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Journal Entry:

Sunday, June 24, 2012 05:28:50

CHINA 2012: 9 - Dandong to Mt. Changbai

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Marilynn had the runs this morning from curry she ate last night, so chose to spend the day in the hotel close to the bathroom. I went with Brooklyn to the Museum of US aggression in Korea, which was fairly well done. The descriptions were in Chinese & English, written by a standard propaganda artist - lots of glorious hype with scattered facts. The existing Great Wall of China starts near Dandong. The wall, which has been faithfully, restored using original materials, ends at a small stream that is the border to North Korea, although the original wall started just north of Pyongyang, Korea. The original wall was built by the first emperor between 220 and 206 BC, but most of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty. Besides defence, it was use to collect taxes on trade and control immigration. The Ming walls stretched 8,800 km (5,500 mi). Because the border can be crossed with a running jump here many North Koreans escaped into China, particularly during the famine. Those caught were returned to North Korea where they would be shot or put in a concentration camp - only women who managed to marry Chinese were permitted to stay. Currently there we saw little military presence on either side, but the Korean side is all open land with pill boxes scattered around. After a walk along the wall we went for a good lunch at a downtown restaurant and to change some money. Four of eight bills were rejected because they had been folded - to be accepted they must be in perfect condition with no marks or fold lines. If this keeps up we may be short on funds. Next was a boat ride on the Yalu River, cruising close to the Korean side. The river is joint territory of Korea and China, so there is no sovereignty until on land. Some islands in the river belong to the DPRK and others to the Chinese. Brooklyn says in summer daring Chinese swim across the river to touch the other side, but to be in neutral territory they must remain in the water up to their waist. We were to walk out to the end of the broken bridge, which runs parallel to the road and railway bridge on which our train crossed. It is a steel bridge built by the Japanese to connect Dandong with Korea in 1905, but the Koreans dismantled their side to use the steel for other purposes. I declined the walk, having seen the end of the bridge from both train and boat. On the way back to the hotel we picked up some instant noodles for Marilynn. She was still feeling pretty rough, but on the mend. It was good luck that we had two nights here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

This morning we followed the Yalu River along the North Korean border. It is dammed in various spots and the Koreans & Chinese share the electrical output. On a lake above one of the dams were a number of rowing crews practicing for the Dragon Boat races to be held in a couple of days. We were on good two lane road, but it was slow going through villages where vehicles don't seem to park - cars and motorbikes are abandoned in the roadway making a mess of two way traffic trying to get through. Vendor's stands set up in the roadway don't do much for traffic flow either. In Ji An, a city of 300,000 noted for pharmaceuticals & tourism, we visited some pyramid tombs of the Koguryo Kingdom dating from 37 BC until 470 AD. During this time it was their second capital. These are the same rulers whose ruins we visited in Korea, although spelled slightly differently. They ruled all Korea and the area of three of China's current provinces. The pyramids are built out of stone block along the style of the Egyptian pyramids, but smaller. Our driver today is a bit of a wild man, but few people here seem to worry about staying on their side of the road regardless of the speed they are moving. Marilynn is having fits and manages to get comments off to the driver from the back seat, particularly when he passes on blind corners or hills. He has an advantage over me in not understanding what she says! We were held up by an accident today, but surprisingly it is the first we've seen. The drive was on twisting road through high forested hills. After 6 hours driving we were glad to reach or destination, the industrial city of Tonghua, population 540,000. Judging by the amount of construction of apartment buildings and shopping malls they plan to add a few more hundred thousand in short order. The city has two huge pharmaceutical factories, a military rocket base nearby, massive steel mills and other heavy industry. The hotel was a fair step down, and we didn't get much sleep as it was very hot and the building central air conditioning was not on. There were no controls in the room.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another four hour drive through hilly forest and valleys full of copper mines and heavy manufacturing plants brought us to Mr. Changbai. This is a national park area made famous by a volcanic cone from an eruption in the year 1000, and now filed by what is called Heavenly Lake. There are three approaches to the lake on the Chinese side, with the fourth side being in North Korea. After checking into a Days Inn hotel and having lunch we took an uncrowded bus up the mountain in pouring rain to the upper parking area, a 38 km (23.6 mi) drive. We drove into dense cloud about halfway up, so couldn't see the views as we wound through switch back curves Visibility was only about 20 feet (6.1 meters) when we reached the parking area, so we took the same bus back down. From the parking lot there is a 900 meter (3,000 foot) hike up 1,236 steps to the lake at 2,470 meters (8,102 feet) altitude. There were snow drifts on the ground around the parking area. On the way back down the bus stopped at a board walk that led to a deep canyon with high spires of volcanic rock. The rain was lighter, and it was worth the 1 ½ km (just under a mile) hike. We had a light dinner with beer in the hotel restaurant before making it an early night. No worry about air conditioning here - the window opens and it is cold outside.