Today, a friend of mine and I went went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA). The DMZ is 240km long buffer zone separating North and South Korea. As the two Koreas are technically still at war, this area was created during the armistice agreement. The area is very surreal and full of contracts.
We booked to tour over Koridoor Tour which runs the USO (US army´s social and entertainment organisation), as it was recommended my by travel guide.
We get a quick briefing by a soldier when arriving in Camp Bonifas. Our passports were checked several times and we had to follow the instructions of the soldier. Our soldier guide was funny and showed a rather unbiased perception on the situation, which I was very happy about as I had expected an extremely biased US view on the matter. We changed into a designated bus to enter the JSA. The JSA is where the North and South have meeting and discuss important issues (there are A LOT of issues). We were able to see the North Korean buildings and soldiers. The JSA is the only place which you can `enter´ North Korea safely, you literally just walk across the conference room. One side of the table marking the South Korea and the other the North. We were only allowed to take pictures of the North Korean buildings and were prohibited from waiving or staring at the North Korea soldiers. In the conference room there was both an South and North-Korean soldier. Both standing in a very tense Taekwondo position. We were allowed to take selfies with the soldiers, I did not do so, as I thought it was rather inappropriate. The South-Korean soldiers have specific training and are chosen according to their looks. Sadly, the soldier we saw was not that handsome. We were told that the North Korean soldier stood there for 7-8 hours without moving; whilst the South Korean soldier could start to move as soon as the tourists had left.
We saw the two villages of the DMZ, Daesong-dong in the south and Gijeong-dong in the north. I do not understand why you would want to live in the DMZ, however we were told that the South Korean farmers get a lot of benefits from the government. Still, the number paid does compensate for the restrictions and the danger of living in a war zone. The DMZ ironically is the most militarized area in the world and there are land mines every where! No thanks!
We then drove to Dorasan station, which was build by South Korea in order to connect the South and the North. As relations have become more hostile since, the train station is abandoned and not in use. The hope for unification was constantly repeated ( I admit I think it is unlikely and many scholars agree) and the train is a symbol of this.
We had lunch and then went to the Dora Observatory
From the Dora Observatory we had a perfect view over North Korea. We saw Gijeong-dong (where no one actually lives, only for propaganda purposes) and the gigantic North-Korean flag. North-Korea made sure to build a taller flag pole than South-Korea (just to point that out). We also saw Kaesong Industry Complex, which is were North Koreans work for South Koreans. North Koreans are exploited, as they ear very little, but way more than in North Korea, so the jobs are very popular among the locals.
Third Infiltration Tunnel
The Third Infiltration Tunnel was built by North Koreans and discovered in 1974. It is 265 meters long and 73 meters deep. It is extremely narrow, and I pumped my head a lot (had my helmet though). The tunnel is, well its a tunnel.However it is interesting to see how much manpower the North Koreans put in building it and tiny the soldiers must have been (around 1,60 m tops). The implications are evident; malnutrition and lack of technology.
Visiting the DMZ is something everybody coming to Korea should do. It makes you realize how close the “enemy” is to Seoul. It also makes you realize how fragile peach can be, there are many incidences reported in Korean media about North-Korean aggression, seeing the DMZ makes you more aware of this. I personally wanted to go to the DMZ in order to be able to imagine a divided Germany. Even though Germany and Korea are different cases, both countries were/are divided. I cannot imagine how a divided Germany was, even if I know a lot about it. I hoped to understand the concept of a divided country more. Well, going to the DMZ did not help. The DMZ feels unreal. The atmosphere is peaceful and tense at the same time. The presence of the military is intimidating, whilst the beauty of nature is stunning. Close to the DMZ there is a theme park, there are festivals celebrated close to the DMZ, people live in the DMZ. All very confusing situations when you regard that the conflict between the North and South has not be solved.
As a German and a strong believer in democracy, I wish for unification of the two Koreas. (fun fact: Travelling would be some much easier!). However, the chances for unification become smaller and smaller. Korea has been divided for 70 years, hardly any South Koreans has relatives left in the North and the economic costs are high.
May peace prevail!
Note: I apologize for not adding any pictures, the blog was a problem with the format and I´m not that great with computers.