Reporter's journal: Uncertainties back and forth on ground before we finally depart from Wonsan

2018-05-24 08:47CGTN Editor: Gu Liping ECNS App Download

Around two dozen reporters have been invited by the DPRK government to film the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear facility, where the DPRK has conducted all six of its nuclear tests since 2006.

On Tuesday morning, reporters from these four countries (the Republic of Korea was a notable omission) boarded a charter flight provided by the DPRK that took us to the country's eastern coastal city of Wonsan.

On the flight, there was nothing special compared to what is provided by ordinary commercial airlines: Young, professional and good-looking female flight attendants, who speak at least three languages, including Korean, Chinese and English, served us a decent meal on the two-hour flight with a hamburger, fresh water and Korean juice. We were allowed to shoot anything on the flight, and the flight attendants normally looked into our nosy cameras with a professional smile.

After a lengthy and strict customs procedure at Wonsan Kalma airport (almost every single item in our luggage was taken out and carefully examined), we were taken to the Kalma hotel in the city's suburbs.

Secluded from the real local life, the hotel is built right along the sunny beaches of Wonsan, with the construction site for another high-rise holiday hotel right outside the windows of our rooms.

Some said it was because local authorities have ordered construction to be suspended in the hopes of a quieter stay for the foreign guests on this very rare visit, while others suspect it was just a sham to indicate that the city enjoys a booming economy. 

Anyway, it was one of the DPRK's efforts to make a good impression to the outside world.

The reporters mainly appreciated the hospitality, though they have not received a schedule given by the DPRK officials yet. We had been told by the officials that we could take a chartered train on Tuesday evening, a few hours after we landed in Wonsan and then arrive at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site by Wednesday morning. 

But amid drizzle in Wonsan, we were told that the train was canceled because of bad weather conditions along the way. As the weather cleared out on Wednesday morning, almost all of the reporters chased after the DPRK officials, asking when they could depart.

Then we read on the Internet (yes, we do have Internet access here, but it's only super-expensive cabled access provided in one specific room in the hotel) that the ROK unification department said on Wednesday that eight ROK reporters would be able to join us and travel on the same train.

According to our guide (each media outlet has one guide to look after it almost all the time), we would go on an 11-hour train journey before embarking on a bus trip followed by a hike, climbing through the mountains on foot all the way to the site.

The Punggye-ri nuclear test site is a remote place, which no reporter has ever visited – until now.

The DPRK has detonated nuclear explosives six times in the past 12 years, each time causing earthquakes clearly felt in northeastern China, concerns of radioactive leaks in neighboring regions, and tighter sanctions by the United Nations.

The latest test came in September 2017, after which the DPRK claimed it had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb that could be carried by an intercontinental missile.

Experts are divided over the safety of the environmental conditions for the journalists at the site. Some say repeated explosions have caused tunnels to collapse and leak potentially disastrous radioactive materials, which Pyongyang denies.

As it is always right to be on the side of caution, most reporters have brought with them a hazmat suit and a Geiger counter to detect radiation. The DPRK confiscated all the Geiger counters at Kalma airport, saying the data was classified, but did allow in the hazmat suits.

So we are expecting a long mountain hike covered in an eight kilogram hazmat without knowing whether it is ultimately necessary. It might be too early for us to worry about that now, as we still have no clear sign of when and if we can eventually board the train and whether the ROK reporters will be able join us.

A ROK media group have already arrived the hotel in Wonsan and the whole media group will finally depart for the nuclear test site on Wednesday evening.

By Han Peng


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