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My Trip to North Korea (Part 2)

December 12, 2012

Most of the passengers on our flight were Chinese. It was the Japanese who mobbed venues wherever Don and I traveled in the eighties and nineties. Now Chinese replaced them. After a little over an hour, we landed at Shenyang airport. Esther, second-in-command of our group (the leader was on a different flight and was supposed to meet us in Pyongyang), assembled us at a corner. She is a minister based in New York and works part time for groups concerned about North Korea and the unification of the Korean peninsula. “Since you do not have visas to China, you can’t get out of the airport. I will go get an official who will help us,” she said. With that, she left, telling us to wait. Soon, a young customs officer appeared with Esther and helped us to pass through a special line. As he left, he firmly instructed us to stay inside the airport until we caught our flight to Pyonyang.

What next? If it were up to me, I would have taken Willem to a restaurant and ordered a good lunch. But we were with a group: a retired minister, Rev. Yoo, and his wife, a single woman with a red jacket who introduced herself as a minister from Chicago, and Esther. The minister from Chicago was clearly eager to take charge. “There is a restaurant on the second floor where we could order a couple of dishes and sit for hours.” We followed her to the elevator and into a spacious restaurant that was almost empty. We found a large table at the back. Two waitresses came with large-sized menus. I opened one of them and was about to review the possibilities. “No need to spend time on the menu. I know what to order. They have good dumplings. Two orders of steamed dumpling dishes will be more than enough for all of us. They are not only good, but the price is right!” I was mad but had no energy to protest. I just sat. The 14 straight hours of flight from New York, plus the waiting time both at Kennedy and Incheon airports, had sapped whatever energy I had.

In the meantime, a friendly young Chinese chap appeared and exchanged a few words with Esther. She informed us, “I will go to the North Korean Embassey with him–he works for a travel agency and he does all our paper work whenever we go to Pyongyang. I have a Chinese visa, so I can go with him to collect our visas promised on the phone.”

The two dumpling dishes arrived for the five of us. The self-designated leader encouraged us, especially Willem, the youngest among us, to eat. Ever so polite, Willem waited until one of the others, the oldies, took one. I selected a dumpling and put it into my mouth. It wasn’t good, but I said nothing.

We still had a few hours until we could get on the flight to NK. Besides, we did not have visas. Nothing to do but sit around and wait. Well, about two hours had passed when we saw Esther walk in. My eyes were wide open, and some life had returned to my worn-out body. Even before she sat down, I knew that something was wrong–drastically wrong. Her ashen face spoke volumes.  I kept still. “Well, I have some bad news!” None of us spoke. We just waited.

–to be continued.

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