Today I visited the DMZ. It was impressive. Though I signed up too late to get on a tour to the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom where the table divides North and South Korea and the opposing forces are face to face, the half day tour I was on was super informative and interesting. A bus picked us up at Yongsan army post and our Korean guide discussed history and current events the whole time. Driving to the DMZ we passed by miles of barbed wire to keep out NK spies. In the DMZ there was a definite military presence with bunkers, bases, and soldiers.
We stopped at Imjingak, a Korean War memorial park. I didn’t get much sense of the war there but more a desire for unification which turned out to be the common theme throughout. There wasn’t much on display about battles, battlefields or military equipment.
Next was a visit to the 3rd infiltration tunnel – 72 meters underground, 1635 meters in length. The ramp down to it is about 350 meters long and not bad considering it’s the equivalent of 23 stories deep. However the actual tunnel was a bit harder to navigate since I had to somewhat squat the 170 meters or so to the farthest point then do the same on the way back. It was hard on the old knees and back but worth it. Good thing for the helmets they provided because I must have hit my head at least two dozen times. NK claimed they were digging for coal after initially saying it was just a tourist attraction dug by SK. Good try but a hard sell when all the dynamite holes were dug from the north and the coal dust plastered along the walls was from NK.
Next stop was the Dora observatory on a hill overlooking NK. It was somewhat hazy but I still got a good look into NK – propaganda village, the Gaeseong industrial complex, farmland, and the exceedingly high flagpole (which they had to heighten a few years ago when SK built a taller one). Pretty mountainous just beyond the DMZ.
Our final stop was at Doramon station – the northernmost train station in SK, built with the expectation for unification and the possibility of rail travel all the way to Europe. It’s still passengerless for now.
It’s an interesting political dynamic in SK right now with the older generation seeking unification but the younger generation recognizing the significant differences between the two nations and looking for permanent separation. We’ll see how it turns out. Korea was a unified nation for centuries before the Japanese so they have a long history to draw on. Interesting how people in different lands are trying to preserve their identities as the world is shrinking around them, including Koreans, native Hawaiians, and Taiwanese.
Back in Seoul Kathy and I rode to the Dongdaemon shopping center and market to check it out. The center was packed with individual shops speciaiizing in textiles, fabric, and knickknacks, not the finished goods we were looking for. And the market was between lunch and nighttime (when it’s really hopping) so a lot of the stands were shut down or quiet. We were both hungry and opted for a restaurant meal instead of street market food so we headed back to our bnb.
Right around the corner is a cafe, Seven Eleven, and two good looking restaurants – one noodles, the other bibimbak and bulgogi. We chose the second one and had two beef bulgogi plates – one with rice, the other noodles. They were a great choice after a relatively foodless day. They came with soup, salad, a hard-boiled egg, and kimchi and cost about $12 for both of us. The food was fantastic. Unfortunately nothing was in English so I don’t even know the name.