Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cycling around Bejing and sorting out visas for North Korea

ALLIE: DAY 23: Friday, 9th of March

Organizing our entry to North Korea and Beijing on bike

The first thing we have to do today is to find the office of “Koryo Tours” and apply for our visa. Unfortunately they have moved to a different location and seem to hide behind the hutongs of the city without any signs helping their customers in locating them. We meet Hannah and she give us a short briefing about the “Do’s and Dont’s” when travelling around the DPRK.

Allie on her bike in Beijing
After an hour of shopping for warm clothes, a torch and some gifts for north Korean kids, we return to the office and receive our visas. Its just a small blue piece of paper, nothing to be stamped into our passports. What a shame!

The weather is lovely and I manage to convince my husband that its best to tour the city by bicycle. He finally agrees and around lunch time we sit on our old Chinese bikes and head for Tiananmen Square. There are a lot of policemen about. It’s the polit-bureaus first session of the year. We find ourselves quite alone on the broad bicycle lanes but crossing the streets is a nightmare with all the heavy traffic. A short detour into one of the few remaining hutongs (square living quarters in traditional Beijing) brings alive the ‘good old times’. But wherever I look I see the Chinese character ‘zhai’ which means ‘tear down’. What a shame!

It’s getting very chilly. I send Phil back home but continue on my own to explore a bit more the lively shopping areas in the hope of finding a birthday present for my dear. My findings are a pair of socks (he looses them at the rate of a pair in a week!), some delicious honey roasted walnuts (actually I buy them in the hope that he will share them with me!) and an alarm clock (again, what a selfish present!).

Phil has had enough of cycling!
 For dinner we end up in the ‘Taiwan restaurant’. We didn’t manage to find out what was so special Taiwanese about the food, but the bean sprouts, corn soup and lotus-potatoes tasted wonderful. After a few sips of strong ‘bai jiu’ (rice wine) we return to our cosy hotel. Tomorrow will be an exciting and long day: on the road to Pyongyang!

PHIL: Mar 9/Day 23

trying local sweet corn
First task is to track down the agency – run by three Brits – who are arranging our visit to North Korea. We must get passports and paperwork to them as early as possible so they can get the DPRK Embassy to issue the visas and air tickets. 

The agency have moved office recently but failed to tell us. God knows how we would have managed without Allie’s Mandarin fluency.The papers are finally issued so it looks like there is no ‘escape’ from the land of the ‘Great Leader’.

Hutong house in downtown Beijing
We hire old-fashioned Chinese-built bicycles, which Allie assures me is the best way to get around the now traffic-strangled city, and venture out in a bitter wind which must have put the chill-factor well below zero. 

Allie’s cycling is erratic, mainly because she will not sit on the saddle and peddle steadily but must stand on the pedals and only make power inputs irregularly. In the streets of any city this would be frustrating for a fellow of ‘normal’ cycling habits. 

In Beijing it it very nearly fatal as we constantly overtake each other whilst trying to dodge other bikes (not many nowadays), cars, tourist buses and truckloads of PLA soldiers. After an hour or so I cry off and find my way back to the hotel whilst Allie persists on her own. I fully expect an apologetic Chinese policeman to knock at my door and advise me she has been crushed at some manic crossroads.

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