Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day 1 - Shenyang

By this point, I had been in Shenyang two nights, and I was anxious for things to get started. I still hadn't met my trip mates. The day before I had finally met this "Brooklyn" character (the name designed to sound a touch shady.) Actually, I found him pretty trustworthy, I wasn't the first American he had ever met or anything. But then I found out he wasn't coming into Korea with us, which I guess was my first expectation dashed. I still don't really know exactly what he actually did, besides the marketing and the visas. Maybe that's all that's necessary from the Chinese side.

Anyway, there were six of us. Me, and another single guy, who ended up sharing a room with me. He's an English teacher in Hong Kong. A Dutch couple, one of whom worked for a travel company. (If I can jump ahead for a second, this was enough to earn her a business meeting with some Koreans while she was there, interested in starting a partnership so that she could bring her own tourists in.) Finally, an American couple, on their honeymoon - owners of an art gallery in San Fransisco. (Even our Korean guides had never had a honeymoon couple for guests before.)

After some last minute scrambling on money issues (I ended up having just barely enough money to pay off Brooklyn and having any spending money for the trip; my trip mates, all of whom had been in China for much less time than me, were very impressed) we were off.

Waiting in the airport, I started to take stock of our fellow passengers. There were some Chinese people, and some Koreans, presumably from the North - this was exciting to get my first look at them - and a few other foreigners, mostly Americans. One guy - and for the whole trip I never quite figured out exactly what he was about - had a powerful camera, more powerful than one would think would be allowed into Korea - and a vest with some deep pockets that seemed to for some kind of illicit purpose. He kept talking about his photography. Also there was a girl, an English teacher in South Korea, which was kind of interesting, because we could kind of compare notes on our respective experiences.

I suspected I would see these people again over the course of the trip; actually, we ended up running into them several times a day, every day. The selection of things for tourists to do there is quite limited. But my count of the number of people I saw did kind of make me doubt Foreign Policy Magazine's count of only 500 American tourists ever ever to visit the north. I would guess there were at 10 at the time I was there, and if each on is coming for only 5 days, that number must be rising quickly.

Here is a picture of our condemned air carrier (the only airline banned by the EU)

(Okay, actually I got a better angle in the Pyongyang airport on the way back.)


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