Friday April 17
We stayed in Seoul at the Rainbow Hotel near the Nan Yeong subway station (one stop from the Seoul Station) on Thursday night so we could be picked up early for our tour to the DMZ, the “most dangerous place on earth” according to the Lonely Planet guidebook. That guidebook and other tourist sites recommend the DMZ as #1 of Things to Do while in the Seoul area.
A guard checks our passports before entry into the DMZ area.
As we approached the DMZ, we could see obvious differences between the territory in the North (over the river) and South Korea.The hills and mountains in the North were barren – probably the trees were cut down for fuel and to keep the land open for tracking defectors. In the South, the hills were lush and green, dotted with farms and villages. The banks along the Han River separating the South from the North were marked with guard stations and lined with razor wire.
The DMZ is a 4k by 240 k buffer between the two countries loaded with military personnel and weapons. Ironically, it has become a natural preserve for wildlife.
At first I was hesitant to visit the DMZ; it seemed sad to gawk at people’s pain. There is certainly pain in this country over the divide – and most likely pain in the daily lives of the North Koreans. Our tour guide Mr. J.S. said his dad came from North Korea when he was 20 years old. His dad met his mom in South Korea. No one knows anything about members of his family left behind.
These flags marking still-active land mines from the Korean War are visible everywhere. The South Koreans have decided to keep them in the ground just in case.
As we began driving north to the military checkpoint and the Freedom Bridge, Mr. J.S. said that the two rivers, the Han and the Imjin Rivers, flow together and become one right in the area of the DMZ. “Just like the rivers, people in the North and South should be one people, one country,” he said. Mr. J.S. explained that the Armistice Agreement was intended to be a pause in the fighting. It was never intended to mark a permanent border.
Freedom bridge is in the background. The Freedom Bridge is where over 12,000 South Korean War prisoners returned to the South after the Korean War.
The steam locomotive was bombed in the fighting during the war and left in the DMZ.
It was amazing to see “To Pyongyang” as a hopeful destination at the gleaming, new Dorasan train station. This train station would hopefully (someday) connect the Korean peninsula to the world. Now it brings tourists up from the South and turns around again.
On this monument outside of the Dorasan Station are the names of people who gave large amounts of money to support the building of this station and the hope it represents.
Tourists are allowed to take photos (behind the yellow line) looking over Kaesong in North Korea, the industrial complex where workers from the North come to work in South Korean-owned plants.
Below: A glimpse from Dora Observatory into North Korea overlooking Kaesong. To the left (back) is the industrial complex
There are four infiltration tunnels which have been discovered so far (discovered between 1974 – 1990), and there could be more. These tunnels were built for the purpose of moving troops into South Korea from the North. On our walk part way through the 240 feet deep tunnel, Mr. J.S. pointed out that coal was rubbed on the surface of the granite to make it look like the North Koreans were mining for coal. He also pointed out the direction of the dynamite blasts, showing that the tunnels were built from north to south. Of course, these facts have been contested by the North.
Diagram of the infiltration tunnel.
The Peace Bell symbolizes the 21st Century as a time for reunification and peace for all mankind, a time when the hopes and prayers of Korean people are answered. The two parts would fit together – a very moving sculpture.
It was a good choice to see the DMZ, and to know there are so many good intentions and hopes for the future, at least on this side of the divide. How good it would be to see these razor fences come down in our lifetime. But no one here seems to envision a change happening soon.
By the way, you can see inside North Korea on Google Earth – and get a good view of Kaesong, Pyongyang, and all!