Saturday, May 03, 2008

The DMZ - A Toursity Kind of Warzone

Ah the DMZ. The De-Militarized Zone. A span of only a few miles between two warring countries. One at the forefront of modernism and the other led by a madman who may or may not have extremely dangerous weapons. In between the two lies this space of farmers and military co-existing in an active war zone state, BUT also runs daily tours and sells knick knacks and tasty treats.

Specially made DMZ rice.

At a first glance, its thought provoking and fascinating and frightening all at the same time. There are two countries that have been so against each other for so long that they actually have to have miles between them to keep each other out. There are people living in South Korea that haven't seen their family members because they're stuck in North Korea and vice versa. They've been at a standstill for years, and the North is still trying to figure out ways to break into Seoul, as is evident with their digging and finding of tunnels underground. The 2nd most recent tunnel, the 3rd tunnel, was found when they were only 52km (about 32 miles) away from Seoul in the 1980s.

Looking at North Korea, this is the border between the two countries.

At any given time you never know what those crazy North Koreans are up to. The DMZ was built as a temporary barrier between the two, but as they continue to build more permanent structures and keep things freshly painted, its very clear that there will be no resolve in the near future.

However, after all of that goes by the wayside in your brain and you realize you're sitting on a United States Organization (USO) Tour Bus, that you paid $44 to get onto with other tourists, that there isn't exactly any imminent danger. They take you to snack shops, rest areas, banquet halls, and gift shops. I bought some souvenirs for my parents. We joked about walking out the door when we were standing in North Korea and seeing what happened. We were also told not to make any communicative gestures towards the North Koreans and we openly talked about how we were gonna get thrown in jail for waiving furiously at them.


The sign as you head into the 3rd tunnel explaining the stupidity of North Koreans

The whole trip for the USO first takes place in Ballinger hall for a debriefing, then onto the Joint Security Area (JSA) to see where the peace talks were held, then to lunch, and then the Dora Observatory, and lastly the 3rd tunnel where they make you put on hard hats and walk down a steep incline to get to the tunnel that's very wet and dark and short. It was a long day, and extremely informative, and we met some cool people on the tour that were mainly just passing through Korea.

South Korean Soldier guarding the door into North Korea

It is most definitely something everyone who lives here should see, if only to see something that is so definitive in history. It really is some of the most beautiful countryside I've seen here, and it is home to a lot of rare wildlife. Once the countries become united (if ever) there are plans already in place to keep it a nature wildlife preserve. Not to mention it has some of the most fertile untouched soil in the world and grows ginseng, rice, and other various important crops. So much so that the farmers who live in the DMZ are there to farm and making an untaxed living of about $80,000. Yes, dollars. It's unbelievable actually.

North Korea

If you're going to take a tour, make sure you take one through the USO and you book it about a month in advance. This is the third time I've tried to book a tour, and the first two were unsuccessful due to the popularity of the tour. All of the information you would need can be found here.

1 comment:

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