EM, our friend from work who was visiting Seoul at the same time we were, suggested that we go on the DMZ tour (Korean Demilitarized Zone) – one of Tripadvisor’s most popular things to do in Korea. I have to confess I was a little skeptical at first. It’s one of those things that most Korean natives don’t really think about doing, and the whole thing just sounded both boring and dangerous.
But it was actually a very cool experience. At $80 USD per person, the tour wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. I don’t mean to get too sentimental, but the experience gave me a perspective about my homeland that I often forget when surrounded by the sleek and opulent life of modern Seoul. The tour had a lot of rules about when and where we were allowed to take pictures, so I don’t have much. But here’s what I got:
Getting to the border took about 1.5 hrs from Seoul. When we got to the Joint Security Area (JSA), we were taken in for a briefing at the Camp Bonifas visitor center. We signed some forms that said something about how we could be shot and killed and blah blah blah. There was a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation about the two Koreas and their history of violence.
OH! Hello! This picture is actually taken from the other side, y’all! We were actually standing in North Korea! This is the conference room of T2 building that straddles both Koreas. There were two South Korean soldiers guarding this room, and they looked like statues. But if you get too close, they will click their heels together and yelp or something to let you know that you need to back off. They also wear sunglasses so that North Koreans can’t tell whether or not the soldiers are looking at them. I’m sure that behind his shades, this soldier is glaring at us thinking that we’re the world’s biggest tools.
The hem of their pants have ball bearings in them. It has something to do with how in the old days, the South Korean solders were grossly outnumbered, and they wore these weighted pants so that when they’re marching, it would sound like they have a lot more soldiers. They’re not outnumbered anymore, but the Republic of Korea soldiers still wear the pants with ball bearings out of tradition.
But while we’re on the subject of JSA fashion: we were actually given a lot of warning about what we can’t wear on this tour. For example: no high heels, skirts, shorts, “gangster-style” clothing, leather riding chaps, sleeveless shirts, and athletic stretch pants. I was really bummed about having to leave my riding chaps at home.
The big grey building that you see in the background of the first photo is P’anmungak (판문각) of North Korea, and here is a close up. We are given many many maaaany warnings during the tour about how we should not point or wave or gesture towards the North Korean soldier. We must not do anything to provoke them. We can’t even wear baggy clothes or carry big bags because they might think we’re carrying weapons or something.
Here’s our North Korean soldier watching me watching him. Someday, I will write a book about this guy, and it will be called, “The Summer of My North Korean Soldier.”
A view of the Peace Village, aka Propaganda Village in North Korea, where all buildings are empty. There is a gigantic North Korean flag pole, and supposedly the flag cannot fly except under very very extreme weather conditions, because the stupid thing weighs 600-700 lbs. The crazy tall, crazy big flag is the result of a very petty pissing match between the South and the North. It’s so stupid and petty. You can read about it here.
We drove past so many minefields that house millions and millions of mines. I’m always contemplating worst-case scenarios, so I was imagining what would happen if our bus driver had a heart attack or something and drove our bus into the minefield. I think we can all agree that would be Bad News Bears.
At the Dorasan Station, that connects the North and the South. It’s no longer working and is only open to tourists. We ran up and down the tracks pretending to be defectors.
Dorasan was our final stop, and we took a photo with another South Korean soldier. He was a lot friendlier than the dudes at JSA. This poster says “Not the last station from the South/ But the first station toward the North.”