411 on the DMZ

(‘411 on the DMZ’ is about some dude’s experience while visiting his mate in South Korea)

 

‘Doth thou will a DMZ expedition?’
‘Aye, that becomes me.’

We left Seoul early that morning in a bus bound for the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

As we headed north our tour guide set the backdrop with a story.

For most of history, North and South Korea didn’t exist. The country itself was unified in one singular ‘Korea.’ Japan invaded and subsequently finalized its annexation of Korea in 1910, but lost control in 1945 due to surrender to the Allies. Similar to Germany’s fate, Korea was divided into two separate nations at the 38th parallel north line- the communist ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ to the north, and the United Nation’s backed ‘Republic of Korea’ to the south.

In 1950, North Korea, in association in with the USSR stormed past the 38th parallel line, sparking the Korean War. This surprise attack succeeded, and North Korean troops pushed to eventually conquer 90% of the peninsula. As a result, the Americans intervened to assist and reclaim South Korea, but didn’t stop when they reached the 38th parallel line. The Americans continued pressing forward, and almost succeeded in occupying the entire Korean peninsula until communist Chinese troops came out of nowhere in hordes over the border to aid North Korea.

The Chinese troops pushed the Americans back and fighting fizzed out coincidentally at the same 38th parallel line. A final agreement determined this line as a ‘buffer zone’ between the nations where no military could enter, and they creatively deemed it the ‘Demilitarized Zone, or ‘DMZ.’ The Koreas agreed to an armistice, but to this day, the countries are still at war.

map-1

you get the picture

We arrived first at Unification Village, a little town dedicated in hope to the day in which the two Koreas would be unified. Here lay various heart-wrenching monuments dedicated to the hope of someday being reunited, memorabilia of families being torn apart, machines used in the Korean War, and the ‘Bridge of No Return.’ This prisoner-exchange bridge connects North and South Korea, and is named so eerily because any prisoner who repatriated during the Korean War had a choice to stay in captivity or cross to their homeland, but once they made a decision, they could never change their mind.

Bridge of No Return

near the ‘Bridge of No-Takesies-Backsies’

We then headed for Dora Observatory. The South Koreans built this observatory into the side of a giant hill to better see over the DMZ and into North Korea.

 

North Korea

North Korea

Here you can see Kijong-dong, a ‘propaganda village’ set up by the North Koreans to allure defectors. There the buildings are colorful and brightly lit, loudspeakers supposedly spout anti-western propaganda 24/7, and a giant flagpole stands in the middle of the town. In the 1980s, South Korea built a huge flagpole near the DMZ displaying their flag. This caused the North Koreans to reciprocate by building a bigger one in Kijong-dong, bearing their flag. This childish game continued back and forth for a while until South Korea stopped.

South Korean Soldiers

soldiers throwing peace signs, oh the irony

A short walk away, Dorasan Train Station is a recently built and actively maintained train station…. with no trains coming through. This modern looking building was erected in 2007 and ran for roughly one year before the North Koreans demanded it be shut down. The station seems like an average train station, bar the eerie LED signs scrolling ‘0 minutes to departure to Pyongyang.’

Dorasan Station

Twilight Zone – S06E01

We then headed for the 3rd Tunnel. Since 1974, the North Koreans have made many attempts to build tunnels under the DMZ into South Korea in hopes of someday ambushing Seoul. Four of these tunnels have been discovered and even more are speculated to be undiscovered. The 3rd Tunnel, discovered in 1978, is the largest. At the time, the UN and South Korea considered it a serious act of aggression.

Attack on South Korea

everyone wants a piece of your Seoul, Korea

When questioned about the tunnels, North Korea always denies involvement or says they were ‘mining.’ Once inside, we noticed black marking of charcoal on the walls. These markings were left by the north to create the illusion of ‘coal,’ as an excuse for why the tunnel was there. Upon further inspection, it eventually became clear this was just a poor attempt at covering their tracks.

North Korean Tunnels

Trying to keep warm/not freak out before taxiing ~250 feet below ground

The tunnels themselves are a little claustrophobic, and painful on your back as you have to crouch to continue through them. You must wear a hardhat inside and the regular ‘thunks’ of people (including myself) hitting their heads on the tunnel ceiling lightens the ominous mood a bit. This particular tunnel is the largest of the four, and is able to transport whole battalions of troops in little time- perfect for an ambush. Once we walked for approximately fifteen minutes, we came to a blocked wall and barrier with a small ‘Speakeasy-grill’ type seeing-eye flap. Through here you can see the North Korean side of the tunnel. Unfortunately, it’s forbidden to take pictures in the tunnels.

oversized fake tunnel display feat. ‘Speakeasy-grill’ seeing-eye flap thing
It’s appropriate that North Korea does something sneaky and ultimately denies the whole thing. Then, the capitalist South Korea opens it as an attraction, and profits off the stupidity of their aggressors by publicly displaying their idiocy as an attraction.

Love & crazy-difficult-to-hold metal chopsticks,
Jared

Post (bizarre) Script: Supposedly, it’s common to put make-up on your dog in Korea.

Dog Make-up

no alcohol advertisement has convinced me more