Tuesday, July 22, 2014

South Korea Part 7

When I was thinking about blogging about our trip to the DMZ, I wanted to title this post "Run DMZ," in an attempt to be clever (get it? get it!?). But this ended up being a pretty serious trip. The DMZ wasn't something I had planned on visiting when I arrived but when the opportunity came around I couldn't say no.

North and South Korea have been divided since a cease-fire ended the Korean War in 1953. If you don't know much about the conflict (or just need to brush up on your history) you can find more information here. I'll skip the long history lecture here (I did, in fact, lecture to AP World History classes on both the Korean and Vietnam Wars in high school because I'm a nerd) and fill you in with a quick summary, and then move on to pictures!

The Demilitarized Zone was established after the war, and extends for 2 kilometers on either side of the border, or military demarcation line. The dark orange part on the map is the DMZ, with the gray line being the border. The little dots are the known tunnels dug under the border by North Korea to reach South Korea.

Within the DMZ is the JSA, or Joint Security Area, where the buildings used for negotiations are located. Soldiers from both sides used to be able to walk around the JSA freely but that has since changed.

The entrance to the DMZ. This was after we had gone through the 2nd tunnel- if you are fairly tall like me, watch your head, they give you helmets for a reason!

The abandoned train station- the platform sign reads, "To Pyeongyang."

This is inside the Joint Security Area, a special zone within the DMZ. See where it's gravel and then suddenly changes to concrete between the blue buildings? That is the actual border between North and South Korea, or the Military Demarcation Line. If you cross over the big white line, you're in North Korea. The big concrete building is where North Korea sits and watches all the tourists, there are cameras all over the building and sometimes they come and take pictures! The soldiers standing are South Korean, and they have to stand in that position for hours at a time. 

The tour is very strict and guided, so you can only take pictures at certain times in certain places. After standing outside, we were lead into the main blue building, which is used for negotiations between the two countries. Since the building is built over the military demarcation line, when you stand in one half of the building you're technically in North Korea! Luckily there are only South Korean soldiers in the building, and it is not an official border crossing. But technically, I have stood in North Korea- now I certainly have a story to tell!

This is fake propaganda village just over the border, built by North Korea and completely uninhabited. 

The Bridge of No Return that runs over the border- this was used to swap prisoners at the end of the Korean War, and earned its name because once you crossed over to your side, you could never go back.

Selfies from North Korea! Sorry, we had to. 

While it takes almost an entire day and is very strict, the DMZ tour is worth it if you are in Korea for more than a week. You learn a lot about the history of conflict between the two countries, and it is more sad than scary. The entire Korean peninsula was cut in half over half a century ago after a bloody war, and many families were separated by the border. Reunions are rare, and getting a quick glimpse into a country as secretive as North Korea- even if that glimpse is through a telescope at a fake village and a barren countryside- is worth it for anyone who is interested in history, politics, or the conflict between the two Koreas.

While I was still in Korea for a few more days, I don't have many blog-worthy pictures. Needless to say, I absolutely LOVED my two and a half weeks in Korea. I am forever grateful to Lydia and her family for letting me tag along and see this beautiful and fascinating country. I really thought that I would never visit Asia, and now I can't wait to return.

Well, that concludes my Korean posts. I hope everyone enjoyed this little glimpse into my trip. I only shared probably a fraction of my photos and experiences, but I simply did and saw too much to write it all down in just a few blog posts. Just know that I had the most incredible and life-changing experience of my life thus far; I was placed into an entirely new culture, and while I was traveling with an American there were many times where I was a little lost because I couldn't speak Korean or I had to learn new customs. I believe everyone should spend time in a completely foreign country, learning new traditions and cultures. It gives you an entirely new perspective on life and I wouldn't trade this trip for anything!

My time in Korea has made me even more excited for Amsterdam. While The Netherlands isn't quite as exotic as South Korea, they still speak a different language and have many practices that are vastly different from the United States. But I am ready for this new experience and I can't wait, so stay tuned!

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