Monday, October 25, 2010

Korea: DMZ

On a particularly dismal day, we made our way (with tour guide and driver, in a minibus) up to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.  The weather seemed somehow appropriate to the subject matter as we learned about the many families that remain separated by the barbed wire and heavily guarded border.
This bridge is where prisoners of war from each side were exchanged. It is called Freedom Bridge and also the Bridge of No Return, I guess depending on which way you are traveling on it.
There are several very long infiltration tunnels built by the North Koreans in order to make a surprise approach under the border. So far four have been found. Who knows how many actually exist. We took a tour down into the Third tunnel, but only after donning the appropriate personal safety protection. 
We couldn't take any pictures inside the tunnel itself, but here is the story we were told: Apparently the North Koreans first denied digging the tunnel, but the South pointed out the direction of the dynamite blasts as proof of which side it came from. Then the North said, "OK, but we were just mining for coal" and pointed to the thin layer of coal that had been smeared onto the walls, but the South pointed out that there wouldn't be any coal in the solid granite through with the tunnel travels. Finally, when the North found out that paying tourists were visiting the tunnel, they admitted they built it and demanded their cut of the tourist dollars.
But despite these stories of aggression on the part of the North and the lines we couldn't pass and the armed military personnel that we needed to obey, there was this additional message of hope and eventual unification. A little amusement park was even built at a time when relations were particularly good.
Of course no destination is too somber to avoid having a selection of kitschy chocolate souvenirs...
...and some mascots. seriously.

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