Friday, May 30, 2008

North Korea

A brief history lesson from Wikipedia: "In the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, the Soviet Union accepted the surrender of Japanese forces and controlled the area north of the 38th parallel, with the United States controlling the area south of this parallel. Virtually all Koreans welcomed liberation from Japanese imperial rule, yet objected to the re-imposition of foreign rule upon their country. The Soviets and Americans disagreed on the implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea, with each establishing its socio-economic system upon its jurisdiction, leading, in 1948, to the establishment of ideologically opposed governments.[11] The United States and the Soviet Union then withdrew their forces from Korea. Growing tensions and border skirmishes between north and south led to the Korean War.
On June 25, 1950, the (North) Korean People's Army crossed the 38th parallel, with the war aim of peninsular reunification under their political system. The war continued until July 27, 1953, when the United Nations Command, the Korean People's Army, and the Chinese People's Volunteer Army signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement.[12] Since that time the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has separated the North and South."

Ok, now that you know the background, it's time to visit the most heavily guarded border in the world. Technically, these two countries are still at war, with just an armistice agreement, not an actual peace treaty. Thousands of people die each year trying to cross the DMZ (From the North going to the South). The tour I went on is kind of a little disappointing. The DMZ is about 4 km wide and I didn't really get to go super close to the North Korean side because... I was on the South Korean tour. If I want to go to the JSA (Joint Security Area... where you actually get to see North Korean Guards), there is a few days of a waiting period where they do a background check and whatnot. Sohee can't go there without a 2 MONTH waiting period. Not many South Koreans go to the JSA.

I first have to let you know that there isn't many pictures of the real cool stuff because basically, the ROK (military police) will smash my camera if I snap a photo in the wrong place.

So we head north arrive by train (cost only 1.50 cents for an hour and 10 min train ride) in a town called Imjingak. It resides just below the DMZ and it wasn't wasn't what I expected. It was flashy, very tourist like, had an amusement park with all these rides for children. You can ride the "peace train", shop at all these tourist outlets (you can buy North Korean alcohol, merchandise, a piece of the DMZ fence, and get North Korean currency). We went to the "Freedom Bridge", which used to be called "Bridge of no return". Basically, people just send out wishes of Unification on this bridge:



This is the last passenger train to have gone to North Korea from the South. They are currently building tracks to go all the way again, and the South side is already built.

In fact... why don't we go on those tracks right now. Because both countries want unification (even though it is quite impossible right now), they have already built railroad tracks to someday carry passengers to and fro. Here is the train station sign... A little blurry, but the left arrow says "Pyongyang"... the capital of North Korea.

Here comes the train to the DMZ!!!

So now we are in the DMZ. There is one town of about 500 people that live in the DMZ. Because these people are not technically citizens of South Korea, they don't have to pay tax or go into the 2 year mandatory military service. One of the first things you notice is that there is razor wire fence EVERYWHERE! It's to keep people from crossing but more importantly, this is because any place beyond the roads and farming (they actually farm rice there too) is a land mine field. Scary! I couldn't take pictures of this, but I was warned not to wander off (in Korean, then translated by Sohee). Taken on the train... this is one of the many military posts along the DMZ:

While in the DMZ we toured one of the tunnels. South Korea discovered 4 tunnels built by North Koreans. The purpose is believed to be an invasion route for the North Korean army, although the North has denied this and told them it was for coal mining. It's an obvious lie and in the tunnel you can even see black spray paint that they used to try and cover it up. More information at : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Demilitarized_Zone#Incursion_tunnels

I went to the 3rd tunnel. I wasn't allow to take photos in the tunnel. So here is one outside the tunnel. Everyone has to wear helmets because the tunnel is about 5'8. Custom fit for Asian size. I suppose.

Outside the tunnel, there is a museum with a few artifacts from the DMZ, we watched this 15 min presentation that was really interesting... but, it basically unification propaganda by the South on how the DMZ now represents "peace" and all that. I wasn't really buying it.

Then there were more Unification type ornaments everywhere. Here is a good one:

Yeah, I'm pushing the world back together because Communism and Democracy go really well together. :) .

We then headed to a military base where you can actually view North Korea. Photographs are tricky here, because I am given a line. If I step over the line and shoot a couple of frames, those military dudes will bust my camera.

It was extremely cloudy that day, and because we are above sea level and kind of in mountain areas, I couldn't get really good photos. The picture below is the tallest flagpole in the world... It's in North Korea and bears the North Korean Flag.

Ok... So you can't see anything. Let me try again.


Yeah, it just looks like a foggy pole and you can't even make out the colours of the flag. Well just look at this then... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Gijeong-ri_Flag.jpg

So anyways, we then ate some food then went home. I took a photo of the train station in the DMZ. George W. Bush was here in 2002 when this station was finished being built. As of now, you still can't take a train into North Korea. Even though it indicates everywhere that someday you will be able to take this train to London. Yeah. That won't be for a while.

So at this station, you can also get your passport stamped. It's not a North Korean passport stamp, but more of a DMZ stamp indicating you are in the middle of nowhere. The top stamp indicates that the train goes to Pyongyang.

The tour was a little disappointing as I didn't get really close to the North Korea. I think I'll go on the JSA tour next time without Sohee so I can get some photos of North Korean Guards. I also want to pick up some North Korean Soju (alcohol), currency, and some other touristy stuff.

By the way, some of you might ask if I actually can go to North Korea. Yes, I can. But I have to go through China. It has some cool and exciting things to see, and maybe someday I'll even go, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts... It's not a pleasant place to visit. You should see this guys blog about it...

http://www.aboutnorthkorea.com/

Anyways, I was very humbled by this experience. It's hard to believe that I was in Seoul enjoying the night life, the freedom the safe streets, advanced technology, etc.... and just 1.5 hours north is a 3rd world country where people are starving on the streets and getting executed publicly for practising religion or saying anything bad about the gov't. It is quite bizarre and extraordinary that something like this exists in our world... a 3rd world country resides right beside a 1st world and neither side can do anything about it.

So, It will be exciting to go back on the more "Dangerous" tour. But for now, I gotta go to Thailand. I leave in 4 hours. GTG!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very sweet man.

Dude im so jelous that your having a killer and my idea of having fun is watching Vince L in misery lol.

dont forget bring back some candy and shti!!!(ya i misspelt it whats it to ya)

Cameron!!!!!omg im drowning in tickets Carrier!!!!!

Sunny said...

WOW...that is so cool...just last week I was watching a Documentary about North and South Korea...and there you are visiting the places they were showing...keep the awesome posts coming...