DMZ

July 19, 2015

PS

It was a poignant last day in Korea for us as we headed to the border area between North Korea and South Korea called the demilitarised zone, known as the DMZ.

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There’ll be a more in depth look at the history of this area of the world in the next few posts, it’s pretty fascinating.

Thanks to MERS the actual DMZ was shut, you can actually pay to go right to the border where the two countries negotiate with each other. Apparently it’s a really serious place, as you’d imagine, where you’re not allowed to smile, wear shorts or reveal your shoulders for women, and eye contact between the South Korean and the North Korean soldiers is banned. The South Korean soldiers all wear sunglasses and the North Koreans are stationed behind curtains. What a strange situation.

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The tour that they were able to take us on was still fascinating, it included going to Imjingak Park, where there are lots of examples of artefacts related to the original war in 1950-53. There’s a bullet ridden train which has a massive hole with twisted and torn metal where the force of a bomb ripped through it.

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 There’s a bridge there called ‘Freedom Bridge’ where apparently the prisoners of war returned to their country.

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 At the end of the bridge there’s a barbed wire fence with peace paraphernalia on it. Even though as far as the eye can see from here is still the Republic of Korea.

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Perhaps the strangest and most interesting part of the tour was the Unification Observatory on Odu mountain. They take you into a room with an expansive view over the river that forms the border at this point and show you a video about the history of the war and the lives of the North Koreans in the village just across the other side. Then they casually slip in that they want to unify the two countries.

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You can go up to the highest level and look through binoculars into that village on the other side of the river. There’s people farming, the houses look shabby and broken, some of them have no roof.

There’s a monument to Kim Il Sung, you can see the obelisk type shape in the middle of the picture. Kim Il Sung was the founder of the People’s Republic of Korea with the ceasefire in 1953 and is a God like figure who is still worshipped, like any good communist leader he was embalmed. His Grandson is now the leader of the country, taking over when his father died.

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The large cultural centre building which looked like the best preserved building in the village,

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the long and flat looking school building. Notice the buildings with no roof there.

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The mountain which was bare of trees apparently because they use the trees for fire wood. It was odd to see a bare mountain because in the rest of Asia, apart from Nepal where they’re so tall, they have all been forested.

There was all sorts of propaganda from our South Korean tour guide, they’re taught in school some of the hardships that North Koreans go through. Stories about children being left to starve in their house whilst their families try to escape to China. I’m sure some of the stories of poverty are true and some are false.

North Korea, or the People’s Republic of Korea, is a fascinating place where their first communist leader is considered a God and his children rule the country as demi-Gods, they apparently spend the most money on the military and very little on the economy or food production.

Another example of the propaganda on the tour from the South Korean guide, obviously talking about one of the poorest countries in the world which is a hermit kingdom is going to involve a lot of rumours and hearsay, was when she said that once a year the population are given a meal of meat which is a precious thing for them as they can’t afford meat. It is said that Kim Il Sung has provided the meal for them, even though he’s dead, and so they start weeping with joy.

We talked a lot about being able to look through binoculars into a culture that is so opposite to ours, and so unknown, but just looked like anywhere else geographically. It was a weird thing to look into a village that is inside North Korea and see people just going about their business, in that sense, it looked really normal! What struck us when we looked into North Korea is a sense of perversion though.

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Voyeuristic almost. But it was addictive.

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We were looking to find the poverty that we like to think exists in North Korea, it’s a morbid fascination and I wondered if the people in that village could tell that they were being watched as a tourist attraction. It was also scary to see the guards in their posts.

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The last stop for the day was the War Memorial in Seoul which is well worth a look. It’s massive and has lots of memorabilia from the war; tanks, planes, cars. etc. Including Kim Il Sung’s limousine given to him by the Russians,

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and Syngman Rhee’s, who was the South Korean president at the foundation of the Republic of Korea, bullet proof limousine given to him by the Americans.

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Love the two very obvious styles of the cars.

It’s a vast complex and probably warranted more than the hour that we were given to see it. Like all war memorials, it is a profound reminder of the cost of war and really makes you think about the resources, lives and courage that it takes to be involved in conflict.