers into our compartment, both double my weight (I’m 95 kilos). They filled every corner with packages of all sizes.

Railway station in DPRK with portrait of KIM IL SUNG - Military hardware on a rail car

Then the maneuvering of our two rail cars took about 30 minutes, I counted 17 times back and forth till they were positioned on the right tracks to attach them to the North Korean train and move the train to the North Korean Customs.

iPhone wrapped in brown envelope and sealed with transparent tape by Dongan Customs, North Korea. Text by Customs official: GPS 2011.4.21

A Korean war photo in the "Korea Handbuch" aroused the suspicion of our French speaking customs official much more than than my professional video camera, my three photo cameras or my computer

The Chinese business guys had kind of a “Schlepper“ who immediately made contact with the customs officials but for the two brothers in our compartment it didn’t help much, because, as we soon found out, the customs official wanted to practise his french with Ursula. “Brosse à dent“, “nécessaire de toilette“ etc, she had to repeat every item in French.

He finally got to my iPhone, which really perplexed him. Several times he made a sign with his hand to the sky, meaning “something“ could descend from the clouds at any time and reveal top North Korean nuclear secrets. He wanted to learn all sorts of things about this hellish machine till his superior came and told him to finish, so he wrapped my iPhone in an envelope, wrote GPS on it and sealed it about ten times with transparent tape and gave it back to me.

In between French conversation he cut open the small, medium and large packages of our two Chinese businessmen with a Swiss! “Victorinox“ army knife, a present from a Swiss traveler.

The four hour long check was rather superficial, it was all more about the curiosity of our customs official to learn as much as possible about the items we carried he had not seen before and brushing up his French. Computer, 3 cameras, Sony professional video did not arouse much interest. But a historical photo or two from the Korean war in a travel book aroused his suspicion and made him turn the book leaf by leaf for a full hour and also got his superior involved.