Tuesday, April 9, 2013

North Korea and The DMZ

North Korea has gotten a lot of airtime recently and I thought after my two years in Seoul, South Korea and only a mere hour from the border, I would like share some of my photos, memories and what little information I remember with you guys of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and my day trip to North Korea in 2008.

First up is my trip to the DMZ or as they call it in Korea, Panmunjeom. I took a tour to the DMZ in April 2008.

This is inside the JSA, (Joint Security Area). It is really hard for South Koreans to get into the JSA. They have to go through a four generation background check to make sure they have no ties to North Korea. We had to wear visitor tags the entire time we entered this area. The Korean soldiers are standing out here at this time for our protection. We are only about 100 yards from the North Korean building. I believe they told us at the time that each soldier had to be over 6ft and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. The building across there is a North Korean building. Visitors who approach the DMZ through North Korea are usually Russians and Chinese.  North Koreans are prohibited from coming here in case they defect across the border, although the price of freedom is (almost) certain death.  The Southern side of the DMZ is purely used for educational purposes for tourists and meetings with the North or other officials. The blue buildings belong to South Korea and the white to the North. Our trip to Panmunjeom cost a mere $50 whereas the tourists who visit from the North are charged up to $900 for their trip.

In 1984 a Russian who came here as a translator defected and sprinted across the demarcation line.  17 North Korean soldiers followed him and shot at him, once he crossed he was deemed in South soil and it was their job to protect him.  The North Koreans killed a Korean and an American soldier while the South killed 3 North Koreans and injured 5.  The Russian survived and is now a journalist in LA.  The Russian defector was identified as Vasilly Matauzik, 22yrs old.

ROK soldiers take this stance, so that it is harder to shoot them. On the other side, North Korean soliders stand in a triangular formation so that if one tries to sprint or defect to the South Korean border for a better life then the other two soldiers are ordered to shoot him. How scary is it that there is always a gun pointing at you?

This is the demarcation line within the JSA...The pebble side is South Korea and the cemented is North Korea.

This is known as Propaganda Village. Nobody actually lives here.  There are no windows in any of the buildings. The North Korean flag you see here is 30 meters long, weighs 600 lbs and the flagpole 160m high. Below are more photos of propaganda village taken with my point and shoot zoom.

Finally we were taken to look out point close to the border where you have much better views of North Korea and Propaganda Village. This was exciting for us to finally get photos and be as close as possible. However, one of the many rules of this trip was to stay behind that yellow line there if you want to take a picture. I see how that works. So I did, there are some North Korean clouds. :)

On June 14th 2008, I paid 250,000W to go on a day trip to North Korea. We would be crossing the DMZ and heading into a village called Kaesong. Have you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a place that looks like no one has ever lived there before? What I mean is, on a nature level, it is absolutely beautiful. It is so green and their landscape is absolutely gorgeous. The skies are clear and there is no smog unlike its Southern neighbour. There are no shops, hardly any houses or villages and their money is worthless. But imagine, no cars on the roads ever, it was like finding a place for the first time. I realise, all the things I found beautiful and interesting are due to the oppression, starvation and dictatorship each person lives under.

We could also see a North Korean guard every few yards on the road holding a red flag by their side.
Apparently these flags were raised if someone was spotted taking a photo from the bus. Then all the tour buses would be stopped and all the cameras checked until that photo was found and deleted. This was one of our MANY rules on entering North Korea. We were not allowed to bring a phone, magazine, books, music, no holes in our clothes (if we were not neatly dressed it could be used as propaganda against the South) and we wore name tags the entire trip and they were not to be removed.

We were given a Royal meal. North Korea had been in the news for not having enough food to feed its people and was often taking food handouts from the South and China. To prove to us they were not short of food, we were given the Royal meal. It was ok, but not fresh and a huge waste of food for most of us, because it was just too much. All 13 of those dishes were just for me.

This is the North Korean village known as Kaesong. This felt like I was on a movie set. When we came out from lunch, there was not a sinner to be seen on the street, then suddenly a guard came and directed a few buses that drove round in circles while lots of people walked around. Then, when we got back on the tour bus and as we were leaving, I thought where did everyone go?

The longest part of our trip was waiting at the border each way. On our way out, every ones camera was handed to a North Korean guard who checked the photos taken on the day. Any photo they thought didn't show a fair representation of North Korea was deleted from the camera. My guard was really nice to me because I was the first Irish person he had met. He kept asking me questions about Ireland and my blue eyes and he supposedly let me have photos that my American friends had deleted from their cameras. He wasn't so nice to my friends. I guess, It all depends on your passport.

Finally here is one of the $5 posters I bought from the small tourist shop they took us to near Kaesong.

Since its been years, I am sure I have forgotten bunches of information that was bombarded onto me at the time but I am sure that my Seoul peeps might help me out and fill in any gaps that I have missed.

©Alison Slattery. All Rights Reserved.