Finally reached Ji'an on the Chinese-North Korean border after 8 hours on 2 buses, through desolate coal mining towns, pine-tree forests, ginseng farms and a region of round green hills that resemble firm symmetrical breasts of young womenin Italian art films. At the end of the journey, I was completely worn out, not only by the lack of lunch (though thank goodness I had 15 dumplings for breakfast) but also the odor of miners and farmers who were fellow passengers on this journey. (Sorry for the snobbishness, but you would understand me if you were squeezed into a small bus with dozens).
Ji'an lies on the northern shore of the , flanked by mountains which once hosted fortresses of the kings of ancient Koguryo Empire, whose UNESCO-listed ruins would be the focus of my visit tomorrow.
Ji'an is a small border city with a few malls (which Chinese city does not have one?), many 4 to 8 storey tall apartment and office blocks and lots of restaurants and shops. Cars cruised around and young couples strolled along the promenade on the banks of the Yalu, which were full of souvenir shops, cafes and fish restaurants. The mountains on the Chinese side are green, the result of strict Chinese policy against logging. On the other side of the river, the North Korean town looks dark, drab and quiet, and the hills above it bare, devout of any trees and even grass in some areas. Yet another sign of the economic bankruptcy and environmental devastation of North Korea.
Cold and hungry, I stepped into a Korean restaurant and threw away all hesitation in trying a claypot soup dish that cannot be found in Singapore. After all, this is the favorite of the Chinese-Korean community. It was tasty, almost like a lean form of lamb, and the Koreans have used the right mix of spices and herbs.
Tomorrow, I will visit the ruins of ancient Koguryo in and around Ji'an, before heading for Shenyang, Liaoning Province.