Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 9 – The DMZ

It was the most beautiful winter day to end the Korean calendar year. Today, February 2, was Korean New Year’s Eve and the temperature was above freezing all day. It was a great day to take a tour of the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone).

But first, a brief recent history of Korea: The Joseon Dynasty ended Korean Monarchy in the early 20th century. The last king of Korea died without an heir while the Japanese overtook and occupied the country. Korea was under Japanese control until the end of World War II. Basically, Korea was 2 uneducated states not knowing how to rule themselves when they gained their independence. North Korea was influenced by the Communist Russians and Chinese, South Korea was influenced by the Capitalist Axis Powers. Both states co-existed for about 5 years when the North invaded the South trying to force them into Communism. This started the Korean War that lasted for three years with Super Powers supporting both sides. The war never really ended: an armistice was declared and the 2 states were separated into North and South by a line that roughly follows the 38th parallel. A fenced-in de-militarized zone running 2 kilometers in each direction from the line was declared a “no man’s land” separating the countries whose borders are heavily guarded on each side. The people of both countries hope for reunification, but the Monarchy of the North refuses to relinquish their power.

The DMZ has become a tourist attraction for people traveling in South Korea. It is an educational tour that teaches about this country’s history, the horrors of war, and the dream of reunification.  There are many areas where cameras are not allowed so photos of the more interesting stops are unavailable.

Our group of about 20 English speaking people from around the world were picked up at various locations around Seoul and hosted by a Korean woman named Angel. Our first stop was at the Freedom Bridge where thousands of POWs (Prisoners of War) from the Korean War were exchanged and brought home. A rusted steam locomotive riddled with bullet holes was salvaged from the waters of the DMZ and put on display as a relic and reminder of the war. There are countless ribbons attached to the fence surrounding the area containing messages of peace for the near future.  We moved on to a gallery where a film of the war was shown.

We continued on to tour the “third tunnel”. During the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, four tunnels were discovered. They apparently were infiltration tunnels that could allow tens of thousands of North Koreans to invade the South in just an hour. The tunnels were discovered by accident, and only the third tunnel is open for public tours. The tour begins with a surrender of recording devices, the wearing of hard hats, and a half mile walk down an 11 degree sloped tunnel. This leads to the actual tunnel that the North Koreans had dug for the invasion. I had to stoop throughout the additional half mile walk to near the 38th parallel. The air here is in short supply and the constant stooping makes it a bit of an uncomfortable journey. After a quick look around, the trek through the low ceiling cave began and finished with a half mile hike back up the 11 degree incline.

The next stop was the Dora Observatory. This is an area where some civilization in North Korea can be seen with the naked eye. Photography from here is limited to be taken from behind a line that is just far enough behind the lookout wall to make photos poor at best. We were surprised to learn that electricity is in such short supply in the North, that a factory needs to be powered from the South.

We moved on to a train station at Dorasan that is hardly ever used. The South Koreans have constructed a modern facility that they hope will one day be the gateway into North Korea. One day, when the countries are reunited, some of the infrastructure that will allow for a smooth reunification will already be in place in the South. After 60 years of Communism versus Capitalism, the two countries are as different in technology as Silicon Valley and the Amish.  It is said that about 2,000 Northerners defect to the South via water routes every year. Because of their inferior education, qualified jobs are unavailable and many resort to a life of thievery or prostitution.

The ride home was made very interesting by an in-depth conversation with Angel, our host. She gave us great insight and understanding of the Korean culture. She was very candid with her responses to personal, political, and economic questions. It is time spent with people like Angel that makes foreign travel such a delight.

We finished the night with a shrimp burger and cheese fries from the local Lotteria. Getting wasted on soju during the Korean New Year on the night before our flight home did not seem like a very good idea, so we watched some NCIS at the hotel and prayed that the snow would stop to allow us to travel safely on our way home during one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit the USA. I also don’t want to miss the Super Bowl. Go Pack GO!

Paju G&G = Good and Great

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Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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