DMZ- The Only Divided Country in the World
Yesterday a few friends and I headed to Paju, Gyeonggi-do with Adventure Korea. Adventure Korea is a well known travel club here that has weekly trips to various destinations all across Korea. Some of their trips include temple stays, deep sea fishing, surfing, exploring caves and trips to various Asian countries… just to name a few. We headed to the DMZ (Demilitarized Done) which divides North and South Korea. Although the subway is in both English and Korean, we still managed to get a little confused and got off one stop short. With the bus arriving in 10 miutes I was almost positive we were going to miss this trip. Thank god we didn’t, because it was a day to remember! The bus from seoul to Paju took about an hour and along the way my eyes were glued to the barbwire fences that parted the two countries. Every 100 or so meters were little army huts filled with soldiers with their eyes on the North.
Our first stop was ImjinGak, which is as far as civilians can go to the North by themselves without permission. Imjingak was built to console those who had lost their families to the North. It has Manngbaedan, an altar where those who cannot go back to visit their homes get together and pray for thei ancestors and families on the New year day or Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving). The peace bell was put with the starting of the millennium for wishing a peace and unification between the two Koreas. This was a truly special and unforgettable place. I was able to buy a peace ribbon, write on it and place it on the fence with all of the other ribbons filled with prayers and hope. It was very touching and made me really appreciate all that I have. We were able to see what was left of a train from the Korean War and we also go to see the Freedom Bridge, which was used to exchange prisoners after the war.
There are two villages inside DMZ. The first one is Daesongdong just near the Panmunjom and the other one is Tongilchon (Unification village). We visited the second one and it was quite fascinating to see how the people in this village live day-to-day. There are no gates or addresses on the houses and only about 100 families live here. To keep residency they have to sleep in their houses a couple hundred days of the year. They do not pay taxes, or have to serve in the military because they are pretty much living in war zone. They have a curfew every night as it is dangerous to be outside at certain hours. We stopped at this village for a delicious lunch that consisted of freshly grown rice, soybeans and ginseng.
Our next stop was the third tunnel. The 3rd tunnel was first discovered in 1978, was dug by North Korea to infiltrate into the south. It is 2m in width, 2m in height, 1,635m in length, and 435m from MDL. Visitors descend about 300 meters at a 14-15 degree angle before reaching the North Korean infiltration tunnel, which is 73 meters below the surface. Its almost like 25-30 stories building. The floor of the tunnel (interception & infiltration tunnel) is covered with rubber mats and the wall with charcoal which was applied to give some possibility to the North Korean claim that the tunnel was part of an abandoned mine. This tunnel would allow about 10,000 armed or 30,000 unarmed soldiers to invade Seoul within one hour. Scary isn’t it? To date, the South has only discovered 4 tunnels but they predict that the North has dug about 20 more that they are unaware of. We were able to venture down the third tunnel and take a look into North Korea. The decline was about 100m down and this is something I will never ever forget. In my head I was thinking, Wow I am so close to North Korea, this is so cool.. but then I started to feel badly that I was so excited. There are thousands of people who have never been outside the country, who will never get outside the country and who are essentially stuck inside the country for the rest of their lives. While they would give anything to get out, I am somehow feeling excited to be to close to such a country..very uneasy feeling.
Dorsan station is a railroad on the Gyeonggi line, which once connected North and South Korea. Materials were shipped between the Koreas until 2008 when the North Korean government closed the border crossing after accusing the South of a confrontational policy.For several years now, the northermost stop of the line was Dorsan station, but the South is hoping for unification and that some day this station will be open and running into the North. It was incredibly sad to see such a beautiful station all built and ready to go, yet no one is using it. We were able to buy a ticket for 50 cents and go and play on the tracks.
Our last and final stop was supposed to be the Dora Observatory, but for some reason the soldiers restricted our bus. We headed to another observatory which had a spectacular view of the North. For 50 cents you could use the binoculars and see right into North Korea. I saw two people! Our tour guide informed us that these are fake cities…showing only what they want you to see..So when I say I saw North Korea yesterday I guess I really didn’t because the North Korea the world knows doesn’t consist of modern houses and nice villages. Looking to my left and seeing the South, then looking to my right and seeing the North was an unforgettable sight. The South is filled with life and tall buildings and the North literally has nothing in sight.. and it looks quite dead. For only around $40 CAD I was able to explore the only divided country in the world!