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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The DMZ

I know, it's about time, right? We only went a month and a half ago! Well, as I will apparently do anything to procrastinate from cleaning my apartment tonight (I know, shocker!) I thought I would finally get started catching up on our travels this summer. This could be a long one, but I will be focusing on the time that we spent in the most recognizable part of the DMZ.

We went to the DMZ when Sam's family was here and it was truly an intense trip. I'm not sure photos can really capture the sense of tension you feel while you are there. We also happened to be there the day after a South Korean woman was shot and killed by the North Korean army. You can read more about that incident here. Needless to say tension was especially high that day. It is strange because I don't think we ever felt "unsafe" at any point, it was just a heightened sense of being at a place of deep division.

We started our day at literally 4:30am. We needed to be at the USO office by 7:30 to check in for our tour and didn't want to risk running late at all. The USO tour is the only one that actually takes you inside the JSA (Joint Security Area... where the famous blue buildings are) and it is definitely worth it. Our guides all day were very knowledgeable and we were able to see areas that no other tour is able to see.

The 4 km (about 2.5 mile) wide border between North and South Korea, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) is the most heavily fortified border in the world. Panmunjom (the JSA) is the only place in the DMZ that the two sides meet. Before we actually entered the JSA we had to have a briefing and basically sign our lives away at Ballinger Hall:


Then we headed up to Conference Row where the infamous Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Building is. This is the building where all meetings related to the 1953 Armistice Agreement take place and it straddles the line of demarcation... half of the building is in South Korea, half is in North Korea.


The table is marked down the middle. We are on the North Korean side.



A Hosack family portrait in North Korea.



The lighter side is North Korea, the darker side is the South.



This soldier is gaurding the door that opens onto the North Korean side. I kept my distance...



Soldiers stand only half-way exposed to the other side.

The Bridge of No Return. Where all POWs chose sides at the end of the war. Once you crossed over, you could never go back.

A view of North Korea's "Propoganda Village".

I don't feel like I got many great photos of this experience... probably because I was so nervous through the entire thing. I did manage to break both rules that we were given "don't place anyting on the tables in the MAC building" and do not point or gesture at the Northern side. I blame the 4:30am wake-up call.

However, the relationship between North and South Korea is improving all the time. Reunification is the ultimate goal of most citizens and there is no ill-will between the citizens of either country. A Free Trade Area has actually been established inside the DMZ and the Kim Jung Il has met with South Korean presidents several times. In fact, when we went to watch the World Cup Qualifying match between North and South Korea it ended in an obviously deliberate draw and the North Korean players received a standing ovation when they entered the stadium. However, the two countries are still technically at war, and the DMZ makes this abundantly clear. It was definitely a day we won't forget.

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