For the next fifteen minutes, we continued down a bumpy dirt road, rarely seeing any other vehicles. We passed a small village consisting of simple adobe buildings. There were a few people riding bicycles, but most were walking. Despite the frigid weather, the villagers were not wearing heavy overcoats. They had on simple dark, drab garments, which matched their gloomy expressions.
I wasn't sure of our location, but it seemed we were headed in the opposite direction of the Tumen Bridge that links North Korea and China. Still, my instincts told me we were traveling parallel to the river, which gave me some relief. I figured they must be taking us to a different, closer border crossing. A military truck approached us, and someone inside motioned for our driver to stop. Their conversation was inaudible, but thankfully, we were soon on the road again.
Suddenly we made a left turn, heading away from the river. This is when I knew immediately we were not going back to China. I grabbed Euna's shoulders, rubbing them as if to warm her, but hoping she would take this as a signal that something was very wrong. We ascended a path and pulled into a larger military base.
We were ushered into an empty room where three officials were waiting. We all sat on the linoleum floor, which was slightly heated by an underground wood- or coal-fired furnace. This was the first time we'd experienced any kind of warmth, and I pressed my hands to the floor to restore the feeling in my fingers.
The officers proceeded to look through all our belongings, showing particular interest in our equipment and money. I handed over the microphone I'd been keeping in my pocket. We had roughly three thousand dollars in our possession, consisting of South Korean, Chinese, and U.S. currency. At each place where we were held, the officers had counted our money and noted how much of each type of currency we had. Here, they meticulously counted the cash again. I suspected they wanted to make sure no money was missing or had changed hands from location to location. They leafed through our passports, pausing to look at each of the dozens of visas in my booklet.
"Why do you have so many visas?" asked one of the officers.
"My family really likes to travel," I replied nervously with Euna translating. He didn't seem convinced.