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Wetback: Can I sneak across the North Korean border without getting caught?

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(To see photos of a housing project in Shenyang, me and Linda at a tomb shrine, the women's delegation and me, Carol at the tomb's parade ground, getting our massages, celebrating at a banquet and getting our ear wax removed, go to my blog.)


For months now, I've been trying to get a visa for North Korea. I've tried every legitimate angle I can think of including filing my visa application several months ago, joining an authorized tour group, applying at the Democratic People's Republic of Korea consulate here in Shenyang, having people call the DPRK on my behalf and just simply standing around and looking pathetic whenever possible. I've exhausted every single legal channel I can think of.

Maybe it's time for me to become an illegal immigrant!

Now I'm starting to see how all those illegal immigrants from Mexico feel. You try all the legal ways to get into the US, you wait for months, nothing works and so you swim the Rio Grande. Maybe I should try to swim the river between North Korea and China? Will I need water wings and a plastic inner tube or what?

And does the DPRK also have a "Migra"? OMG, they will be able to tell that I'm not a North Korean! I'm screwed.

"Jane," e-mailed my friend Collin, "don't even think about trying to go to the DPRK on your own. They will catch you and put you in jail." You mean like they do with illegal immigrants back in the States?

Even though swimming the river between China and North Korea would make a great story, even I am not that stupid or desperate -- yet. But, just in case my last frantic attempts to obtain a visa fall through by Saturday, I have developed a secret Plan B. Don't tell no one but here it is:

Yesterday I was wandering around through the back streets behind my hotel all lost and confused and trying to find the North Korean consulate again and street-hiking through block after block of what looked like public housing units build back in the days of Chairman Mao, when I suddenly rounded a corner and saw -- rows upon rows of coiled barbed wire all over the street, guards on patrol everywhere and blast walls. Hey, I know that architectural style! This must be the American consulate! And it was.

"Do you think that you could help me get a visa to North Korea?" I asked the consul's representative once I'd gotten through the guards, gates, body scans and X-ray machines -- but like I said about the Kuwait consulate staff, once you get through all that security, American diplomats are helpful, intelligent and nice.

But they aren't miracle workers. No help with the DPRK visa for me.

"But I do have a suggestion," said the rep. "Why don't you take a trip to Dandong on the China-North Korea border? It's only a four-hour drive from here. Then once at Dandong, they have boat tours and while you are out on the river enjoying yourself, you would actually, technically, be in North Korea -- if only for a few minutes. And then at least when you get back home you could say that you've been there -- legally." Hmmm. I could be a wetback only without getting wet. Sounds like a plan!

PS: I also want to tell you about the other six people in the tour group I was supposed to travel with and who are currently in North Korea (without me!) I totally enjoyed meeting them and their story is wonderful and unique.

"We call ourselves the Delegation for Friendship Among Women and we've been traveling together and visiting different countries since 1970," Mary Pomeroy told me. "We've been to 34 countries so far, including Iraq, Libya, Argentina, Albania, Bhutan and Bangladesh."

Mary's daughter, Jill Christiansen, has been going on the tours with her mom since 1973, back when Jill was a teenager.

Then I met Linda Hoeschler, a retired computer analyst from St. Paul, Minnesota. And I have a picture to prove it too.

Beth Fluke sat next to me at lunch. She owns a retail store in Philadelphia called "Dandelion" that sells jewelry designed by Guatemalans and Native Americans. "How are the primaries coming in Pennsylvania?" I asked her.

"Clinton is supposed to be in the lead but everyone I know is voting for Obama. However, the mayor of Philly has endorsed Hillary because Obama had endorsed his rival during the 2006 election campaign."

Sylvia Sabo had an interesting story. She was the wife of a long-time Minnesota Congressman. "What was that like?"

"At election time every other year, he used to campaign door-to-door every day and stand in front of supermarkets on weekends. It was hectic. And I almost didn't get to come on this trip because my husband retired in 2006 but we couldn't sell our house in DC until just last week." So the housing slump has effected Congressmen too.

I loved all of these women, but I really enjoyed spending time with Carol Whitmore. She teaches school in Texas -- but not just any school. "We have an entire town peopled by special-needs adults. They run a nursery, a cafe and a gift shop. It's called Brookwood." That's inspiring. Then she showed me an album from her daughter's recent wedding. I'm a sucker for wedding photos.

Then all of us trooped off to a massage parlor for an amazing massage treatment that lasted two and a half hours. We were all put into this one little room and worked over from head to foot by professionals -- take your mind out of the gutter, not THAT kind of professional! Anyway, they pounded us with hammers, soaked our feet in boiling water, lit candles and used our ears as candlesticks in order to draw the wax out of our ears and would have walked on our backs if we had let them. It was a very bonding experience -- and it only cost $25 each.

My massager guy was not really very talented but boy was he enthusiastic. He was like someone who really wanted to learn the piano but didn't really have the ear for it. So he put in a lot of effort. At first I just wanted him to go away and stop poking at me. But after an hour or two, it just simply felt really good.

When the six women got onto their bus to drive off to the airport without me, I was really sad. I would miss them. These six women have been traveling together for years, trying to bring peace and friendship to the world. Go them!

Here's their itinerary. I'm totally happy for them that they got to go to the DPRK. But, darn it, it shoulda been me doing all this cool stuff too!

"Wednesday -- Dinner at the Hotel Koryo in Pyongyang.

"Thursday -- Visit to home of President Kim Il Sung and Arch of Triumph built to commemorate the Korean resistance to Japan from 1925-1945. Lunch. Visit to the Kimilsungia flower festival and the Mangyongdae Children's Palace school of the arts. Leave hotel for Youth Soiree.

"Friday -- Go to Mount Myohyang. Mountain climbing. Lunch. Visit farm and Buddhist temple.

"Saturday -- Visit the USS Pueblo and the Sinchon War Museum. Lunch. Visit National Women's Organization. Lunch. Dinner.

"Sunday -- visit Panmunjom Demilitarized Zone, concrete wall built by the U.S. to divide North and South Korea. Lunch. Dinner.

"Monday -- Meet with government representative to discuss US/DPRK relations. Visit Central Historical Museum. Lunch. Visit Kunchaek University of Technology, Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, children's school and Pyongyang cultural exhibition. Dinner.

"Tuesday -- All-day visit to a farming co-op and rural community. Farewell dinner."

Geez Louise! I can't believe I'm missing all that food!
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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)

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