This by far has been the most imposing thing that I have taken part in since I have been in Korea. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go on a tour with my mom to the DMZ -- the area of land separating North and South Korea. This tour was one of the best ways to understand the situation, the tension, and the reality of the North and South Korean division. The surreality of the situation at hand caught me off gaurd and it saddens me tremendously that two countries as one family are pointing guns at one another. As a result of this experience, my understanding of the recent history of Korea has taken on a new dimension.
The tour is guided by United Nations Command military personnel, taking us through several sites along the boarder between these two countries. At the start of the tour we had to sign waivers stating that Korea was not resposible for personal injury if a battle ensued. There was a specific dress code and we were not allowed to make any hand gestures or dramatic movements because they might be interpreted as a threat by the North Koreans. In our tour group we were with an older man that was pointing and waving his hand at the North Koreans as he was speaking. My mom was so freaked out she thought she would be shot at because of this; I couldn't help but laugh at her since, if any of you know my mom, she is very uptight to start with. The picture shown on the left is called the "Bridge of No Return" -- the only bridge connecting North and South Korea. Cross this line and don't ever expect to come back (just as the name states).
But it can't be all that bad in North Korea, right???? Well to anyone who is unfamiliar with the Korean War (1950-1953) you might think this. In all actuality however, this war (which has not officially ended) has changed the face of Korean society. I am not going to go into details about the war but if you wish to learn more than click here.
Life in North Korea is not pleasant. As a citizen living in a communist society under the direct rule of a single individual, personal rights that we as Canadians take for granted are forgotten. These Koreans are constantly bombarded and brainwashed with propoganda. Everything that enters into North Korea is filtered as a means to keep these individuals out of touch with reality. At certain times of the day they are forced to listen to broadcast information providing them with inaccurate information about what exists outside of their country. They are told that South Koreans are bad and want to wage war against them. By having the opportunity to participate in this tour I was able to somewhat comprehend the grim reality of this country.
In the above picture you are able to see the gigantic flag pole in the North Korean Propaganda Village. South Korea was the first to build its flag pole on their side, but shortly after the North Koreans counteracted with a much larger flag -- weighing in at over 500 pounds (dry flag).
Now the building directly in front in the above picture is located in North Korea. The two soilders that you are able to see are South Korean soilders and if you look carefully you will notice that they are positioned halfway behind the building; the purpose of this is to decrease the target contact space incase firing was to occur. How would you like that job????
One part of the tour that we were not able to take pictures of was an underground tunnel dug by the North Koreans in an attempt to invade South Korea. It was just recently discovered by chance and it was only a few miles short of Seoul (the major South Korean city -- where I live). The North Koreans tried to pass it off as an undiscovered coal tunnel dug during the war, which is why they painted it black. Who knows what state this country would have been in right now if that tunnel wasn't accidentally discovered?
Overall this is by far the most amazing thing that I have witnessed since my arrival in Korea. The tension and anxiety that I felt that day is something I will never forget. Simply by being there the seriousness of the situation was magnified ten fold -- fortifying the cruel reality of both North and South Korea.