Tales of the Reunification Highway
Mr Kang and Mr Ri glance at each other, eyes rolling, barely concealing their exasperation. They’ve been assigned another dumb foreigner. My only offence is a flippant observation and it’s not a very good joke, admittedly, but merely intended as a monotony-breaker..
We’re barrelling south from Pyongyang down Reunification Highway with North Korean rice fields to our left and right. Mr Kang and Mr Ri are government-appointed minders. I spot successive road signs of the familiar white-against-green style used across the world. These count down the distance to Seoul, capital of “US puppet” South Korea (with its own chunk of Reunification Highway). Our destination is Kaesong, just north of the border where the Kaesong Folk Hotel is located.
The freeway is decidedly odd as there’s barely any traffic. We reach tunnels, one in each direction. Southbound is closed for repairs. Our Volvo bounces across a grassy median strip to the “wrong” side. We speed through the tunnel with me silently praying there’s no northbound traffic. Emerging unscathed, we again cross the grass to continue our journey.
It’s time for my joke. “Let’s have lunch in Seoul? It’s so close!” I say with a chuckle.
“It’s not in the itinerary,” an expressionless Mr Kang responds. “Not possible today. Perhaps next time.” Mr Ri explains: “Only after reunification.” My third minder, the stony-faced driver, says nothing. He is, I’m told, unable to understand or speak English. Diplomats familiar with the so-called “hermit kingdom” tell me this trio is additionally tasked with keeping tabs on each other. I’ve no idea whether or not this is true.