Sunday, May 6, 2018

Is the DMZ the Oxiest of Oxymorons?

The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is the most militarized places on (and below) Earth.  Yesterday, I went on a bus tour to see it and lived to tell the tale.  I have always regretted not going to West Berlin during my summer eurailing a few years before the wall fell.  I guess I got this visit to the DMZ just in time before it becomes a zone of peace and happiness with the magic fairy dust that Trump is sprinkling (ok, I no longer see war as likely because it is now perhaps somewhat less likely than simply selling out Japan and South Korea... woot?).

Anyhow, I learned and saw many things along the way to and fro.  First, the DMZ covers the 2km north 2km south of the "border".  There are villages inside the DMZ on either side.  The flow of people near and into the DMZ is controlled, so we had to show our passports to a soldier on the way in and out.  I did ponder where all these North Korean defectors come from--the border is a difficult place to cross.  It turns out that most go through the northern border and eventually get to South Korea---well, some do, many don't make it.  We learned that Mr. Hyundai (that Hyundai) was a defector who stole the proceeds from his dad's sale of his only cow (supposed to be dowry, I think) and used that to get to the ROK.  When he eventually got rich, he sent 1000 cows to NK as compensation decades later.

The first stop of the trip was a destroyed bridge with a busted up train--the last locomotive to leave North Korea.  There were streamers representing families that were seeking to be reunified.

We could not go to the peace village of Panmunjeon where one can be steps away from the yellow line marking the border.... too much diplomacy these days, I guess.

So the next stop was the 3rd tunnel.  The North Koreans have dug at least four tunnels that go under the border so that they can pop up behind the ROK forces when they invade.  There may be many  more, with four being discovered.  The third one found is closest to Seoul (and it is mighty close--30 minute drive), so it is a tourist destination.  The South Koreans have built a sloping tunnel to reach down to where the NK tunnel is.  Quite a fast walk down, quite a climb up.  The NK tunnel is basically my height with some variations, so it was a good thing they gave us helmets.  We couldn't take pics--metal detector at entrance to find phones.  I have no idea why as the North Koreans surely know about their tunnel.
fake tunnel entrance

Exterior of SK tunnel to NK tunnel

It was pretty fascinating although exhausting and bad for the back (bending while walking a good distance).  The tunnel was wide enough apparently for artillery (must be smaller stuff) and 30k soldiers?  Not sure how that works as it was narrow.  South Korea has put in three concrete walls to block the tunnel. Each one has a small window so any funny business could be observed.  There is a marker at the barrier: 23660 days since the armistice was signed. 

Note the irredentist slogan
The next stop was nearby--an observation post where one can see across the border.  The pics were not great since the rain and fog were ordered to make for a suitable mood....

This model was better than our eyes/camera/binos on this rainy day
The line in the middle is the ROK border posts/fence/etc
 We then went to a train station--one that was created after a 2000 agreement that suggested there would be trade and tourism and such.  Um, not for long.  There was an industrial complex built just beyond the fog in these pics with SK capital and NK labor, with the freight train going there.  But that was turned off a long time ago.
Closed section, where folks going to
NK would transit

Note the destination....
Perfectly symbolic--empty inter-Korean transit office

On the way back to Seoul, our bus stopped at a ginseng store.  There as a bit of a tour of the history and biology of ginseng.  It was strange that they would not let us take pictures so this will have to do:

Korea is apparently unique in letting its ginseng grow for six years--only in the sixth year does it look humanoid.  Okey dokey.  We got a super hard sell of all kinds of ginseng products.  I am pretty convinced that the tour of the DMZ was inexpensive since the company is probably getting kickbacks from this ginseng place.

Anyhow, the trip was worth it, even with the unnecessary sidetrip to the ginseng store.

There were not as many visible weapons near the DMZ other than the rifles carried by the soldiers.  I know the North Koreans have plenty of stuff underground, and I am pretty sure the same is true in the south.  Too much artillery in this neighborhood to have stuff sitting around.  I am glad I went although my timing could have been better.  On the bright side, rain meant shorter lines.  If you come to Seoul, the  DMZ is definitely worth it--it is surprisingly close, dangerously so, but good for tourism.

No comments: