Tales of the Re­uni­fi­ca­tion High­way

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRIS PRITCHARD

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.

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