In the summer of 2009, I had the chance to visit China where my sister and her family were living. We took a day trip to Dandong along the China/North Korea border.
It was a warm summer day when we left Dalian, but by the time we arrived in Dandong it was raining. If there's one place that makes China seem normal, it's Dandong, because right over there, across the Yalu River is North Korea and just by looking, you can tell things are a little crazy over there.
We walked across the pedestrian bridge. It had been bombed during the Korean War but the North Koreans left the damage so Americans couldn't deny they bombed it (crazy?).
From the dead-end bridge we could spot a Ferris Wheel and what appeared to be an amusement park. How normal! How not crazy! Except it's only there for show. The wheel never moved and we only spotted a couple of people walking through the park.
We then drove along the Yalu to a stretch of the Great Wall. Along the way, the skies cleared allowing us to see to the North Korean side, spotted with guard towers and the occasional armed guard.
At the top of one of the towers we could pay to use a telescope to look further into North Korea. A couple of American tourists were taking advantage of the scope but for me, just peering over the Great Wall into North Korea was as close to Kim Jung Il as I needed to get.
Maybe with the death of Kim Jung Il we'll soon know more about life in North Korea, or maybe Kim Jung Un will continue to isolate North Korea and its people with pretend amusement parks and armed borders.