The port in China.
China on the right, North Korea on the left.
Tiger Mountain Great Wall
The basic plan for today was to see the Yalu River and the Tiger Mountain Great Wall.
So we headed out to the river in Dandong, and while I wandered around shooting photos of the river and the Korean Peace Friendship Bridge or whatever exactly it is called, and looking across the river at what is North Korea, my friend Michelle's father was expertly arranging a Yalu River cruise for the three of us.
Since I am expressly forbidden by two governments, my own and the North Koreans, from entering the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), I was skeptical. Since I realize the consequences include being rescued by Bill Clinton, I repeated interrogated my friends … "are you sure about this?" I was repeatedly reassured it was cool.
I put on the life jacket, got in the boat and hung on. The boat was a fairly powerful and well handling outboard and the pilot made sure we knew it. We ripped though the torrid waters of the Yalu river at high speed and drove immediate past a boat containing DPRK soldiers and directly to the shore of North Korea, actually speaking to people on the shore. At one point we were less than a few feet away from the shore of North Korea.
At one point, well most of the time actually, both shores of the river were North Korea. Clearly we were entirely within the country at this point. I shot photos of the Tiger Mountain great wall, from well within the boundary of North Korea.
The boundary between China and north Korea is clearly porous. At one point they asked if I would buy cigarettes for some soldiers on the other side. I didn't buy them but but my imagination tells me they would have approached the shore and tossed them to someone on land.
The idea of people or large amounts of substance crossing the border via the river seems quite tenable. I felt like a spy on a mission. I could imagine it. I could imagine my photo journalist friends trying to stretch the rules for a good photo, a temptation I ultimately resisted.
We approached a North Korean woman on the shore by boat. She was doing laundry in the Yalu river. With a 200mm lens this could have been a National Geographic cover. Seriously good stuff. A woman in the boat was taunting the woman into looking up with "Anno hisayo's." The woman on the beach was clearly disturbed by being taunted at by her Chinese counterparts. The dramatic difference in the quality of life that the two women had was glaring and profound.
I was embarrassed by it, and surprised. The classic shot turned into a screaming woman, and I missed the shot. The strange thing is … I can't possible imagine myself capitalizing on her simplistic life. Especially after witnessing her anger.
Just a note ... added as an after thought. Did I truly have the Journalist"s will, I would have been driven to share her tragedy with the people of the world. I felt no such desire.