Beijing to Pyongyang and Illicit Goods

September 26th, 2011
23

I’ve been to North Korea six times. I used to only fly, but for the past three years I’ve taken the train.  Because I first visited the DPRK by train in July 2009, all of my train based visits have taken place since the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874, a resolution that has

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About the Author

Stewart Lee



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  • Sandra

    Illicit goods? or orange squash and instant coffee for an increasing number of thirsty tourists… or perhaps medical material and medecine crucially lacking in the country.

    • Stewart

      Sandra, I don’t dispute there are many food products included – I did point that out. These are transported quite openly.  Its whats in the other boxes that raises concern – and the fact that bribes are clearly being paid at Dandong.  Stewart

      • Sandra

        I like a good debate :) I have also witnessed bribes for medical material and cigarettes.

        • Stewart

          Indeed – but were they wrapped up as superstitiously as the goods on this train?

          • Sandra

            superstitiously? I agree with you there is a lot of dodgy business going on between China and North Korea and  the train route can easily be used for illegal trade but the fact that these boxes were well packed and tidy does not mean that the goodies were illegal. You argue that these boxes are “packaged to the point that opening is near impossible for the average tourist” might be the reason why there are so well wrapped, don’t you think? Anyway great story. I like to play devil’s advocate sometimes, there is enough bad reporting on NK without us adding to it for the sake of sensationalism :)

          • Stewart

            You raise fair points, Sandra.  I don’t know what was in them, but it does seem odd that they have been on every train journey I’ve taken into the DPRK – and they are wrapped the same way each time.  Surely there would be more variation in wrapping if this was just normal cargo being shipped?

          • Sandra

            Well I gues you will have to go again and let us know :)

  • Sandra

    Illicit goods? or orange squash and instant coffee for an increasing number of thirsty tourists… or perhaps medical material and medecine crucially lacking in the country.

    • Stewart

      Sandra, I don’t dispute there are many food products included – I did point that out. These are transported quite openly.  Its whats in the other boxes that raises concern – and the fact that bribes are clearly being paid at Dandong.  Stewart

      • Sandra

        I like a good debate :) I have also witnessed bribes for medical material and cigarettes.

        • Stewart

          Indeed – but were they wrapped up as superstitiously as the goods on this train?

          • Sandra

            superstitiously? I agree with you there is a lot of dodgy business going on between China and North Korea and  the train route can easily be used for illegal trade but the fact that these boxes were well packed and tidy does not mean that the goodies were illegal. You argue that these boxes are “packaged to the point that opening is near impossible for the average tourist” might be the reason why there are so well wrapped, don’t you think? Anyway great story. I like to play devil’s advocate sometimes, there is enough bad reporting on NK without us adding to it for the sake of sensationalism :)

          • Stewart

            You raise fair points, Sandra.  I don’t know what was in them, but it does seem odd that they have been on every train journey I’ve taken into the DPRK – and they are wrapped the same way each time.  Surely there would be more variation in wrapping if this was just normal cargo being shipped?

          • Sandra

            Well I gues you will have to go again and let us know :)

  • Ndkr

    An iPad being confiscated? That’s a bit of a concern…! I’m considering a trip to China and the DPRK next year, and I’d be taking my iPad for reading e-books and doing general online stuff in China when wi-fi is accessible. However, mine doesn’t have a SIM card slot, hence it requires a wireless network to operate any kind of Google Maps function… given that wi-fi isn’t exactly prolific in the DPRK, I would’ve thought it’d be no problem?

    • Stewart

      Technically, no wifi capable hardware is allowed in the DPRK!

    • PC

      Wifi isn’t a problem – I took my laptop there as a tourist as did others in my group.

      GPS and mobile phones are a problem for them. At entry they looked for GPS capable devices and were very proficient at finding them – one guy had his gps camera confiscated (returned when he left).

      My mobile wasn’t confiscated until customs so I was able to scan and see the one DPRK network at the airport.

      We left via train and they took all our cameras at their exit port opposite Dandong. They went through over 40 cameras in 10 mins so must have a team of people in the station. They dont do this if you leave by air so I think they are sensitive about some of the exit rail route. We knew it would happen so just backed up our photos to laptops just before the inspection. The whole process is a joke.

      • PC

        iPads are dubious to take in as the 3G model obviously has mobile Internet and GPS. The wifi only one has neither. I’m sure I can remember someone taking an iPad in, but you may have hassles.

        They don’t want people using GPS. They also don’t want locals being able to use mobile phones on the Chinese network. Someone in our group had a 3G Kindle which wasnt confiscated (my wifi only one wasn’t either). Anyway, he was browsing the web using Chinese networks from within DPRK (near Dandong). I’m guessing they don’t want their citizens getting hold of Internet devices like that.

  • Ndkr

    An iPad being confiscated? That’s a bit of a concern…! I’m considering a trip to China and the DPRK next year, and I’d be taking my iPad for reading e-books and doing general online stuff in China when wi-fi is accessible. However, mine doesn’t have a SIM card slot, hence it requires a wireless network to operate any kind of Google Maps function… given that wi-fi isn’t exactly prolific in the DPRK, I would’ve thought it’d be no problem?

    • Stewart

      Technically, no wifi capable hardware is allowed in the DPRK!

    • PC

      Wifi isn’t a problem – I took my laptop there as a tourist as did others in my group.

      GPS and mobile phones are a problem for them. At entry they looked for GPS capable devices and were very proficient at finding them – one guy had his gps camera confiscated (returned when he left).

      My mobile wasn’t confiscated until customs so I was able to scan and see the one DPRK network at the airport.

      We left via train and they took all our cameras at their exit port opposite Dandong. They went through over 40 cameras in 10 mins so must have a team of people in the station. They dont do this if you leave by air so I think they are sensitive about some of the exit rail route. We knew it would happen so just backed up our photos to laptops just before the inspection. The whole process is a joke.

      • PC

        iPads are dubious to take in as the 3G model obviously has mobile Internet and GPS. The wifi only one has neither. I’m sure I can remember someone taking an iPad in, but you may have hassles.

        They don’t want people using GPS. They also don’t want locals being able to use mobile phones on the Chinese network. Someone in our group had a 3G Kindle which wasnt confiscated (my wifi only one wasn’t either). Anyway, he was browsing the web using Chinese networks from within DPRK (near Dandong). I’m guessing they don’t want their citizens getting hold of Internet devices like that.

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