North Korea is one of those countries you can barely call a tourist destination. Our idea of it is limited to the picture painted by words of people who have been to Pyongyang, and the photos sanctioned by its own government.
Tours are mostly restricted to the capital, and can only be done through state-owned travel agencies. What many people don’t know is there are ways to see at least three more North Korean cities — the parts the North Korean government doesn’t want tourists to see.
Using my iPhone 7 Plus and the Ztylus Revolver M Series Lens Kit, I got to peak at and capture Sinuiju, Uiju, and Chongsu in North Korea by going along the border city Dandong, as well as the Yalu River, the body of water that separates the two countries.
The 6-in-1 lens system offers the following combos: wide-angle + telephoto, fisheye + telephoto, and macro + super macro. Just to get it out of the way: I don’t find the macro and super macro lenses to be as useful since the phone needs to be pointed at subjects really close — less than one inch away — for the camera to focus.
The best I could do were these small flowers and insects from around Dandong that don’t really say much about the place. The bokeh on these photos is cool, but I’d much prefer a portrait lens especially when traveling.
The wide-angle + telephoto and fisheye + telephoto combos are great though, especially because the telephoto lenses provide up to 4x zoom without losing quality, while the wide-angle and fisheye capture so much more than the iPhone 7 Plus’ main lens.
Three bridges connect China to North Korea but only the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge is being used. Majority of North Korea’s international trade is done between Dandong and Sinuiju through this bridge.
Beside it is this pedestrian bridge that any tourist can use but ends in the middle of the river. Both bridges were bombed during the war, but this one was never repaired. On the other side of the river is a ferris wheel, water slide, and people playing basketball.
Dandong is where the Great Wall of China starts in the east and it sits across a mountain called Hushan.
When climbing to the top, there are a few of these passageways that you can use as resting points.
From one of the windows you can see the remainder of the wall that you need to climb.
Getting to the top is no easy feat but it’s worth it since you get a good view of Uiji county.
Here’s Dandong, China on the left, and Uiji, North Korea on the right.
You can go down through the other side so you can get a closer look at agricultural land and some houses in Uiji.
At the foot of the mountain are signs prohibiting people from crossing the border…
… as well as some North Korean products like ginseng, tiger bone liquor, and soap you can buy as souvenirs. They’re also selling North Korean Won, but they’re most likely counterfeit.
Another way to see North Korea is by taking a van further up Dandong. Speedboats cross the Yalu River past this broken bridge, and bring you to an area that’s already North Korean territory.
Up close you can see houses and buildings in Chongsu, North Korea that look abandoned.
But as you go along the river you’ll find signs of life: cows, farmers walking around, and occasionally, their pet dogs. I even saw a lady doing her laundry along the river.
This is what most of the houses I’ve seen look like. Unlike Pyongyang that has plenty of signs of urban development, this part of North Korea remains mostly rural, with agriculture as one of the main sources of living.
Before the boat turns around, you’ll see this bridge that locals use to cross to another part of North Korea. I saw some kids swimming in this area, and a few people on their bikes wearing clothes that look like they’re from the 1980s.
On the way back, the Chinese guide will try to sell you a North Korean bill, which, again, is probably fake.
Apart from the usual North Korean souvenirs I’ve seen in other shops, the ones sold at the wharf include Matryoshka dolls, plush keychains, and selfie sticks.
These photos don’t tell the whole story, just like a Pyongyang tour isn’t a definitive representation of North Korea. For sure there’s a lot more I didn’t see, both good and bad, beyond these border cities; but seeing North Korea through a different lens, no pun intended, without the state-organized tours is one of those life experiences money can never buy.
Before this trip, I thought I’d see heavily barricaded cities with soldiers constantly patrolling the border. Instead, what I saw were North Koreans living their lives as normally as possible, enjoying the outdoors, looking up and not down on screens like the rest of the world.
Samsung Galaxy M20 hands-on: Give the users what they want
Awakening of the sleeping giant
Samsung has been the smartphone market leader for half a decade now, and its flagship phones continue to be an inspiration for everyone. However, while the brand is dominating in developed markets, it has taken a massive beating in the developing ones.
Thanks to players like Xiaomi, the South Korean brand has consistently lost market share in countries like India. Samsung slowly prepared itself to change strategy by the end of last year and intends to go hard in 2019. It announced the new Galaxy M-series lineup of phones in the budget segment and the M10 and M20 are the first ones to roll off the shelf.
The M20 has been launched in India for INR 10,990 (US$ 154) and comes with 3GB RAM and 32GB internal storage. The option with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage costs INR 12,990 (US$ 182). The phone goes up against the Redmi 6 Pro, Realme U1, and even the Mi A2.
To start with, Samsung has opted to go with a basic design, consisting of a plastic body that is curved at the edges and is pretty glossy. The phone is extremely comfortable to hold, and the build quality is top-notch. Even the buttons are very tactile and bezels are smaller.
On the front is a 6.3-inch TFT display with a Full HD resolution and small water-drop style notch on the top. This is the first Samsung phone to feature a notch, and the display quality is surprisingly good. The color production is vivid and satisfying, while the viewing angles are perfect. It is easily visible even under direct sunlight.
For authentication, a fingerprint scanner is located on the rear and it is fast enough. You also have the option of face unlock and it works quickly in well-lit conditions. It has dual-SIM support and there’s a separate slot for microSD card, as well.
Powering the phone is an octa-core Exynos 7904 processor, which is considered to be on par with the Snapdragon 636. It is a very power-efficient processor with more emphasis on the cameras. Day-to-day tasks are handled smoothly and games like PUBG are playable with low graphics.
It has a dual-camera setup on the rear, consisting of a 13-megapixel primary shooter and a 5-megapixel wide-angle sensor. The pictures clicked during daytime are decently saturated but lack sharpness. Even focus tends to get slow in low-light conditions. The wide-angle lens works best in bright surroundings only and is a very handy tool. For selfies, it has an 8-megapixel shooter with built-in beauty enhancements.
It ships with Samsung Experience 9.5 out of the box and is actually well optimized. There is barely any lag and the UI offers a plethora of customizations and features. The company announced that the Android Pie update will be landing soon. Lastly, it has a massive 5000mAh battery that’ll get you through two days of usage.
Xiaomi has been successful because it offers users a balanced product that suits everyone’s needs. With the M20, Samsung goes down the same road. While the recently announced A-series phones were for photography enthusiasts, the M20 is good enough for everything.
The M20 is no disruptor, but an indication that Samsung is gearing up. And as a generation-one product, it’s performing fairly well.
Fujifilm Instax SQ20 hands-on: How good is it?
Trying out the new Motion Mode on doggies!
Fujifilm’s sequel to their first ever digital/analog hybrid is here and it’s looking better than ever. The Instax SQ20 is one classy-looking instant camera but what can it do? With a set of built-in filters and new features like the Motion Mode, it looks like a promising device.
I finally try it out, with help from some doggies, on our hands-on video.
The SQ20 retails for US$ 199 in the US, PhP 12,999 in the Philippines, and SG$ 299 in Singapore.
DALLA DALLA, Crazy Rich Asians: Now Playing
A Valentine’s special!
If you don’t have a date, don’t be grumpy. Sometimes, all you need is self-love and entertainment to keep you going. Have some fun alone time and enjoy what’s now playing at GadgetMatch!
Movies to see
Dragon Ball Super: Broly
Marvin: If you’re single and unhappy about it this month, catching a late showing of Dragon Ball Super: Broly may be the best way to release stress in the theater. It’s by far the best Dragon Ball movie yet with tireless action and gorgeous visuals, plus it’s surprisingly friendly to both old fans and those new to the franchise.
Crazy Rich Asians
MJ: Crazy Rich Asians is a film for those who are ready to take it to the next level. It’s about standing up to people who get in the way of your happiness, and choosing what’s best for the person you love. It’s a dash of romance with a sprinkle of comedy to keep you from crying in heart-wrenching scenes.
TV shows to binge watch
Rodneil: The anime follows a transfer student who seemed sweet and normal at first, but has an insatiable thirst for gambling. It’s a relatively easy watch and you can follow along even if you’re doing something else.
Games to play
Kingdom Hearts III
Rodneil: There’s too much backstory heading into this game that it can get super confusing, especially if this is your first game in the franchise. The story is clunky at best but the game is a visual spectacle. Push the narrative to the side and just play it for the fireworks.
Resident Evil 2
Marvin: I was too afraid to finish Resident Evil 2 on my own as a kid, so I’m glad it’s been remade for my braver adult self. In line with Valentine’s Day, I’d say it’s a perfect game to play with a partner so that you have someone to hold your hand during the most intense zombie sightings. 💕
Albums/Songs/Podcasts to listen to
Kahit Ayaw Mo Na by This Band
Rodneil: Only caught wind of this song recently and I haven’t been able to stop listening since. It talks about someone wanting to work it out with her/his partner. However, the partner seems unwilling. The music invites multiple listens and the way the words flow is ear-candy.
Shine by Pentagon
Rodneil: My obsession with girl group Twice has served as a gateway to other K-Pop tracks, and this is one of them. It’s simply an absolutely fun song to listen to. A great pick-me-up to get you started in the morning.
Can’t Help Falling In Love by Kina Grannis
MJ: Kina Grannis’ strings and acoustic guitar rendition of Elvis Presley’s classic love song makes you remember how love is a force you can’t resist. The emotion you’ll feel in this song is overwhelming — ranging from the bliss of being in love to confusion and even heartbreak.
DALLA DALLA by ITZY
Vincenz: The song’s unique and dynamic blend of sounds, from a hip-hop centric intro and bridge up to a contrasting, bright chorus, makes it a great and catchy debut song (their visuals are exceptional, too). Message of the song? It’s all about empowerment and self-love!
Gokigen Sayonara (A Happy Goodbye) by IZ*ONE
Vincenz: This song caught my ears with its catchy tune and lyrics, which doesn’t usually happen since most J-Pop releases sound so different. Its lively, electro-pop vibe opposes the song’s message about bidding farewell to someone you truly love, but it works.
Cities/Places to visit
Marvin: Now cleaner and more beautiful than ever, Boracay’s beach is the perfect weekend getaway once again. A lot of activities and shops are still unavailable, but if you simply want to soak in the sun and sea breeze, it would be a great time to go once the tourists leave post-Valentine’s.
Now Playing is the GadgetMatch team’s favorite games, movies, TV shows, and more each month. If you’re curious to know what we’re into at the moment, this is what you should check out. So grab your popcorn, get some drinks, and enjoy what’s now playing!
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