China swimmers plunge into N.Korea frozen in past
By Chris Buckley
DANDONG, China (Reuters) - For the avid river swimmers of this Chinese border city, North Korea is 10 minutes' brisk freestyle away and yet a world apart.
Each day in the warmer months in Dandong, hundreds of Chinese swimmers plunge into the narrow Yalu river dividing their country from the North and dozens kick 500 meters to the opposite side for a rest and a glimpse of the poor, withdrawn communist state.
"I go to North Korea every day without ever needing a visa," said Cui Wenbin, a 55-year-old office worker, drying off after his latest visit.
The swimmers despair at what they see of their neighbor, said Lin Senping, a brawny, tanned man in his 50s, who added he "swam to North Korea" most afternoons.
"Sometimes the guards aren't friendly," he said. "They'll aim their guns at you if you start climbing onto the river bank. But it's nothing to be scared of. Just don't go on shore ... North Korea needs China too much to risk an incident."
Dandong's "Yalu River Swimming Association", and much else in this gaudy trade city, reflect many Chinese people's mix of fatalism and disdain concerning North Korea. They see it as stuck in a suffocating communism that their own one-party state escaped.
Swimmers basking on the shore near Dandong's bridge across the river snorted contempt or indifference when asked about reports that North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, is suffering from a serious illness.
"You say Kim Jong-il could be ill?" said Lin. "I'd say he could be mentally ill, for sure." Continued...