4:40am: Arrived in Antu town of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture after an overnight train journey from Changchun. This time I shared the soft sleeper cabin with an elderly lady and her 3 year old grandson and two young tall built soldiers on their way to a military camp on the tri-border region with North Korea and Russia.
Yanbian is the home to a large proportion of China’s 2-3 million ethnic Koreans, who today have close family, political and economic links with both North and South Korea. For over 3000 years, ethnic Koreans have served with distinction in both the Chinese imperial as well as communist bureaucracy and military hierarchy. One has even become a top Chinese rock star in recent decades. All across the cities in Northeast China, I have come across Korean restaurants many of whom proudly declare their specialty in dog meat. The local Chinese told me that they love Korean food, not to mention Korean movies and stars.
Signboards across Yanbian are bilingual in both Chinese and Korean languages, and I am told that 70% of the party secretaries here are ethnic Koreans. The Chinese-Koreans are a prosperous lot known for their work ethic, technical expertise and entrepreneurship. I have met them on a Siberian domestic flight 8 years ago, and I’ve read in a magazine that one of them is a key strategist in China’s high speed rail programme. They appear to have little or none of the complicated issues that affect ethnic groups such as the Ugyur and Tibetans. I’m told that they do very well in life and 90% of them have travelled overseas, in particular, South Korea. Visits such as these convince some of them that some differences do exist between them and South Koreans, and they do just as well by remaining Chinese citizens.
Yan sifu picked me up at Antu station and drove me to Erdao Baihe, the base camp for Changbaishan (or Mt Changbai), stopping by scenic reservoirs and lakes, plus a deer farm along the way. This region is not only renowned for Mt Changbai, the legendary birthplace of the Manchu and Korean peoples, but also for Chinese medicinal foods such as the deer antler, ginseng and frog fallopian tubes (used in that famous Cantonese cold dessert, the Sugar Hasma).