On my friend’s second full day in Seoul, I had arranged for all of us to go on a tour hosted by the USO that would take us to the DMZ and also give all the participants more knowledge about the situation between the North and the South. I was pretty excited; this was one place I didn’t get the chance to visit when I still lived there. We arrived at the USO headquarters at noon and made the one hour trek up towards the border…
First, we headed to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. Basically, the North Koreans had built a number of tunnels under the North-South border in order to better invade South Korea and the South had found three of them. Lovely. Anyway, this part of the tour had us learn more about the significance of the tunnels and we got to walk down a section of the closest tunnel to Seoul. It was damp and a good early afternoon workout – I did enjoy the knowledge that the North could invade the South with 30,000 (or something like that) soldiers in just a couple of hours with the very tunnel we were traipsing in. I just love hands-on learning experiences!
Next, we headed to the Dora Observatory where – you guessed it! – we observed the North. It was pretty neat. There’s actually a Do Not Cross to Take Pictures line so all of the pictures I did take from here had me on the tips of my toes and utilised my camera’s zoom to it’s utmost ability, but they did have a number of binoculars you could feed coins into to ingrain North Korea into your memory.
The closest North Korean city that you see there is called Propaganda Village by those outside of Korea due to the ‘image’ of North Korea it presents visitors from the South with along with the blaring speakers it hosted. I believe they have stopped with the speakers, but don’t quote me on it. The North Koreans call it Peace Village, or Kijeong-dong.
The Korail, or the Korean rail line, is one of my favorite methods of transportation so it was interesting to see that there was a station that connected the South with the North: Dorasan Station. It has only been used once but has since closed down – other than for tourists coming through to see the second-to-the-last stop before North Korea. However, there is an area near Kaesong city in the North where both South and North Koreans work together in a factory run by Hyundai. It’s possible that the South Koreans that work there commute through the rail – this rail.
Then there was the highlight of the tour: the Panmujeom, a village that laid on the border, and the Joint Security Area (JSA), which was where all the North-South diplomatic and military disputes are talked out and also where the North and South face each other – literally. Here, we went into the blue building on the left and met one of South Korea’s special forces; they apparently need a masters degree in Judo and Taekwondo (and supposedly pass a How Good Looking Are You test) to be accepted into this elite of elite group. I found them all pretty attractive.
Back to the point: in the room, our tour guides gave us recounts of rather childish displays of ‘power’ between the North and South during their meetings at the beginning. The North seemed to follow the theory that the bigger something is, the better. It escalated from small flags able to be placed on the table to huge flags that could barely fit through the doorway. Laughter aside, you can feel the tension. While we were given the tour, the North was also looking at us, listening to us, and recording us – both in and outside the buildings.
They call him Bob. The silver buildings around us were controlled by the North and the Blue were property of the South. I wonder how well he could see us through those binoculars…
Afterwards, we were taken to a point where we were essentially surrounded by North Korea on 3 sides.
It was odd, watching the sun set over the land, thinking – telling myself – that it was North Korea… and yet it looked so normal. Then you catch sight of that ridiculously large North Korean flag – again, “bigger is better”. The flag itself is reportedly 600 pounds.
Lastly, we got back onto the bus and made our way past the Bridge of No Return.
It does look a tiny bit desolate, though the autumn foliage makes it look a bit more optimistic. This is the location where POWs from the Korean War were exchanged. They had the choice to walk over or stay, but whatever choice they made was final, hence the bridge’s name. Following this was when the ‘no pictures’ ban came into effect but here, I present our tour guides–
This was an amazing tour and I was glad I had gotten us spots on it. Now… if I ever have 2500 USD to take a tour of North Korea for a couple of days and see their side of things, I’d do it in a heartbeat – and after a call to my boss.