A visit to the DMZ/38th parallel

21 Oct

I didn’t realize how close Seoul was to the 38th parallel – the dividing line between North and South Korea until I visited.  When I heard that there was an optional tour included in our package I jumped at the chance to visit this “no man’s land.”  The bus ride from our hotel was less than two hours – no wonder South Korea is so worried about North Korea having nuclear power.

Earlier the week that we visited the leader of North Korea had announced some farm reforms that sounded suspiciously like how China’s opening up policy started with Deng Xiao Ping – allowing farmers to take excess goods to market and sell them.  That was the back drop of the visit which was a very interesting morning.

Sculpture representing the reunification of the two countries

I don’t have photos of the entire visit because the main highlight was that we got to go down into one of the tunnels that have allegedly been built in the past by North Korea to try a sneak attack in South Korea.  We couldn’t bring anything into the tunnels except ourselves – all bags and cameras had to be locked in lockers provided and we had to wear hard hats.

The tunnel itself descended steeply down and we rode in a type of tram through the descent part and then were given about 20 minutes to explore.  The walls were damp and water appeared randomly spurting from above and below at various points which was unsettling.  I am not cut out to be a North or South Korean soldier – I am too tall.  My hard hat was necessary as I kept hitting my head and wound up walking like a duck  for the 20 minutes meaning that my thighs were burning by the time I exited.

The rest of the tour was kind of like a theme park – with soldiers everywhere.  We were in a bus and drove around to other different “sites.”  The no man’s land area is pretty large so without the bus it wouldn’t have been possible.  There was only one place where we were allowed to get out and look across at North Korea.

Two of the many soldiers on duty. These two seemed to have a sense of humor and actually posed for lots of pictures.

Looking across through the mist at the North Korean border. What was real and what was for display for us to see was difficult to tell.

One of the final stops (before the gift shop – yes there was a gift shop at the DMZ) was a train station.  It was a completely empty, miniature train station that is waiting for the day that the two countries will be reunited.  Prior to the conflict, this area had been a thriving village and was the main transfer point for trains from the north to the south.  If that station was again connected you could go from the Korean cost all the way to China via train.  I don’t know when that will be possible, but they are ready for the day.

The empty train station – ready for passengers.

Ten years ago I went to Berlin and visited Checkpoint Charlie, but that had turned into a historical museum.  This was different – more real, yet surreal as well.  My Chinese colleagues commented that the story that was told in the museum exhibits was very different from what they had been taught in school.  China is sympathetic to the North Korean cause – but the DMZ has a more South Korean point of view. It was interesting to watch my colleagues as they observed and questioned history.

These women spent about 5 minutes positioning themselves correctly. It’s funny how anything can turn into a photo opportunity – even the demilitarized zone!

I am glad that I went. The visit made me think again about how human beings can react and the consequences of those actions. I’ve read several books on North Korea and the Korean conflict and am now curious for even more information. It was a thoughtful place, wrapped in a candy colored theme park.

Where is the last place you visited that made you think? Or where is the last place you visited that made you thankful – thankful for peace, thankful for family, for your own country?

I am thankful for it all and would also like to wish my mother a Happy Birthday!  Sometimes seeing elsewhere makes me appreciate home.  Happy Birthday mom!

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8 Responses to “A visit to the DMZ/38th parallel”

  1. PhotoBotos.com October 21, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Wow. I have never seen a photo of the DMZ. Cool Shots!

    • gkm2011 October 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

      It was an interesting place to take photos and there were areas off limits, but for the most part pretty flexible. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. sarahinguangzhou October 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    I like the women posing by the DMZ letters! I’m old enough to have crossed into E Berlin whilst the wall was still standing. It was quite surreal; a bit like changing from a colour movie to B&W. What I remember most clearly that virtually all the cars were brown (beige fawn and variations but brown nevertheless).

    • gkm2011 October 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

      I have a friend whose husband was born in East Germany and his stories will stay with me. It wasn’t that long ago! I hope in my life time it will be the same with North Korea – stories.

  3. Tex October 21, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Thank you for the Happy Birthday Wishes. Your blogs are always thought provoking,….. this one was a good one. MOM

    • gkm2011 October 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

      Happy birthday again!

  4. Tex October 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Places that probably rival your DMZ experience – – Dachau in 1967-68, Warsaw and East&West Berlin in 1968, Moscow and Leningrad in 1968 and Prague in Spring 1968. The places behind the Iron Curtain were like a big prison camp. The difference between freedom and totalitarian control was especially stark between East and West Berlin. Too many people are naive today about what is at risk when there are dictators. Tex

    • gkm2011 October 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

      I would guess your trip definitely beats my visit, but I agree “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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