North and South

I had the opportunity (which I consider a privilege) to visit the Korean DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)--the North and South Korean border.

I don't know much about Korean war history, and the little I do understand, I've learned since being here. I've learned that in 1953, during the Korean War, the North and South called a cease fire. After this, each side pulled their troops back and created a buffer zone (2.5 miles thick), in a line that stretches across the peninsula and divides the North from the South. Inside that line, is called the DMZ. (See the picture above. The thick pink line is the DMZ, dividing the two sides.)
I learned that the DMZ is the most heavily armed border in the world.
While the DMZ line is 2.5 miles thick, I was able to visit an area called the Panmunjeom, which is the only area where the two sides connect. This area is called the Joint Security Area (JSA) and is where all their meetings and negotiations are held.
I don't mean to bore you with historical details but I figured that since I was posting a bazillion pictures, I'd try to help you understand them.

Here is a picture of my tour ticket. It was fun being "Mr. April" for the day.
mr. april
The first stop was to see the Freedom Bridge (or in Korean-English--the Freedom Bridgee).
This is a major connecting line between the sides and after the cease fire, it brought many people back home to freedom.
the freedom bridge
Many Koreans visit this bridge to pray for their loved ones in North Korea. There are memorials and ribbons and prayers written all over. I was told that during the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, this area is packed with people praying and weeping for their friends and family from whom they are separated. It seems to be the most tangible way for them to connect with the other side. It has been since 1953, or longer, since they have been together.


For me, I was particularly moved by watching the older men. They came in their wheelchairs and sat gazing painfully across the land. I imagined these men walking that same bridge more than 50 years ago. I imagined these men being held as prisoners in North Korea, and being given that chance to return home...walking that bridge to freedom. I also imagined some of them as North Koreans, privileged to be free here in South Korea, but longing sadly for their families living in the terrible conditions of the North. Either story is mixed with joy and tears.
I think any moment in history is best learned by looking into the eyes of those who experienced it. For me, watching these men was more meaningful than anything else on the tour.

We were brought to Camp Boniface for a quick briefing/history before we were taken into the JSA. This is also where I signed my name taking responsibility for my own possible death. That was sort of freaky.
This is our tour bus, and a few quick pictures.


And here I am, standing with North Korea behind me.
We had to walk in a single file line. We were not allowed to point in any direction because the North Korean guards might mistake us for pointing a gun.
We were told when and where we could take pictures.
I am smiling in this picture and the smile almost seems out of place.
But notice my fancy shmancy guest badge! Maybe that's why I'm smiling. Who doesn't like wearing a badge?
This is the JSA-the Joint Security Area. As I told you before, this is where all negotiations happen. There's a strange feel to the place. Everything is in perfect order, perfectly manicured. There is no sign of any life, except for the stiff guards watching in every direction.

This white building belongs to the North. There is one guard standing at the entrance. He watches everything. When we walked around, he stood with binoculars the entire time.
Here's a close up of that North Korean guard.
Like I said, they watching EVERYTHING.
There were quite a few South Korean Soldiers. They call them ROK Soldiers. ROK stands for Republic of Korea.

Then we were taken into the main negotiation room. Not much to see. Just two more guards, and a conference table.


And here I am again smiling. I really shouldn't have smiled in this picture. I look so dumb.
North Korea is on the left, South Korea is on the right. So if you look carefully, you'll see that I'm actually standing in North Korea! WooHoo!!!! I can check one more country off of my list!
north on the left, south on the right
Off in the distance you can see North Korea's "Peace Village" which South Koreans call "Propaganda Village". It was a city constructed only to give the image that they were thriving and successful. It was like a theater set, fake, and empty. With binoculars, people noticed that there was no glass in the windows, and no one lived there. Now, I guess a small population lives there.
They have the tallest flagpole in the world.
First, South Korea put up a flag pole. The North wanted to seem bigger and better so they put up their own flag, but made it taller and bigger than the South.
Then the South started blaring propaganda over loud speakers across the border. So the North responded by blaring their own propaganda.
It all seems so childish, like when you were younger and would draw the line across the car seat and say to your siblings "This is the line, don't cross it!" and then you'd whine "Mom...she's looking at me!!!!"
In 2004, by mutual agreement, they stopped blaring the propaganda over loudspeakers.
propoganda village in the distance


I saw many things but had restricted photography opportunities. But some things are just better experienced than recorded.
It really was an honor to peek into this country's history, and to gain a slightly stronger understanding of the struggles they are facing. It makes me pray for peace for them, and hope for their reunification. And it makes my heart ache for the people who have been separated from their loved ones.
Thanks for reading, and for looking at my pictures.


Dustin and Stacey said...

Wow! Cool! Ya know, it's a bit scary to hear that you had to sign a release to take ownership of your "possible death". Ummm...glad i heard it after the fact. :)
It's interesting though, growing up in America, we take so much for granted. But when you hear stories like that, or you experience something like that, it really makes you think. We really are very fortunate.

Mom said...

Wow! What a great experience to add to your adventure. I would be interested to hear what your students think of the place, their history and what you wrote about it?? Thanks for staying safe.XOXO

Jen said...

I am so glad that you are sharing what you are learning with us. It is great to share in your experiences. I, too, would like to know what your students think, or if they are interested in their history. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post, April, I really enjoyed it.

agingrich said...

Sounds like quite an experience!! What a neat opportunity to learn the history of a country most of us know so little about.


Amanda said...

I love the picture of you with the cheesy smile next to the guard... It made me smile... It was such an awkward look...

Rachael said...

This was a really interesting one. You're such a great story teller. You don't just relay events, you explain you you feel, and what your senses experience. I felt like I was there, experiencing the tour with you. :-) Maybe I'll get to in person one day...

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