Friday, June 27, 2014

Korean DMZ (6.26.14 recap pt. 2)

Lunch for me was Bibimbap. It is a signature Korean dish with white rice, sautéed vegatables, chili pepper paste and topped with a fried egg. It was great. I can't wait to have it again.

After lunch, we separated into two groups. There were 11 of us that were going on to see four more sights within the DMZ and the rest were heading back to Seoul. 

We boarded the bus and headed back to Unification Bridge, where our passports were checked once again. Once we were through the check point, we headed to a place called 'The Third Tunnel'. This is one of four tunnels that have been discovered so far dug from North Korea, under the DMZ and into South Korean territory. This particular one was discovered when a North Korean Defector informed the South that the North was digging a tunnel. The south buried over 100 PVC pipes filled with water vertically in the area that they thought the tunnels were in. When the North set off dynamite underground to dig the tunnel, the pipe above the tunnel would explode from the pressure. Once the first pipe exploded, the South buried five more to pinpoint where the tunnel was. The South then used a machine to bore a hole down to the tunnel.when confronted the North denied they had dug it. First they claimed that it was an old coal mine. However, all of the dynamite holes blast towards South Korea and the entire tunnel inclines as it goes into South Korea, allowing the water to drain away from the South and into the North. The Northern Soldiers even 'painted' the tunnel with coal dust to make it look like a coal mine. The dust is easily wiped away though, revealing the solid granite underneath. The tunnel, when it was discovered, was only 27 miles from Seoul, was 2 meters high by 2 meters wide and estimated to allow 30,000 troops to pass through it per hour. The South took control of it and built 3 walls to stop any movement through it. They periodically drill holes around the DMZ in search of other tunnels. After we walked through the southern portion of the tunnel, we boarded the bus and headed to our next site, the Dora Observatory.

At the Dora Observatory, we were able to look over the 38th parallel and into North Korea. From here, we could see the propaganda village that is built on the North Korean side. This village is completely empty and was built so that, from the South, North Korea will look prosperous. There is a very famous flagpole in this propaganda village. It is a result of the North and South having a contest to see who build the taller flagpole. Eventually, the North took it to an extreme and built a 525 foot tall flagpole that holds a 600lb North Korean flag. Our tour guide mentioned that she thought the North might 'be compensating for something' by building this. The buildings also have giant speakerson top  and up until 2004, played messages encouraging South Korean Soldiers to 'walk across the line and be welcomed as Brothers'. It also played anti-west messages and patriotic music 20 hours a day. They stopped this practice in 2004. 

After the observatory, we traveled to the Dorasan Train Station. There is a train line that connects the North to the South through the DMZ. This station was built along that line as a gesture to the North that they are ready to open the border and allow peace and it's citizens to travel between the two regions. The North has yet to open the gate on their side. This station was built as an international train station and therefore has a building that houses all of the equipment that a customs and immigration department would need (x-rays, inspections points, etc.) but it has never been used. In fact, despite the station being opened in 2002, there is still plastic wrapping on much of the equipment. The South Koreans refer to the station as 'Not the last station from the South, but the first station to the North'. It is one of the cleanest stations in the world because it only sees two trains a day, both from the south that terminate there. 

After the train station, our last stop was the village of Tae Sung Dong. This is the village that farms inside the DMZ. They are regulated and protected by the United Nations. Whenever the villagers are farming, the UN sets up a security detail around the field to protect them. We only spent 20 minutes here to shop through their market. Here, they sold the ginseng and tea that they are famous for. Once everyone finished shopping, we headed back to Seoul to finish out the day. 

I am really glad I took the time to see this in person. It is a subject that I have studied and have continued to pay attention to. I remember researching the tensions and causes. Seeing and experiencing the tensions that are still a constant here is something that I will never, and hope to never, experience state-side. The fact that the DMZ is only an hour away from the Capitol of South Korea still blows my mind. Even though it is so close and the potential threat that the North poses (i.e. look at how quickly the North took over the South during the Korean War)' it does not affect the citizens here. The few locals I have spoken to about it, refer to it with an air of indifference. They know it is there, but it currently does not affect them directly, so they do not dwell on it. I can honestly say I have a new understanding for this conflict and the steps that both sides have taken over the past 50 years. It would be very interesting to go to the North one day and take their tour of the DMZ and hear the difference in the stories. All in all, it was a good day. I went back to Seoul, changed and then headed out for the evening. The evening turned out to be very relaxing and vastly different from my activities during the day.

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