Saturday, June 8, 2013


I honestly had very little desire to go to the DMZ. Nicholas always talks about it and I knew eventually we would go. I just had no idea it would be this past weekend. We had our good friend (and IMD classmate) Roberto in town from Peru and Nicholas was able to score three tickets on the Saturday tour.
Roberto pleased with our tour
I wasn't thrilled since it was a super early start, long day and expensive. I guess I never really thought too much about it and couldn't appreciate how incredible it could be.
We stopped at the first train station that goes into North Korea
On our journey north on the bus, we were given many history lessons by our South Korean tour guide. I spent a lot of time thinking about my Poppy who was in the Army Engineer Corp in the Korean war and how many people lost their lives in this conflict. I never realized how close North Korea was to taking over the Peninsula before the UN and international community sent in help.
Nicholas standing in North Korea, next to a South Korean Soldier, in the MAC Building,
where both sides will be meeting tomorrow
Once there, we were given a briefing by the United Nations Command military personnel and then we were taken to the MAC building (Military Armistice Commission) We were able to stand with one foot in North Korea and one in South, in the room where the talks are held between the two countries. In fact, during the soldier's presentation, he let half of us know that we were all fully in North Korea. Creepy. Tomorrow, in that very room, the north and south will meet again to hold talks. This will be the first time in over two years that the two sides will meet. We missed them by just a week!

Just across the way, we were being monitored by the North Koreans. Our military guide warned us to not making any verbal or non-verbal gestures, but to take as many photos of them as we liked, as they were doing the same with us at the time.
North Korean soldier watching us
Facing North Korea at the DMZ
It is the only place in the world, where the enemies stand face to face on a daily basis, literally. We watched as the South Korean or ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers stood in the Tae Kwon Doe ready stance, which the US soldiers admiringly call ROK Ready.
South Korean Soldier in ROK Ready stance
The South Korean Soldiers also wear pants that are cropped and bell out a bit at the bottom and are filled with metal ball bearings. During the Korean War, the South Korean soldiers were vastly outnumbered by the North Koreans, so they filled the bottom of their pants with ball bearings so when they were marching, it sounded more intimidating.

Memorial where the tree used to be prior to the Ax Murder Incident
Bridge of No Return
From there, we were taken to Checkpoint 3, near the site of the 1976 Ax Murder Incident. If you do not know the story, you can read about it here. It is a gruesome event and led to the most expensive tree-trimming in the world, known as Operation Paul Bunyan. We could also see the Bridge of No Return. This bridge was used up until the 1976 Ax Murder Incident, and is named as such since it was used for war prisoner exchanges. According to wikipedia, The prisoners were brought to the bridge and given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity or cross over to the other country. However, if they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return.
Propaganda Village and North Korean flag, it weighs close to 600 lbs,
so takes a strong gust of wind to get it to move
We saw the North Korean Propaganda Village from a distance and the South Korean village along the DMZ. We learned about these South Korean villagers who tend to the rice crop and are protected by the military. We learned so much. Things I never knew or imagined. It changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the seriousness and the sadness of the situation. Some of the stories we heard made us chuckle, but most reinforced the somber reality.

Although I didn't want to go, in the end I feel extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to witness this and learn about the dark history of our current country.

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