Monday, March 11, 2013

Trip to the DMZ

We were picked up in an unmarked black SUV by a friendly driver who asked if we had our passports. After that things got a lot more normal as we joined the larger tour - perhaps thirty people in all - and drove north of Seoul to the DMZ. It was pretty bleak up there: every inch of the landscape blended into a smoggy, foggy, grey and brown smudge.

Security checkpoints, armed guards, constant warnings to "not take a photo" encompassed the majority of the morning. The rest of it was our tour guide, Michelle, who spoke in rapid-fire English punctuated by giggly yeps and rights and mhmmyeps. Every sentence started with "anyway" and often continued with "okay, now we gonna," but Michelle was knowledgeable, well-organized, and efficient. She got us from A to Zed with martial efficiency that, I imagine, would impress even the North Koreans.

There are many take-aways from the DMZ. The first is that North Korea still scares me and should probably scare everyone. My friend Ina said it well yesterday: they could do anything. We don't know. As I taught my students the other day, they're cray-cray. It was the infiltration tunnel that did it for me. South Korea has found four tunnels built for a land invasion from NK to SK. North Koreans used dynamite to tunnel into South Korean territory and, when found out, denied having built the tunnels. When pressed they admitted to digging them, but only for purposes of searching for coal, citing the black smears on the wall that they themselves left there. The geology of the region brooks no doubt that there is absolutely no coal anywhere nearby. It is estimated that another 20 un-found tunnels riddle the border. Cray-cray.

No photos are allowed in the tunnels, but they have an overly cheerful statue just outside. Korea loves juxtaposition.
The second take-away was one of many promptings for my previous post about jeong. All the bridges and roads along the DMZ are called "Peace" or "Unification" or some-such. I have never spoken to a Korean who does not support reunification, despite the immense danger and cost to the South. As their rocky relationship has teetered between intensely hostile and almost friendly over the past 60 years, South Koreans have alternately armed themselves and built train stations to connect Seoul to Pyeongyang. Someday, the South Koreans hope, this train station will be up and running, connecting North to South and reunifying the country.

In the meantime, they hope and pray.

If you do ever get the chance to go to the DMZ, I recommend taking either the JSA tour or a tour to the 3rd infiltration tunnel. Afterwards, I highly recommend the Korean War Museum. It's not only free but it's also one of the best museums I've ever visited.


  1. Man.. that train station... can't get the picture out of my head.

    1. Think that's bad, I should have showed you pictures of the gift shop-! Even worse, I can't get the woman's voice out of my head. "Hmmm. Oka. Yep, mhmm, right. Kay, now you can take a photo."