Sunday, July 12, 2009

The DMZ

First of all. two silly things happened at the beginning of my trip to the DMZ. 
a) We had to leave the dorm before 6am.
b) Not long before the tour began I realised I was only wearing one contact. Therefore, I could only see properly whist covering my left eye.

So I was a bit tired, grumpy and semi blind, but I was happy I was finally making this journey to this place I had read and watched so much about (during my North Korean documentary obsession faze.) Of course, North Korean tension has risen lately but I didn't want to let it stop me from making this trip, but I have to admit I put on my ponamu for a bit of extra protection.^^

We boarded our tour bus that drove up to the invisible line that divides the North and South - the roads were wide and empty, except for military check points along the way.
We were only allowed to take photos when told. None from the bus. It was going against my being not being able to take pictures of everything. I've made strong mental notes.

Our first stop of the tour was "The Third Tunnel" where we went into one of the estimated 20 underground tunnels that the North Koreans have built in hope of invading Seoul. We rode a wee trolley car that lead us deeper down into the ground, then we walked along the tunnel to a sudden barricade of concrete and barbed wire that stopped anyone going through further. It was pretty uncomfortable, being that far underground, but we had sweet helmets. 
Our tour guide was telling us how one of her customers had actually been on the North Korean tour that happens on the other side of the tunnel. Apparently they say that the South Koreans built the tunnel to attack the North, but the dynamite holes in the rock point south bound proving otherwise.
We then went into the Dora Observatory where we could go North Korean spotting, but I couldn't spot any through the summer haze.
We then went to the Dorasan train station. The whole idea of this place was that it was built with donated money from South Korean civilians in the hope that when North and South Korea reunite, it will be the station between Seoul to Pyeongyang. The plan is that the train would also lead onto China, Russia and Europe. The station is completely ready to go, even having the train stamps and customs station but is completely void of people. It's a pretty weird place.
George Bush stood here. Ha!
We then went to the Freedom Bridge which was used to exchange the prisoners after the Korean war. There is a shrine where South Koreans can write messages for unification...
This place also has a weird vibe to it because on one side there is this lovely sight:
Next to which you can remember your patriotism and buy a flag:
and look out over the landscape:
On the other side you can: have a picnic wearing your couple look:
Take your kids to the fountains:
Or to the amusement park. I'm not saying people should avoid the area of the DMZ but there are all these juxtapositions of happiness and warning wire. Again, weird.

We then received a bulgogi lunch (the best I have ever eaten actually) no one was allowed to drink alcohol incase of this leading them to act like idiots later on. Far enough.
On a side note, at the restaurant I met this wee cutie, who must be about 100 years old. She grew the flowers herself.
 
Then we were back on the bus minus the South Koreans who were on our tour and headed to the more "serious" section: Panmunjom.
We were joined by soldiers on our bus who checked everything; our passports, shoes and clothing. We were warned again not to take pictures, make any sort of hand gestures. Our tour guide kept reminding us of the tension and that all military in the area were on high alert, but we were not needed to be told this as the feeling in the air was tense enough already. I am constantly told by my fellow South Korean co-workers and friends that I should not worry about North Korea and quote "We don't care" but as we moved onto Panmunjom it was a different story. 

We went into the advance camp and had our briefing before we were taken into the JSA (the bit where the South and North Korean soldiers stare at each other and we go into the meeting room) and then a soldier walked over to our guide and whispered something in her ear. Three North Korean bodies were found in the river and the area was suddenly on even higher alert, so we were to go back to the bus and back to Seoul.
So that was it. I was so disappointed, so am going to try and get back to the JSA again before I leave Korea. Still, even after only seeing what we saw - my brain was completely fried.

Interesting things you may or may not know that are sourced from my memory so may not be 100% accurate:
- There were a million land mines dropped in the DMZ area during the war, only 30% have been found.
- There is a big concrete bridge that is along the road by the JSA. It is filled with dynamite and can be blasted at any moment to block the road.
- South Korean soldiers have 2 years compulsory military service. North Korean men have 10 years and women have 7 years.
- The reason we couldn't signal while on the line in front of the North Korean soldiers was that they would take a picture of us and it would be used as propaganda of us saying "hello" to the North Koreans.
- Russian and Chinese tourists are often seen on the North Korean side on the border.
- There is a little town of 200 civilians that is on the DMZ called "Freedom Villiage". They do not have to pay tax and have a 12am curfew in case of kidnapping. It is also the only place in South Korea you can buy North Korean soju and beer.
- This is all I can remember right now.

4 comments:

Alex said...

Whoa intense, what a cool trip. That train station has a suitably weird post apocolyptic thing going on, but I suppose it's a pretty nice gesture...

gianna is going to go crazy for the flower lady

Jenna said...

I just feel that if there is reunification there would probably be some sort of conflict first: on the area where the train station is built.
But the idea of it is quite romantic and it was paid for by civilians so I guess it's ok!
I think G should come over just to come old people watching with me. It's so fun ~ you should come too!

Richarquis de Sade said...

Hey, sounds like a great trip. So you wore your ponamu? I sat there for a few seconds thinking it was a Korean word before I realised... But let's roll with my stupidity for a moment. 보나무 would translate as "probationary tree" and I have to say, if I had one of them, I'd wear it too. I haven't even been there, and it's already making me crazy. Cool. I should be up in Seoul on the afternoon/eve of Fri 24th, and move on on Sun 26th I'd say. I need to get back down the east coast to home, and be in Busan on the 28th for the ferry to Japan, so I can do my 3 days there, and back home Sat 1st. Then back to work Mon 3rd...

Jenna said...

Wow that's a nice connection ~ I don't know, something about my ponamu makes me feel safer.
Do you think you want to go to the DMZ on that weekend? Or another time?