Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Finally made the trip up to the DMZ on the weekend with my girlfriend, Sarah. We had to go up there on Friday night pretty much straight after work (well it was straight after work for her... I still had time to enjoy a seafood buffet at a work's dinner. Lovely it was. Sarah was starving when I met her) because we had to be at Camp Kim in Seoul by 7am. So we stayed at a cheap place Sarah knew in Noksapyeong and we were off bright and early the next morning. We met my mate Andrew at Samgakji (the stop closest to Camp Kim), went down to the USO base, sat around for 20 minutes and we were on the coach and off by 7:30. Like clockwork.

It took just over an hour to get to the JSA briefing room from Camp Kim, which was just enough time to use up a lot of Sarah's iPod touch battery playing 'Plants Vs Zombies'. Before we knew it we were getting our passports checked by a U.S. military policeman, who was also our tour guide, and being told what we can and cannot do. I've got a sheet detailing all of the things we were prohibited from doing but basically we should just listen to the guy, stick with the group and try our best not to provoke the North Koreans, i.e. don't wave or gesture - I was gutted about the not waving part :( I wanted a cool picture.

As we were escorted into the main DMZ part that everyone sees on TV (the coolest part) we were greeted by the sight of a huge gray building in front of which were a few North Korean guards, one of which was looking at us through binoculars. It's hard to describe how I was feeling at this time because as I walked into view of the main area the sheer significance of this place hit me. I've never really viewed history in the making, outside of TV anyway, but I really felt like it was a place that I probably shouldn't be. Like it was too important for tourists. Too real. Nevertheless, I took uber tourist pictures like I always do, posing like I was in Disneyland. Difference is the people in uniforms at the DMZ are more likely to hurt you than a teenager in a Donald Duck costume.

Here are some pictures:

This is me at the DMZ. We all had to wear those JSA and USO tour badges.

This is Sarah looking much sharper than me and taking a way better photo.
That gray building is North Korea. In fact, on the path there is a noticeable division line. Over that line is North Korea. As you can see it travels through the two blue buildings, but we'll get onto that later.
See the ROK (Republic of Korea) soldier on the right? Well, he is standing in a Taekwondo stance 'ready to defend' apparently, as were all the ROK soldiers. You might've noticed he has half of his face covered by the wall of the building. Why? It's so he can get into cover quicker if fired upon yet he can still see them with one eye in the meantime. I wonder if he is constantly winking during this time or if he sees half blue, half North Korea.. Also, you can clearly see a North Korean guard in front of the gray building. You might have to click the picture to get a larger view to see him.

After this we then wandered into that blue building on the left of the picture which is where all the North Korea/South Korea & allies meet for discussions. Guess what? Here are some pictures:

If I was standing on the other side of the ROK soldier then I would be in South Korea. As it happens, I'm standing on the guys left, which meant I was in North Korea. I know this because the military police guy told us. But its also because those microphones running down the center of the table there mark out the border between the North's side of the DMZ and the South's side. Those mics are monitored 24/7, which I thought was pretty cool.
Sarah in roughly the same position as me, except standing further from the guy because she was 'scared' :) To be honest, with good reason.
This is the good reason. Behind that door is North Korea. This guy is guarding that door. We were told not to pass the guy. Some dumbass American tourist stepped past him for a photo and the guy kicked off and slammed his foot on the ground and almost punched her.. Like, he got out of his Taekwondo stance and his arm shot up and almost hit her. The tour guide was like 'there's nothing I can do, so, seriously, don't pass him'. She just had to laugh it off, but in that kind of nervous, 'I almost shat myself' kind of way. I was genuinely laughing, however.

This is the flag pole on which is the world's largest flag. Guess which country it belongs to... The story goes: the South built an 100m tall flag pole and the North, who has a huge inferiority complex, if you didn't already know, built a 160m flag pole (see above) with the world's largest flag slapped on it. It doesn't help that below it is the propaganda village which is just for show. I don't know if they know any old tourist can walk up to the binoculars situated at Dora Observatory in the South and see that there's nothing going on there.

Dorasan Station is South Korea's train link to North Korea. Apparently, pre-Cheonan sinking the South traded with the North through this rail link. But they sunk their battleship so they stopped it.
Fancy popping to Pyeongyang for a cheeky bit of duty free?

The tour guide said it's both her's and South Korea's dream to reunify with the North. Prior to this tour, I didn't really realise how much the South actually cares about the North. Maybe not the system it runs, maybe not the people in charge of indoctrinating it's millions, but the people under the mess at the top are Korean's too and the South want the two to unify as they once did. Many South Korean's have family in the North, which is one of the reasons why there is a 6 month background check for Korean's to take the tour we bumbled on in 4 days because the South are worried about what these people will do when presented with the Korean border. A lot of people in the West see North Korea as the enemy. South Korean's, however, perceive them as their family... except maybe Kim Jong Il. He probably won't receive a hug and kiss. Poor guy :/


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