At the end of World War II, Korea was set free from Japanese occupation and the country was divided in two along the 38th parallel. The Northern half became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and affiliated itself with communism whereas the Southern half became the Republic of Korea and allied itself with democratic nations. In 1950 the two countries went to war. Three years and millions of deaths later, a cease fire was called and a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was set up along the 38th parallel.

On our second to last day in Seoul we spent the better half of our day hanging out in the South Korean side of the DMZ. The experience was a surreal mix of history, commercialization, cultural insight, and propaganda. For instance, although I expected souvenirs I never would have guessed the first stopping point would also feature a mini-amusement park. The vacant seats on the immobile carnival rides made it even more surreal.

We happened to arrive at the DMZ on the day Kim Jong-il planned to fire his missile across the Pacific. Although there was no intention to strike South Korea, there was an anxiety in the air. A TV network that we watched inside our bus gave the story non-stop coverage. And every time one of the passengers caught a glimpse of the video loop of a missile taking off, our tour guides patiently explained that it was actually from the previous launch.

Then again, it appears there’s always a little anxiety under the surface in Korea. En route to the DMZ our guide casually mentioned that we just drove by the last bunker — a bridge with a bunch of dynamite underneath it. In case of an invasion, the South Koreans have rigged bombs to blow up several bridges in an effort to slow the progress of North Korea. Civilians and military personal perform invasion drills and can successfully prepare Seoul for an attack in about an hour.

Dorasan Station -- the last train stop between North and South Korea. It's located in the DMZ and was built solely for the future when the countries will be reunited. Doesn't look like that'll happen any time soon though.

Gazing at North Korea.

It’s hard to not feel sorry for the people of North Korea. I sympathize with anybody who is forced to worship Kim Jong-il or Kim Il-sung from birth and told by their government to eat grass in times of famine. Of all the countries I can think of, North Korea is the one where I’d least like to live.

My friends and I peered out through those viewing stations in the picture above and found some people working in a field on the North Korean side of the DMZ. I respect those farmers. They found themselves in the middle of huge mess and stayed put. I hope they spend the rest of their days farming in peace.



One Response to “DMZ”

  1. Trip to Korea Spring 2009 « Pacificloons Says:

    […] DMZ […]

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