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Published: August 26th 2006
South Korean Soldiers
Standing at attention, ready to act, when necessary.--DMZ, JSA
I wanted to give the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) tour it's own entry because I felt like it was eventful enough to deserve it.
So, from Seoul, we boarded a tour bus in the early morning that would transport us safely to the DMZ and the JSA (Joint Security Area) and back. We shared our bus with a Japanese tour group-- which was interesting because first the Japanese translator would explain things in Japanese, and then our English translator would explain things in English. Thus, essentially we got the tour twice-- if only I knew Japanese.
First of all, there were dress restrictions. No open-back shoes, flip flops, etc.-- in case something happened and we had to run. Oddly, they allowed heels and other dress shoes. I think they should've said tennis shoes only, but then again, we were supposed to look nice, conservatively dressed, etc., in case the North Koreans decided to take any propaganda pictures. So, no tank tops, spaghetti straps, shorts or skirts above the knees (I think), and more. Yeah, they were pretty serious about that.
So, once we cleared the dress code, we set off to the north, following a river that is bordered
Inside the MAC Building
Where agreements and talks have taken place.
by barbed wire (to protect South Koreans from land mines gone adrift from the north-- it's happened before-- and to keep out spies from the north). We got a good history lesson on the way up, too. We ate lunch just south of the border and also saw a memorial park and Freedom Bridge-- a bridge where families from the north and south were allowed to meet in the past. (This practice has been suspended since the recent missile tests, I believe). So, the bridge is decorated with flags and notes. Also, families sometimes come to perform their ancestral rites-- a common practice where ancestors are remembered by the families in a cermonial form. I believe it's supposed to be held where the ancestors are buried, but for families whose ancestors are buried in the north, this important ceremony is sometimes done at Freedom Bridge. Also, from Freedom Bridge we could see the train tracks that connect the two countries-- which have not been used for some time. There was also a sort of peace bell nearby and a wall of stones from countries where conflicts have taken place-- European stones from WWII, places in South America, the middle east--
On Freedom Bridge
On the way to the DMZ
all over the world.
Then, we went to Camp Bonifas, the military camp that is just on the border of the DMZ and the JSA (Joint Security Area). We had to sign a waiver, and then were taken on a UN bus (bright blue) into the JSA, which is divided between the North and South. It used to have N. Korean and S. Korean soldiers throughout, but after a violent incident several years ago, it now is divided neatly down the center into North and South. We toured the Southern part but were able to take pictures of the north. We saw a few buildings where meetings had been held between the two sides. We also saw several South Korean soldiers and a few North Korean soldiers. We saw the two towns in the DMZ-- Freedom City, a South Korean city where families of the original inhabitants of the town are allowed to live-- tax free-- and Propaganda City, a North Korean city where no one lives but were used for propaganda purposes.
We also saw the Bridge of No Return, where POWs were allowed just after the war to cross to either side-- but could not return,
On Freedom Bridge
On the way to the DMZ
North Korean and South Korean alike.
It was a moving and saddening experience. I wish for peace for both South and North Korea. I don't know if reunification will occur-- if it will ever be possible-- but I wish the sad history of the area could be different.
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