– By Kwang and Kook-Wha Koh
It was April, 2007. The drizzling rain could not stop our trip to Dan Dong from Shenyang, China, which is about a three-hour drive from Shenyang. Shenyang is in Manchuria, about 350 miles northeast of Beijing. It was the most informative, exciting and memorable trip I had in my entire life … our trip to Dan Dong, China.
The land I was standing on was “our land” that was once owned by the Kingdom of Koguryo and Balhae.
Koguryo occupied much of today’s Manchuria and part of Siberia (see map). Since its formation in 57 BC, Koguryo became the most powerful nation in the Far East until it was surrendered by the Silla-Tang (China) Alliance in 668 A.D.
Balhae (698-926 A.D.) was an ancient multiethnic kingdom established after the fall of Koguryo. Actually, Dae Jo-Yong, a former Koguryo general, unified the several ethnical tribes and Koguryo elements. He was the founder of Balhae. Balhae occupied (as you can see on the map) southern parts of Manchuria, Primorsky Krai, Russia and northern parts of the Korean peninsula.
By historians, the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Baekdu Mountain around the tenth century did great damage to the agriculture and even social disorder. The tribe of the Khitans took advantage of this natural disaster. Balhae fell to the Khitans in 926 A.D.
Later Balhae was annexed to Koryo (founded by Wang-gun in 918 A.D.). Koryo was moved by the Joseon dynasty in 1392.
I made a quick review with you on our history in which our ancestors had a glorious life and the power to control the vast land of Manchuria in China for almost one thousand years before the Koryo dynasty.
Here I was in Dan Dong, our land in Manchuria:
Dan Dong is the border city between North Korea and China, actually Manchuria, divided by the Yalu River which has its origin from Lake Chonji (means Heaven Lake) and is the longest river in North Korea. The Yalu River is the bloodline of North Korea. It produces electricity, transportation channel, fishing industry and attracts year round tourism. The City of Sinuiju is in North Korea, just across from Dan Dong, like Detroit in the United States and Windsor in Canada.
Rain drops were getting bigger and bigger. The rain in April in Northern China made us shiver and search for a warm place. Under the rain I walked on the old bridge connecting North Korea and China on the Yalu River which was built by the Japanese in 1930 and was destroyed during the Korean War in the 1950’s. China and North Korea jointly built a new bridge between North Korea and China but they left the old bridge as it is, as a memorial of the bloody Korean War.
I stood at the edge of the bridge which was the last piece of cement hanging on the water and looked over at North Korea with the very dim hope that I could find my birthplace, Samsu, Kapsan near Baekdu Mountain.
The only thing spreading in front of my eyes on the North Korean side was the black soil without any crops. Maybe it was too early to put the seeds on the ground, especially because of the cold front from Manchuria. I could not see any high rise buildings, even one-story buildings, like in Dan Dong where there are many high rise office buildings and apartments. Far, far away a couple of chimneys jumped out from nowhere. There was no smoke nor steam from the chimneys
I had about 45 minutes boat ride along the Yalu River on the China side. Our boat was cruising almost in the middle of the Yalu River but sometimes intentionally (?) or not the boat was close to the North Korean side. Several rusty boats were docking and a couple of people were doing repair work. We waved our hands but they just looked at us … no interest … no curiosity, just like robots, without any expression. A banner told us, “Kim, Jong Il is the sun in the 21st century”. The North Korean people worship him as a god. But on the Dan Dong side, the shining colorful tourist boats were waiting for the guests. Along the river is a beautiful park, monument and series of restaurants, especially Korean restaurants in Dan Dong.
The hotel was located about a couple of blocks away from the Yalu River and the park. Kwang went by foot to the park and observed the activities. Groups of people exercised in the park; Tai Chi, running along the track, ballroom dancing with loud music from the jukebox and voice exercises with high-pitched notes. The Hotel Pacifica was generally clean and our room was comfortable and roomy with a teapot and TV set which was broadcasting the Korean programs from South Korea. The lobby was busy and noisy with a group of people for parties. I almost put my fingers in my ears in an attempt to avoid the noise.
When Kwang came back from the park, the red plastic arch stood in front of the entrance to the hotel. The size of the arch was 10 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide and about 1 ½ ft. diameter. The red arch means wedding ceremony and receptions are here. The bride entered this arch with the Chinese traditional cart carried by four men and after passing through the arch the bride got off the cart and entered the hotel and she changed her clothes to the Western white wedding gown.
After the light breakfast with dimsum we arrived at the east end of The Great Wall which started at the top of Five Tiger Mountain. The length was about one hour walk up to the top and ½ hour down. It was a very easy and comfortable course for hiking. With the constant repairs and maintenance, all the stones were in the right places, also the watchtowers with the holes for guns or bow and arrow shooting. At the top we could see the wide field of North Korean black fields.
The final stop was the Korean War Memorial Tower and the Korean War Museum which were built in July, 1993, forty years after the Korean War ended. On display outside of the museum were Russian made tanks, airplanes, equipment and trucks. Inside the museum there are pictures of scenes of battlegrounds, refugees, soldiers and generals on the walls. Quite a collection. In a glass cabinet there was a letter from Kim, Il Sung and Park, Hyunyang to Mao Tse Tung asking his help during the Korean War in neat Korean characters but they both signed their names in Chinese characters.
The final stop was Yibukua means one jump to North Korea from Dan Dong.
I was told that usually North Korean soldiers with guns patrolled the border but when I arrived there we did not see any North Korean soldiers because of the last night’s rain. It raised the water level and we could not make it with just one jump to North Korea.
I want to make two things very clear to my readers, especially those who do not have experience or knowledge of the Korean War, that the Korean War was not started by South Korea as indicated in the Korean War Museum in Dan Dong and other places. (This is only my personal opinion). The second most important thing, is that the land of Koguryeo and Balhae in Manchuria were an area many times larger than North and South Korea combined.
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