The Korean DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone is an area of land that runs along the Korean borders. It’s 4 km wide and it is the most highly militarized border in the world. No one is allowed in the DMZ area with the exception of military, tourists and a few farmers who owned the land before the Korean war. The farmers and tourists must must have military personnel present at all times. Because there is so little movement in the area a few endangered animals including the Korean tiger have found an unlikely haven there. They do however have to share the land with mines that still explode from time to time. There really is no area like this in the world.
Everyone who spends time in Korea visits the DMZ. It was only a matter of time before I made it out there myself. Obviously I knew the DMZ was no joke but I was not prepared for the nail-biting tension and uneasiness that filled the air. It was weird and I’ll never willingly go again! Hopefully some pictures demonstrate the intensity.
The viewing point for Kijŏngdong, commonly known as the ‘Propaganda Village’. The only town visible from the South Korea border is actually a non-habited town filled with empty buildings and houses with no windows or interiors. Lights are turned on and off at set times and people are hired to take care of the town to make it look like there is activity. Through the telescopes I saw one vehicle and that was the only sign of life.
Four tunnels running from North Korea to Seoul have been discovered. The first tunnel was discovered in 1974 and the fourth in 1990. North Korea claimed the tunnels were for coal mining but the only sign of coal was the black paint the North used to give the illusion of coal. It is suspected that there are more tunnels leading directly to downtown Seoul. A few sections of the tunnels are open to tourists.
A train station to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, is ready to operate once relations improve. I kinda feel this was the South’s way of showing the world that they are ready to re-unite. It’s a nice gesture but I get the feeling it is more for the world media as opposed to North Korea. It is very important to have allies in this kind of situation.
Many families have been separated over the years and will likely never see or speak to one another again. These fences are lined with endless letters, notes and prays wishing their lost relatives love and health.
South Korean soldiers standing on guard in the Joint Security Area or the JSA. The JSA is where all negotiations between the North and South take place. The division between the countries physically run through the middle of these blue houses which are conference rooms. The soldiers used to be able to cross the border freely until the late 1970’s when the Axe Murder Incident happened resulting in two brutal deaths. Tourists are allowed to enter one of the conference rooms and pose for pictures with the South Korean soldiers while technically walking on North Korean ground.
On the North side, only one soldier shows half his body. However you can see someone holding binoculars in the window to the right of the solider. While our group stood there for a few minutes we saw movement on the upper level behind the curtains, every once in awhile a face peering out. I think everyone felt the highest level of tension here. The North does not like the fact that the South does tours and apparently they take photos of the tour groups and use them for propaganda.
The dynamic between North Korea and South Korea is very passionate here. My co-workers, students and Korean friends want nothing more than to help their neighbors to the North but despite their gentleness they wish Kim Jong-il would die a horrible death. It’s hard to really know how life is up there but from the little views we get from the media, it doesn’t seem pleasant. It is possible to visit North Korea if you hold a non-American passport and you fly from China. You would have to go with a tour group, be accompanied by security 24/7 and follow strict rules such as wearing certain clothes and obeying a curfew. As interesting as it would be to visit North Korea my half-American and Iranian blood is enough to deter me. You just never know…