Excerpt: Somewhere Inside
The river wasn't immediately within sight when we got out of the car. We had to walk through the grass and over a small mound of dirt to reach it. The sun was just beginning to peek through a thin layer of fog as we made our way toward the border. The only noise was from our own footsteps and breath. When we arrived at the river's edge, we saw that it was frozen. That's what we were hoping for. Knowing that many defectors attempt to cross the border in the winter months so they can walk across the ice rather than navigate through the rushing waters, we too intended to set foot on the frozen river to give our audience a glimpse into this world.
Our guide made his way onto the ice and we followed. When I placed my boot onto the frozen river, the sound of crackling ice sent chills throughout my body. Though the temperature outside was bitterly cold, spring was settling over the region, and parts of the river snapped under my feet. I feared the ice was not too far from breaking. I began to tiptoe ever so carefully, feeling the crunch of icicles with each step. I held my breath, somehow convincing myself that this made me feel lighter. As Euna followed me on the ice, she began filming the area with her digital video camera. Mitch pointed his camera at me as I narrated where we were. I motioned toward North Korea on the other side of the narrow river. From here, I could see why the area has become a popular crossing point—the width of the river seemed to be the length of an Olympic-size pool.
Our guide then let me hold his black cell phone, the one he used for smuggling operations. I explained how smugglers like him call their North Korean connections and do business. Euna asked me to walk along the ice so that she could get some shots of me. I proceeded cautiously, walking parallel to the riverbank. Until this point, I never thought I would be setting foot on North Korean soil. There wasn't a single sign or fence to indicate the international border, but we knew North Korea was on the other side of the river.
Our guide began walking across the ice toward North Korea while making several low-pitched hooting sounds. His actions startled me at first, but I assumed he was trying to make contact with the border guards he knew. He continued walking and motioned for us to follow him. We did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. Off in the distance was a small village, which our guide explained was where the North Koreans wait to be smuggled into China.