South Korea Basics - History and Geography
The Issue of Unification - A Lost Sister
|My hosts - The Baek Family|
The Demilitarized Zone
|DMZ - View of North Korea|
|Proof of Chris' presence at the DMZ|
As we moved towards the DMZ, we had to stop to get our tickets. It almost seemed comical that one must have tickets to go to the DMZ, but hey, I don't make the rules. The bus was a charter bus, and we had a tour guide. Straight tourist status. Our guide was an elderly short Korean woman who seemed to know way to much about the world's most tense border. But again, I don't make any decisions here. We stopped at a park to get the tickets. The name of the park is escaping me, but the imagery is still vivid in mind. We pulled into an empty parking lot. The sky hung heavy. Imagine an building placed at the entrance of a state fair or public facility - this is the building. Behind it there is a ferris wheel - yes, a ferris wheel - that is completely empty. The visibility isn't much more than 20 yards, and the top of the ferris wheel almost dips into fog cover. We sat in the parking lot for a while for the tickets. When our seasoned tour guide returned we were off again. Already filled with a sense of the eerie and the bizzarre, I was somewhat apprehensive to see what else was coming. As well pulled out of the lot we were met with a statue of (again my memory fails me of the number) say 3 gigantic people. The three statues descended in height. We were told that each statue represented yet another generation of Korean separation. As the statue grew smaller, the links between North and South shrunk as well. So much for an amusement park. A ferris wheel ride would have simply been too much.
|Insadong Street View|
Upon arriving, our passports were checked. No big deal. First stop was a video introduction which featured a segment on the flourishing wildlife of the DMZ. Fun fact - people actually live on the DMZ grounds. Soldiers roam the area at night for security and there is a 9PM (I believe) curfew for the villagers. If memory proves correct, 60 people still live at the DMZ. Before going to the DMZ I imagined the border - it is much larger. It takes a good 20-30 minutes upon entry before you arrive at the border. This is a very large area. After the video we took a cave trolly underground a few hundred feet to the tunnels that the North Koreans dug in order to attack the South. It was, by far, one of the strangest experiences of my life. The walls of solid rock were saturated, and without the hard hat provided and required I would have definitely lost my head. We walked to the edge of the tunnel space opened for tourists, and peered into the vast depths of the bowels of North Korean earth.
|Said Train Stop|
Seeing as this bit is never ending, I'll skip to the climax. We finally arrived at the border. Second passport check. Dress code check - no baggy or loose clothing, no clothing with holes. No waving, smiling, or faces to be made towards North Korea. This could be used as propaganda against the "poor West craving to enter North Korea." No facing South Korea once at the border. Two lines, single file, hands by your side. Armed guards to assure this. You pull into a parking lot. After said checks, you are given a badge that says tourist/visitor/I can't remember exactly. Seeing as the DMZ is the epitome of the cease-fire, war can potentially break out at any moment. These little badges were supposed to assure us that if war did break out, we would not be killed but rather taken hostage by North Korean soldiers. You enter a very large building. I mean, it's huge. It's ornate. As you walk in, it is completely empty. The lights are off. You walk up a large and dramatic staircase to the second floor. You walk out the back doors and you are now 20 feet from North Korea. You are given 120 seconds to enter the building that straddles both nations and step foot on North Korean soil. Then it's time to go. You walk back through the gigantic show building, board the bus, get a look at the worlds tallest flag poll. (North Korea boasts a 500ft+ fagpole that lingers through the haze.)
We drove back to Seoul, feeling conflicted over the beauty of the surrounding lake and mountains with encroaching clouds in the valleys and the barbed wire, gaurded fence that separated the road from the river.
Conundrum of South Korea and The United States
|Shinchon District - Just outside of Yonsei Gates|
|Traditional Korean Village - "Hanok"|
Though the role of the United States in terms of international relations probably isn't the most pressing facet of this proposed identity crisis, the influence of the West and the contrast of traditional Korean culture continue to obfuscate the big picture.
Westernization and Industrialization
|Stone Marking at Buddhist Temple|
South Koreans loves to speak of the country's dominance as an Asian country. They like to point out the rich history of the nation; however, in m experience, at least, Seoul was primarily concerned with preserving modernity and Western culture. Advertisements were placed on the subways to encourage youth (especially women) to get surgeries done on their eyes and mouths to make them look more Western. Western music is well known. Western clothing is well known. Yet again, another facet of this identity crisis.
|View near Buddhist Temple|
All PHOTOS COPYRIGHT © 2012 CHRISTOPHER JACKSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
(UNLESS CITED OTHERWISE)