Wednesday, May 7, 2014

DMZ Tour

This is one of those weekends when it's great to be in Korea. We had last Thursday off for Korean Labor Day. We had to go back to school on Friday, but now we have a three day weekend to celebrate Children's Day, so we've been enjoying our time off with Lindy. But now, here we are with another guest, and I still haven't even finished the posts from when my brother was here. Worse yet, my worst season of grading begins this week. One hundred and sixty articles to grade a little less than three weeks. Yikes!

One of the last things we did before Travis left was take the DMZ tour. It's a pretty expensive trip, so Eric hadn't been too excited about going himself. Kids under 16 aren't able to go on the trip, either, so it was just Travis and I on the trip. We took the tour provided by the USO, which begins by boarding a bus not far from our house. It takes about an hour to get up to the DMZ, which provided ample nap time after having to get up so early. Upon arriving, you get off the tour bus and onto a screened and secure bus that drives you around while inside the DMZ.

Our first stop was at the Joint Security Area (JSA). It's the one area where both South Koreans and Enkay soldiers work together. The concrete building above the blue buildings is where the Enkay soldiers observe the JSA, though we were told that in the entire building, there are typically only two soldiers. The blue building below is where weekly meetings are held between the two sides.

We were able to go into the meeting building and cross the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), so we were technically in Enkay.

This is the MDL through the window. Unless you are inside one of these blue meeting buildings, then no one from either side can cross this line inside the DMZ. Prior to the Axe Murder incident in 1976, soldiers in the DMZ had much more freedom and there was more interaction between the two sides. But, after two South Korean soldiers were killed with axes by Enkay soldiers while they were cutting down a poplar tree that hindered the line of sight, the MDL became a much more strict separation for the two countries.

We had the world's fastest speaking tour guide while inside the DMZ, so I can't say that I understood everything he said, and of course, I can't remember all that I learned, either. But, after leaving the JSA, we headed to a couple of observation points--one of which the guide claimed as the coldest spot in South Korea. It was freezing!

This was our view of Propaganda Village where the world's largest flag flies on the world's 3rd largest flag pole. Once upon a time, Propaganda Village was where loudspeakers would deliver messages touting the brilliance of Enkay leaders and life in Enkay. Strangely, though, where Propaganda Village (or Peace Village as those in Enkay call it) is intended to portray a picture of the perfect life that's possible in Enkay, it is actually uninhabited. It is one of the few places that appears to have electricity, but in actuality there are generators that run on timers, so that it appears to have electricity.

Taeson-dong is the one village that exists inside the DMZ, and is also the one wealthy village in all of Enkay. They live tax-free and are also free from the military duty that is compulsory in Korea. There are some rules that go along with living in this village, though. There is a curfew and a requirement as to how many nights per year they must sleep in the village.

The above picture is of a monument where the poplar tree that was the cause of the Axe Murder incident once stood. Below is the Bridge of No Return. After the war ended, Prisoners of War were released from both countries. They were given the freedom to choose which country they wanted to reside in, but with the knowledge that they would never be able to return to the country that they gave up once the decision was made.

We also visited the train station that connects a subway line between the two countries. It was originally intended to operate as a commuter train for those from South Korea who work in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and connected to Pyeongyang, as well. The line was refurbished, but is no longer in use, as Enkay shut it down in 2008.

The future hope is to connect the Koreas to the Trans-Siberian Railway using this line eventually, but for now, it sits empty. It's just another tourist attraction now.

After the train station, we had lunch--bibimbap or bulgogi buffets. It reminded me way too much of the school cafeteria, but it wasn't bad. Trav went for the bibimbap again (I lost track of how many times he ate that while he was here!), and I had the bulgogi.

Our last stop was at the Third Tunnel, which included a walk deep into the tunnel, as well as a museum about all of the infiltration tunnels from Enkay into the DMZ. If you've never heard about the infiltration tunnels, it's a bit scary. I'll let you read a little more about it yourself here. Suffice it to say, these tunnels were discovered in the 70s, and Enkay still denies their existence. There is even evidence in the tunnel of spray paint that they used as an alibi for reasons as to why they'd been digging. The Third Tunnel itself was designed large enough to move 30,000 troops an hour into the DMZ.

The picture above is how I had always pictured the DMZ, but we didn't see any evidence of this particular practice. There was a lot of chain link and evidence of mines, but no soldiers walking the fence.

The day ended with a South Korean movie and a nap on the bus ride home. Trav and I left wishing that we'd written notes throughout the day because we learned an overwhelming amount of information that I can barely remember. I would recommend the tour to anyone who is interested in the DMZ itself, is willing to fork out the money, and here long enough to spend an entire day touring (because we won't be going with you!). 

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