Buried in here are details of our arrival into Sinuiju train station and how we got around Sinuiju on our short stopover here – but that’s not the fun bit.
The main component of our tour of North Korea finished in Pyongyang and we had an option (which has to be selected before you arrive in North Korea) to leave by air, as we had arrived, or take the train out via Sinuiju on the northern border with China. Those choosing to leave North Korea by train (US citizens cannot take the train option) have had, since mid 2013, the option to do a 24hr stopover in Sinuiju. We opted for this short extension to our trip.
I have written a separate a review on our train trip from Pyongyang to Sinuiju, entitled Getting out of the DPRK by Train, so will not reproduce that detail here.
As we were the only two westerners alighting at Sinuiju, literally a few hundred metres from China, I was a little apprehensive. What if our guides were not there to meet us or we couldn’t find them, etc?
This being North Korea, I need not have worried. As we alighted onto the platform at a station that had all the appearances that it was in a war zone and a bomb had just hit it, there, standing in the rubble out side our carriage door, were our two appointed guides for the next 24 hours. The guides had clearly been given a file on us and already knew, among other things, our names, ages, occupations, exactly what we looked and our allocated seats on the train so they knew exactly who they were looking for and where to find us.
We made our way, through the rubble, up the platform about 50 metres and having waved goodbye to those of our group still on the train and proceeding into China we descended underground to leave the station.
I should point out that the state of the station was due to the fact that it was being totally rebuilt and was a building site. In any other country a temporary platform and exit would have been set up for safety reasons, but no need for that here.
While making our way out of the station, past pictures of the Great and Dear Leaders proudly displayed in the only room of the new station to have been completed, our two female guides announced that they were very disappointed in us!
The problem was that we were not black.
They had been hoping for some time that some black visitors would arrive as they wanted to see, but hadn’t yet seen, a black man! Prior to mid 2013 visitors exiting North Korea by train were not able to do a stopover in Sinuiju and those (a couple a week on average) stopping since had all been white or Asian. Also, the many tourists coming in, on day-trips, from Dandong across the river in China were not, alas for our dear guides, black.
Having expressed our regret (we were forgiven) for not being black, we boarded our minivan, which we would use for the duration of our visit, for the short trip, through, it must be said, a rather bleak and colourless city, directly to our hotel as the normal first port of call for visitors to Sinuiju, a large statue of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung outside the station was under wraps due to the renovation. Part of the renovation plan is to add a statue of Kim Jong-il to that of his fathers.
On entering the hotel there was a black man standing at the reception desk!
I sensed a weakening in the knees of our guides though after a short period or awe or perhaps stage fright the timid young ladies redirected their attention back to us, to assist us in our check-in.
A short time later when we returned to the reception to commence our tour the guides were still in a state of excitement at having seen their first black man. This excitement flowed over until the following morning as, when we entered the small room which had been set up as a breakfast room, they gleefully pointed to an empty chair and used setting and proudly announced that this is where the first black man to visit Sinuiju had breakfasted. For the sake of posterity I took a picture of this very spot. We did not sight the black man again.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Sinuiju, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Amnokgang Hotel: “Clean and Comfortable”– or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – In North Korea – On the Border with China.