From the Korean Peace Train - by Ann Ng
Your national coordinator, along with Fay and Sandy Yule were the only three Australians on the Peace Train. The latter two bravely ventured forth and joined the train from its origin in Berlin on 6th October through to Moscow, then Irkutsk, but Ann was only there from the Beijing-Busan segment on the 20th October onwards (along with Nina Nayoan, our Regional Women's Coordinator from the Hong Kong WSCF office).
There were complications arising from the South Korean side, and China didn't help either, nor the media, and finally we were told (or rather not told) that we couldn't go into Pyongyang. Still, there were many seeds of success in the trip - for a group of at least 88 and sometimes more than a 100 to travel together so smoothly and so caringly .... was a feat in itself. It was peace in action affirming that walls will fall down when there is the will and God's grace.
The first few days were dominated by German conversations all around me, but when the Ethiopians and Indians re-joined the trip in Seoul, English became the main language again. There were quite a few German Koreans (diaspora) and our two journalists/cameramen were also German. For at least one person, it was a completely unexpected dream come true to travel on the Trans-Siberian; for others an amazing once-in-a-lifetime journey with so many Korean people. For all, it was a sharing of Korean people's pain and agony. One woman wept as she realised that her hopes to re-unite with two sisters were dashed yet again, and others were very silently mournful. One pastor did his best by going to the North Korean embassy in Beijing on his own to 'appeal' but to no avail. For the 'internationals' it was a learning, uniting, fellowship-building, bonding, joyful, exhausting, sometimes-no-showering-for-four-days experience. Everyone had stories to tell about how the tyres got changed at each country's border as they crossed into the next, with all of them (the passengers) still on the train! Imagine being lifted up (clunk clunk clunk!!)
The youth on the train were just magnificent people; I didn't get to know the ones who re-joined in Busan (couldn't get visas from China which had not blessed the trip, so we couldn't wear our prominently blue Peace Train jackets while in that country) but those who were with us in Beijing and Dandong in China were pretty special to have opted to come along. Daniel and Nazar who worked as interns for a full year in Korea did a huge amount (the former a young Korean who grew up in Germany, on verge of being ordained, and the latter a Ukrainian). Lucas was from Brazil (the only South American on the trip) and Rebecca was German, Heinrik was Swedish, Lars Norwegian or Swedish and larger than life Shakespeare was from India, doing further studies in Korea. I'm sure I have forgotten someone.
Among the beloved oldies, Sook Ja and another delightfully-peaceful looking Korean lady, we weren't sure who was really older - but both could claim to be 78 or 77, and there were certainly more than a few people who put me to shame by their fitness. Those over 65 sometimes scored free or half-price entry into places (lol).
Lots of trips to Korean churches, too many posh meals from Beijing onwards, queues and waiting, worship on the bus each morning, wide-ranging conversations and just before we left China, sailing for an hour and a half along the Yalu River (which divides China from North Korea) and checking out life on the other side - it looked idyllic despite the bare-stripped mountains (now growing corn which the government wants to tax as well) ... A few people cycling from one village to the next, a few 'spots' of women washing along the river, one dilapidated gigantic chemical plant, and otherwise quiet-looking space ...
Dandong where the Chinese, North Korean and South Korean co-exist peacefully was most interesting. There is a Broken Bridge there and another over which all the traffic going between the 2 countries traverses, and another new bridge being built with hopes of new joint economic development. Whether this will be successful in the long run is anyone's guess at present.
But the North Korean restaurants and their 'restricted' communities in Dandong was something I never expected to encounter. Our two tour guides there were a Chinese North Korean woman (she grew up in Pyongyang as her maternal grandfather literally removed his family during the Cultural Revolution) and a very charming, pretty young American-Korean PhD student who was doing her studies on how new cities grow/develop. Without their fluent Korean and English we would not have learnt half as much about this last stop.
Well, I will stop writing here, it must be bedtime. I'm sure that once I click 'send' I will remember all the more interesting things I forgot to write about.
Cheers, friends! Stay well,
P.S.. Check out the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nll2g2xKig0