Our boat cruises right up to the North Korean shore, where children in shorts and ragged T-shirts are splashing in the Yalu River. We speed along the shoreline, past some idle construction cranes, rusty tugboats, and an unmoving Ferris wheel. Then just like that, we're zipping back to the Dandong side, to the skyscrapers, the bustling riverfront promenade lined with tourists, and the never-idle construction sites.
We wander out to the end of the "broken bridge" that stops abruptly mid-river, destroyed by the U.S. during the Korean War. Like all the good tourists do, we pose for photos next to the bomb shells perched on the end of the bridge.
Not far from the Dandong train station, we find a North Korean restaurant. Each table is hidden behind a bamboo screen. But that doesn't stop the two men at the next table from poking their heads over to gawk at the foreigners. The staff doesn't quite know what to do with us either. First one, then another, then another server comes to take our order. Each looks at us wide-eyed and rushes away.
The men at the next table summon the reluctant staff. In my halting Mandarin, I manage to convey that we'd like some grilled meat and a vegetable dish. We get some excellent charcoal-grilled beef and what turns out to be a huge platter of oddly-battered tempura-like things.
Perhaps afraid that we hadn't ordered enough food, the men send over a small grilled fish, which is simple and tasty. One of the men asks if he can sit down at our table, and when we agree, he whips out his mobile phone, punches some numbers, and hands the phone to my friend Lynn. On the other end is his 15-year-old son who knows a few words of English. He understands "Hello" and "Thank you" and not much else. But it's a nice gesture.