Weekend Excursion: Dandong and Living in Chinese Countryside–Liaoning Province

CET Harbin staff set up a weekend trip for us to visit Dandong, a city that borders North Korea, and experience an overnight homestay in Liaoning countryside. Liaoning Province is south of Heilongjiang Province (where Harbin resides). We left Harbin around 7:30pm and took a 12-hour overnight train to Dandong. We then began our weekend adventure:

When we arrived in Dandong, we set off to see the Korean border. We boarded a boat on the Yalu River (which splits the two countries’ borders) and coasted along the shore, taking a closer look of the North Korean shore. I felt somewhat silly looking so intently at the other side of the river–“Wow! That’s North Korea!”–But, it’s only one itty-bitty sliver of what North Korea is. However, the country is such a mystery to me. So, even seeing the coast was intriguing.

The Korean city that we were peering into is called Sinŭiju. While I was there, no one told me. They just called it North Korea. After thinking about that, it’s quite strange. Dandong isn’t ambiguously called “China,” it has it’s own identity and local customs. It’s a small part of the gigantic whole that is China. However, this small North Korean town seems to not have its own identity, it was “North Korea” from the tourists’ eyes.

The Broken Bridge

A broken bridge once connected the two countries (one bridge next to it–Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge–still connects to North Korea). It was an iron truss bridge of 3,098ft in length. “Both bridges were bombed by American aircrafts during the Korean War. From November 1950 to February 1951, the United States used B-29 and B-17 heavy bombers, and F-80 fighter-bombers to repeatedly attack the bridges in an attempt to cut off Chinese supplies to the North Koreans. The bridges were repeatedly repaired. The 1911 bridge was left destroyed and only the newer 1943 bridge was repaired and used at the end of the war. The North Koreans claimed that they did not want to rebuild the broken bridge so that the United States could not deny the fact they destroyed it. Four spans of the old bridge remained on the Chinese side of the river, giving it the name the “Broken Bridge” (断桥)” (Wikipedia).

The Broken Bridge is now a tourist hotspot for curious visitors to get a closer look at the mysterious North Korean riverbank. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It’s interesting to be in a country that has good relations with North Korea. Harbin (and Dandong) have many North Korean restaurants and shops speckled around the city. In the U.S., you would never see this. We have no way of experiencing North Korean culture, we only see photos that occasionally appear in newspapers or news channels. Those photos only show narrow aspects of North Korea: its backwardness and militaristic government. In Northern China, I get to eat their food and meet Chinese that are of the North Korean minority group. Though it’s still not much, it’s more than what I experienced in the states.

Me and Sinŭiju (North Korean town) behind me. During the boat trip along the coast, the North Korean border did not have much development.

After the boat ride, we took a bus out to Liaoning countryside to an area called Ke Mountain. Scattered within its forest and peak  were Daoist temples. We visited the mountain to observe the traditional Chinese architecture of the temples.

Hidden Dragon in the Forest

Red Wishes and Bells

When I visit temples, I normally see trees or small “bell pagodas” wrapped with red sheets filled with wishes. I do not know what this is…I called it a “bell pagoda.” I’ll be sure to ask next time I visit a temple!

Temple Built into the Mountain

This is the temple at the peak of Ke Mountain. It was such a sight to see the old roof tiles with plant-growth and the use of the mountain to connect the temple with nature. While walking through the tranquil forests and taking in the temple’s environment, my spirit really does feel refreshed. In large Chinese cities, I seem to lose myself, get stressed, and forget about how beautiful China can be. In America, I am a city-girl…In China, my heart is in the countryside.

Local taking a break at the peak. 

After Ke Mountain, we took a bus to a farm where we would spend the night. We ate a large dinner (white fish, corn, sweet potato, local vegetables, pork, and chicken) and then spent the night singing karaoke and dancing next to the tall bonfire. We ate s’mores, celebrated a classmate’s birthday, and chatted late into the night. It was a good day.

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