Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Tour of the DMZ

Two weeks ago, I was in Seoul. I don't think I'll update about everything I did on the trip, though I'll write a few posts about different things. First up: DMZ. In between North and South Korea is the Demilitarized Zone aka DMZ. The zone was created after the armistice between the Koreas and the buildings there are split between North and South.

Liz and I posing at the DMZ

We took a bus from Camp Kim through the USO, affiliated with the US military. We had to leave bright and early, piled on a bus and got some basic information about the relations between North and South. That big building behind me is on the North Korea side of the DMZ. The soldier directly over my shoulder is an American soldier who gave us the briefing. The other soldiers are from South Korea. If you look realllllly close near that big gray building behind me, you can see a North Korean soldier looking at us through binoculars.

These soldiers are in the ROK Ready position, a martial arts stance ready for attack at all times. ROK stands for Republic of Korea.

We were able to go in one of those blue buildings that you saw in the last picture. This is the room where North and South get together for talks. The table in the middle is divided by microphones and one side of the table is considered North Korea and the other South Korea. Here I'm standing on the North Korea side of the table.

Also in this room are mini flags of all the members of the UN. They used to be mini flags on mini flag poles, but then when watching the video cameras of the building, they saw the North Korean soldiers polishing their shoes with the American flag, so they put them in a frame and on the wall.

After that, we took the bus around the DMZ and passed the bridge of no return. This is the bridge where South Korean prisoners of war were released. We also stopped at a lookout where we could see a North Korean village within the DMZ. That's a huge flagpole. The North Koreans built a huge flag pole to fly their flag, and South Korea responded by building an even bigger flag pole. A few weeks later, the North Koreans built one even taller. The current North's flag is over 600 pounds.
We stopped at another lookout where we could see into North Korea, which had a line of big binoculars you could look through. However, you couldn't take pictures beyond this line, which meant you couldn't really take pictures. Everything was pretty highly secured for the entire tour. We were also warned several times not to wave, gesture or communicate in any way with North Korean soldiers. This could give them an excuse to attack.

One of the final stops was at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. After the armistice, North Korea has broken it several times by building tunnels under the DMZ and into South Korea. The tunnels were most likely being built to march soldiers through them to the other side and launch an unexpected attack on Seoul. Four of the tunnels have been found, but there are probably many more that haven't been found yet.

You're not supposed to take pics inside the tunnels, but a friend who was on the trip with me snapped a shot and I stole it. When confronted about the tunnels, North Korea claimed that they didn't break the armistice and that they were looking for coal. Over 95% of the area on the Korean peninsula is granite, so to cover their lie, they painted the walls with black coal. You could see on the walls where the paint has worn away over the years.

I learned a lot on the tour, though pretty much all the information given was one-sided. That was pointed out pretty obviously by one of my friends on the tour who is from New Zealand. She said she felt American propaganda-ized. North Korea also sometimes gives tours of the DMZ. It would be interesting to know what kinds of information is given on those tours and who they actually give permission to tour it since they restrict their citizens so much. I guess I'll never know!

See all the pictures from my trip to Korea at


Ashley said...

This looks incredibly interesting! I just read a book called "Nothing to Envy" about North Korea - formed mostly from interviews with defectors. You may want to check it out if you haven't already, as it gives perspectives from North Koreans themselves.

From what I've heard/read of journalists who have gone into and past the DMZ, they say that everything is made to be "showy" to them as foreigners. Makes things look better than they really are. I read a quote somewhere of someone who was living in the main city, and that they turned on the electricity and went to all these lengths to make it look great, and once the foreign guests had left, shut off the electricity again.

Interesting stuff, for sure.

ash said...

The book sounds interesting, thanks for the recommendation. Much of what I've heard about North Korea from visitors is the same as you -- like about the electricity and also things with keeping lots of food around to "show" that they have plenty to go around.

The DMZ itself was a different kind of show. I do think that the people who are there day in and out are brave souls, as it's true an attack could occur any day and they are on the front lines. But I think that the tours are partly showing off to the North Koreans as they watch and also put on a show for the visitors like us highlighting the seriousness but also making some things sound like a joke - like the back and forth with who has the bigger flag, and the North Korean soldiers polishing their shoes with the mini flag of the US. Seems petty when they tell stories like that. All in all, it was interesting and has provided me with food for thought.