Dangerous encounters: Korea 10

The more I think about it, the more I realize why I can't seem to write a post on the DMZ. It's impossible to truly convey the experience. Neither pictures nor words will do it justice.
Bulgogi lunch outside the DMZ
I could write about the fun parts: the monorail ride into the 3rd tunnel, the beautiful park near the border, the delicious lunch of bulgogi. All of those things were wonderful and make some fantastic memories but discussing them seems to betray the true spirit of the trip.

Unlike many tours, the DMZ is not a particularly fun tour. It's a rather somber affair, much like Dachau was. But there's a key difference between Dachau & the DMZ. What happened at Dachau is done and over. It's well behind us (I hope). Only the spirit of the true horror of Dachau remains. The prisoners are gone, the furnaces no longer burn. But the DMZ is still active.

There's no wandering around the JSA by yourself. There's a strictly enforced dress code. Pointing is forbidden. Pictures are only allowed in specific places at specific times. You have to sign a waiver just to enter the JSA. Why?

Fifty yards away from where you stand taking pictures is North Korea. The axis of evil. It's within reach: just a quick sprint and you're there (not that there's any reason on God's green earth why you'd want to do so). There's no fence in between you and North Korea. The only thing that would stop you? The UN security forces still actively protecting the area and the North Korean guard monitoring your every move.
South Korean guard within the JSA
Before entering the JSA we got quite a debriefing about how we were to behave. No pointing. No bags of any sort. Only cameras or binoculars without their cases. No lenses that can go over 100mm. If you have something bearing the name or flag of a country turn it inside out or cover it with tape. If you're wearing shorts or a miniskirt, change. If your pants are ripped, change. If you're wearing flip flops, change. The scariest part? How serious they are about it.

Nowhere that I've toured before have I had to have my passport inspected so many times.

The JSA itself wasn't the only frightening part. On the bus ride to the JSA we drove through some beautiful forests. Our guide informed us that they were as pristine as they were because there were still thousands upon thousands of active landmines scattered throughout them. Scratch frolicking through the forest; I like my limbs attached to my body, thank you very much.

Even the third tunnel was a bit frightening. While laughing and giggling our way through the cramped tunnel, we were constantly reminded that the tunnel was built by the North Koreans as a means of launching an attack on Seoul. It's capable of moving 30,000 troops per hour, complete with weaponry.

The park was wonderful but heart-wrenching. Scattered throughout the park are reminders of the devastation of the Korean War. There are memorials to those who died fighting. There are also memorials to those families who remain separated between the two Koreas. Yes, there are still families who cannot contact their loved ones in North Korea. Sixty-one years later.

Ribbons at Imjingak Park
I understand now the magnitude of what has happened to Korea in the past sixty plus years. And I join the Korean people in fervently hoping that one day this country will be united again.

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