I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back on and write. I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my last post. AND I can’t believe I have only 1 month left in Korea! I will be booking my flight to Japan and Bejing in the next couple of days.
So last time we spoke, X-mas had passed and we were just about to celebrate the New Year! We had New Years Day off so on New Years Eve we went over to Cafe Street to a cute little bar where you can request your own music. We had a few snacks, some drinks and a shot to bring in the New Year and celebrate Arnecia’s b-day (Jan 1st). But it wasn’t a late night, I came home and called my parents from the New Year. And I believe we all just took it easy on New Years Day. We got together and made pancakes in the afternoon. Yum 🙂
We worked the following Saturday seeing as we had the Tuesday off, and on the Sunday I went into Myeongdong to the Chinese Travel agency and applied for my Chinese Visa! Which I picked up the following Saturday!
That Saturday we also celebrated Charlies Birthday (which had been on the 7th) by going for dinner at this trendy pub/bar called “Prost”. I had a grilled chicken burger with camembert cheese and spicy cranberry sauce. It was delish! Then we headed to Abgujyeong to play some darts and bowl! Which I royally sucked at. But we had fun. Some of us headed home, and the rest of the gang had a great night at Noraebang and only made it home at 8 in the morning.
On the Monday, I went to the hospital to get som eof my vaccinations. I waited around for an hour to get my Hep A and B shots, which werent cheap let me tell you. But they referred me to the health center across the street for my typhoid vaccine. And of course when I got to the health center, they didn’t have it either so referred me to another health center nearby. By that time I had to go to work. So I went to that health center on the Wed, which turned out to be for kids, but there was no line up, the doctor spoke perfect english and was super nice (he even gave me a pen). And I spent barely anything on my Typhoid vaccine and tetanus+diptheria shot. My arms however, hurt the entire week. I woke up one morning, and wanted to scream because I had been lying on my arm.
And duh duh duh, that Saturday (Saturday that just passed), Sydney, Jesus (Andrew), and I woke up at 630 in the morning to make it into Seoul for 8;30 to go on the DMZ trip!
The border is less than an hour North of Seoul. We got to the first part of the trip at around 10:00. Watched a short informational video, which I had expected would explain the history between North and South Korea, but instead was more of a propaganda video if anything, selling the DMZ as this wonderful place. Anyways, from there we walked around inside and did get to learn about the history, as the walls were covered in facts, but got rushed through it so quick we didnt actually have time to read most of it. From there we walked down a steep tunnel for 5-10 min to enter the 3rd Infiltration tunnel. South Korea has currently found 4 tunnels that start in North Korea and all head in the direction of the Capital Seoul. North korea claims they are for mining coal, but there is only granite and so it is basically a lie. It was pretty cool, we had to wear helmets and crouch as we walked. Eventually we reached a part which was blocked by wires, and there was a passageway/door with a small hole/window that you coudl look through. Good thing we were wearing helmets because on the wlak back I hit my head pretty good.
From there, we went to the Observatory (Dora Observatory), where you can normally get a good view of North Korea. Except the day we were there it was really hazy and foggy and you coudlnt really see anything. And then we went to the Dorasan Train Station, where the tracks run from Seoul to Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea). It had been reopened for a while to enable workers to get to a factory in North Korea, but was shut down in 2008 as tensions between the two sides rose. If ever it were to open again, it would connect South Korea to China/Mongolia and Russia by land.
And from there we went to the most interesting part of the trip, the JSA (Joint Security Area), where the US army took over the rest of the tour. We entered the ROKs (Republic of Korea) Freedom house and watched an informational video which was much better than the last. Then we went outside to see Conference Row (a number of U.N. buildings (in blue) which house talks between the North and the South. ROK soldiers were all around them facing the North. And we were only probably about 70 meters away from the North Korean building Panmungak, where a North Korean soldier stood guard and occassionaly looked at us with binoculars (which I feel is just for show). Then we got to enter one of the Conference/houses/rooms, where we actually got to set foot in North Korea. The middle of the table marks the exact border, and so when you are on one side of the table you are in South Korea and when you are on the other side you are in North Korea.
From there, the army took us around the area, to where the Ax murder incident took place in 1976. Two US soldiers were killed and a few US and South Korean soldiers were injured. There was a tree blocking the view of one US base to another and so after notifying North Korea, they went to cut it down. North Korean soldiers were present but things got out of hand, and the North Korean Soldiers attacked.
Memorial for Soldiers killed in Ax Murder Incident
We also saw the Bridge of No Return where POWs (prisoners of war) were returned/exchanged at the end of the Korean War. An dit is so called, because they had to choose which side they wanted to go to, and were never allows to return.
The Bridge of No Return
We also saw the two peace villages (one in the south, one in the north).
“Both North and South Korea maintain peace villages in sight of each other’s side of the DMZ. In the South, Daeseong-dong is administered under the terms of the DMZ. Villagers are classed as Republic of Korea citizens, but are exempt from paying tax and other civic requirements such as military service.
In the North, Kijong-dong features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments with electric lighting. These features represented an unheard of level of luxury for rural Koreans, north or south, in the 1950s. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from the border. However, scrutiny with modern telescopic lenses reveals that the buildings are mere concrete shells lacking window glass or even interior rooms, with the building lights turned on and off at set times and the empty sidewalks swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity.
Until 2004, massive loudspeakers mounted on several of the buildings continuously delivered DPRK propaganda broadcasts directed towards the south as well as propaganda radio broadcasts across the border” (Wikipedia)
And along most of the fields you can see what look like big snow covered hay barrels, but in fact they are bunkers for anyone who tries to defect from North Korea. Apparently, just 3 months ago, a North Korean managed to shoot two North Korean soldiers and escape into South Korean. Where he made it to a bunker, which have phones in them to call the US army for assistance to make it safely far enough way from the border, and go through the processes of becoming a South Korean resident.
I must say, I am really happy I went on the trip. I’m not really sure whether the DMZ should really even be open to tourists, but I’m glad I was able to visit it. The Korean War wasnt that long ago and altercations between the two sides have continued up until the present. I am going to buy a book to read up more on the topic. I am intrigued to know how North Koreans live, and what they learn and what their mind set is. I believe it is a completely differnet world. Cuba is communist, but they are not as shut off from the rest of the world as North Korea is.
It was definitely an experience. And one I will not forget. I wish I could write more, but must get going to work. I will add photos in a bit.
It’s friday! Intensives are over. I had a pizza party with my students on Wed it was fun. Tomorrow, I am going to go to gyeongbokgung palace and possibly the War Memorail Museum. And on Monday I will be applying for my Vietnamese Visa. And it will be the last week of Jan! Ah!
I am not rushing to leave, I plan to very much enjoy the last little bit of time I have in South korea, but am also very excited to continue journeying. Write back soon.
Love you all! xoxo
And to those Canadians who took part in the Korean War