Published: May 30th 2006May 21st 2006
A guard in the JSA, near the Peace House. These guards have ball bearings in their pants. As the Korean forces were much larger than the Southern, South Korean soldiers sued ball bearings to make it sound as if many more troops were approaching
It's a must see. You need to do it, get the t-shirt, like the pyramids or the Great Wall. It is the thing people ask you if you saw when you go to Korea. So I climbed my sleepy suburban ass out of bed bright and early and took the bus to the big ol' city in a wild pack of teachers, all chomping at the bit for a bit of "fresh air". Everyone said it would be a long day. Uh, yep, they were right. Apparently they needed to tell Jen that staying out all night drinking the night before would significantly increase the length of the day.
It begins at dawn, quite literally, and slowly works its way throught the day. I believe the buss pulled back into the USO station in Seoul around 3 or 4. These numbers are completely relative, as is all time when you are on a bus. SUffice it so say that is felt like three or four days later. But it is absolutely worth it.
The tour takes you to Panmunjon (this is spelt differently everywhere you go or read about it, but it is all the same thing...the "town" closest
to the DMZ on this side of the equation). This is where the army has there...set up. This is where the adventure begins. After recieving your official "permittance" badge, and signing your life (quite literally) away, they ship you into "enemy" territory. There is a lot of hoopla...a lot of hype the USO is required to throw at you....and it works in general. It makes you a little uncomfortable, a little speculative, a little on the edge. We were fortunate (in my opinion) enought to have a young, droll, cocky, unknowledgable tour guide to sift us through the propaganda and the information about the most protected piece of property on the planet. It was fitting. I heard countless times that day "this guy sucks, I wish we had the last guy, he knew his shit..." but I didn't care. You can read all about the DMZ and get a much more appropriate picture than any USO guy is going to paint for you. It was an ambient additive to have a stereotypical officer who didn't give a shit and had no interest in what he was doing, really. he respected the laws he was expected to follow, and made sure
we all stayed in line. We got our little dose of humour to colour of experience, and otherwise, it was a tour as any other. He was "doing his job", like we all do day in and day out. And that was that.
Inside the DMZ was surreal. It was a hazy, foggy day, and though I was dissappointed that we did not have a clear view and weren't able to make out the details of North Korean geography just beyond the scope of our binoculars (let's be honest, how different is it going to be 2 kilometers away?), it was adequate lighting to set the mood. It matched my thought patterns. I was in a haze...my knowledge of the depth of history of this country is limited, as was my literal view. I liked that...the way my surroundings were a metaphor of own understanding. It made me feel less guilty I suppose.
The real "experience" of the tour was the tunnel. It was the third tunnel, I believe, that the South Koreans found the linked the Noth Koreans to the South under the DMZ. In other words, the third "breach of contract", the third attempt to establish
a direct route into "enemy territory"...beyond neutral ground. It was a deep tunnel, and my claustrophobia helped intensify the tension that was inteded for the foreigners that slowly inched their way through. It was intense...or at least, intense enough to engage me.
A film is shown at the end of the tour. It is short, and intensely dramatic (I think the narrator is the same guy that does the previews for Universal Pictures feature films). It features a little Korean girl, distressed and distraught, wandering the fence along the sacred strip. But, hallelujah, all is not lost! Time has mended all wounds! The DMZ is no longer a symbol of division and hostility! It is now a symbol of accord and harmony! Here, animals and humans can live together peacfully like nowhere else in the world! The DMZ stands for all that is good in the future of this planet!
Nonetheless, it is a must see. If not for anything, than to remind yourself of the stories we tell ourselves and eachother to keep hope alive, of naivity at the very least.
There are more photos below