Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Going To The DMZ

            One of the reasons I chose to teach in Korea was to visit the DMZ.  I decided that if Landon came to Korea before going to China then I would take him with me as a birthday present.  I was pumped it worked out we would experience it together.  We left late Friday night and made it to our hotel by 3am.  We grabbed a few hours sleep and went off to catch our bus.  Taking the advice of Maggie and Graham I booked our tour spots a month in advance.  You can go on a tour to only see the DMZ but I wanted to see it and go to the border.  I used Tour DMZ to go on both tours and I recommend you do the same.  They were easy to work with and the tours went smoothly.  Click here for their website:  TourDMZ.     
            We got on the bus and I saw a friend, who went on the Hwacheon Ice Festival trip, Amanda and her mom.  It's a small world we foreigners live in, in Korea.  I won't go into depth about the history of the DMZ for that click here:  DMZ History.
              Our tour guide made sure to emphasize not to stray from the tour group nor take pictures unless we were allowed.  Looking over the Han River she explained there was barbed wire fences along the riverbank.  They're there to keep out defectors and spies.  Anyone caught trying to cross the river will be shot.  After an hour on the bus we made it to our first checkpoint.  We stopped and a South Korean guard checked our passports. 
The first checkpoint.
            Our first stop was at the Dorasan train station.  It's the only place in South Korea that you can see Pyeongyang as a destination.  It was opened up 10 years ago as part of South Korea's "Sunshine Policy".  However it's now closed because of the high tensions with North Korea.

To Pyeongyang.

All South Korean guards near or at the DMZ have to be over six feet naturally or with lifted shoes.

Notice the guard's shoes.

If anyone could travel through North Korea then I could leave from Gwangju and end up in London three weeks later.
            Next, we went to the Observation Tower overlooking the DMZ. It was incredibly cold but crystal clear.  I could see for a dozen miles and that's extremely rare up at the border.  Looking over the DMZ I was astounded to see how bare North Korea was.  There was not a blade of grass or a standing tree.  Everything had been cut down so the North Korean people could eat the bark and use the timber for firewood.  The Propaganda Village was to my right and empty.  The only movement coming from it was the massive North Korean flag.  It's the third largest flagpole in the world and the flag was so heavy it couldn't move.  To my left was a village that was occupied and after looking through the binoculars I was astounded to see North Korean children playing soccer at their school. 

You couldn't take pictures past the column.

Notice how clear the air was and how bare the land is.

Not a tree on the mountains.

The green is the DMZ and the border is where the green stops.

            Leaving the Observation Tower we went to the Third Tunnel dug by the North Korean's under the DMZ.  Only four tunnels have been discovered by South Korea and it's military thinks there are two dozen more.  The tunnel we went to was large enough to transport 30,000, very short, troops in an hour.  Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the tunnel.

Getting the hard hat on.


Landmines above the tunnel.

Also around it.

This monument was made in the hope for the two Korea's reuniting.

I'm trying to help.

Freedom Bridge.

Freedom Bridge, also called the Bridge Of No Return, was the last place soldiers and civilians could choose if they wanted to live in North or South Korea after the cease-fire was signed.

Here people have written notes and letters for family members in North Korea.

Landon checking it out.

The bridge was returned to ROK in 2006.

Try and imagine choosing to leave your family to live in South Korea. Or what if you made that choice but didn't make it in time before the bridge closed.

            After visiting the Freedom Bridge the first tour was done.  We got on another bus for our tour inside the DMZ at the Joint Security Area.  Our new tour guide reiterated that we couldn't go anywhere without him nor take pictures unless told to.  He also informed us to follow his instructions and he wasn't responsible if we got hurt, i.e. shot. 

This is the JSA, the building in the sunlight is North Korea's visiting center.

The center guard never moves.

 Look at the concrete line going through the snow. That's the line between North and South Korea.

Neither Landon or I were in a smiling mood.

Guess which side of the line we're on.

This is where talks are held. The guard is standing just inside the South Korean border and I'm on the North Korean side.

This guard is in front of the North Korean door.  They wear sunglasses so the North Koreans can't tell where they're looking. All parties must schedule a time to enter the building. Also, the guard's are always in a taekwondo stance ready to defend themselves.

Like I said, you didn't feel like smiling here.

If I stood next to the guard he would've taken me out without a warning. I doubt he'd left me conscious.

Last shot of the DMZ and North Korea behind it.

This used to be where you could go to North Korea. That changed in the 1970's after two American soldiers were killed trying to prune a tree.  That incident nearly put the two countries back into war. It's why everything is so tightly controlled now.

The South Korean flag flying in Freedom Village.  Unlike it's North Korean counterpart people actually live in it.

            Going to the DMZ and JSA was an incredible experience.  It really hit home how the two Korea's are still at war.  One side is a modern country and the other cannot even grow trees.  I've had a lot of great experiences in South Korea but I'm glad that I waited so long to go.  It gave me time to get perspective on South Korea, our (America) role and what both think of North Korea.  However, the best part was being able to share the experience with Landon.  Lastly, here's his blog so you can check out his experience of living in Beijing:  Dug That Hole To China.

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