Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Our Weekend: Grim Up North

All the group 1

I'd been looking forward to this weekend for aaages as this was when me and 11 of my favourite people from Busan were headed upto Seoul for a couple of birthday celebrations.

It was Saturday that I was most excited about though, as we had arranged to go to the DMZ. The DMZ is the border where North and South Korea meet. We paid a little extra for the Joint Security Area (JSA) tour run by the US Military which meant we got to go into the area where the soldiers from the North stand and face the soldiers from the South. We entered the area by going through a modern building that was built for the sole purpose of reuniting families that had been separated by the barrier. Sadly the guide said that it had never been used for that reason.

It was strange stepping out of the building made of marble and glass into a concrete square, where you are faced with a few small hut like buildings and at the far end of the square is the pretty menacing looking concrete building that is the North's. On the steps of the building there only stood one soldier who checked us out with his binoculars for a good long while. But we did notice several other soldiers on the roof of the building, and the guide informed us that there were soldiers in the windows of the building watching us too.

The three poor South Korean soldiers have to stand, perfectly still for 2 hours at a time staring at this lone soldier, while he stares straight back. The one that I felt particularly sorry for was the one who must stand out in the open, without any cover to protect him if the worst did come to the worst.
Face Off
Can you spot the soldier?
Here's looking at you...
We were taken into one of the blue huts which was called the Armistice Conference Building where many an unsuccessful peace talk had happened. Half of the building was in the North, and half in the South and in that building we were allowed to step over to the North. I can say it felt no different at all. The only way you were aware that you had passed over is if you peered out the window to see which side of the concrete slab that marked the border you were stood on.
Coupling in North Korea
In the North of Korea with a South Korean soldier
The concrete slab you see marks the border between North and South
Following the tour of the JSA we were taken to a few spots where there had been attacks before, and shown in the distance the Peace Village, or Propaganda Village as it was repeatedly referred to on the tour. This is a village based in the DMZ on the North side, but is believed to be completely uninhabited, apart from a handful of people that work in some factories near by and others that have the job of looking after the gigantic flag that dominates the horizon. The tour guide told us while trying not to laugh too hard that originally the Freedom Village on the South's side of the DMZ had the biggest flagpole, but the North hated to be outdone so they replaced it with an even taller one. He commented that until 2004 the Propaganda village would play communist propaganda for upto 20 hours a day, trying to tempt anyone within hearing distance on the South to come over to the North. Something else that I found interesting about this part of the tour is that men born in the Freedom Village, which is in South Korea, are not allowed to leave, completely contradicting the name of the village.
Propaganda Village, North Korea.
Nick's not known for his good pictures but I thought this was great
The Group and North Korea
Does North Korea look much different?
After this we headed to the third tunnel. This is a tunnel that the North Koreans built, which was discovered in 1978 when a defector of the North told the South Korean government about it. It would have allowed upto 30,000 men enter the South in one hour. Scary stuff.
Girls on tour
Glamorous Girls
Neil the Pied piper
Like flies to...
Apart from the horribly early start and the strangely propaganda-esque movie shown at the theatre at the 3rd tunnel, I really enjoyed the tour and felt that I learned alot more about the country that I live in. It's bizarre that the country is split as it is, and the only thing that acts as a barrier between the two countries are these small white poles, 10 meters apart that wouldn't look out of place in a picket garden fence.
Orange Hostel
Outside the lovely Orange Hostel, Seoul

For the rest of the pics you can see them on my Flickr account.

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