Monday, 19 December 2011


**Note: Breaking news has announced the death of Kim Jong-Il. My Korea postings are appearing following my trip two weeks ago, so I wasn't there when this happened. It will be very interesting to watch how this plays out in the region. Kim Jong-Il was a brutal dictator who isolated his small country from the rest of the world. Outside of China there are few governments willing to support the dictatorship. He was, however, well loved by North Koreans. His son Kim Jong-Un is poised to take over; a young man who is a complete unknown with no experience in diplomacy or leadership skills. It's fair to prepare for a degree of turmoil during the power transition in Peyongyang, but hopefully the peninsula will avoid a major conflict.


I've travelled all the way to Korea. I would be remiss if I spent all my time eating and having my skin removed. I wanted to take part in something more historic. So I signed up for a USO tour to the DMZ.

These are slightly tricky to get on. They only run them twice a week so try and book ahead of time.

Also there's a a strange dress code. For instance you aren't supposed to wear a skirt, tight pants, shorts, high heels, or sweatshirts. Verbally I was told not to wear sneakers or jeans. So I wasn't entirely sure how to outfit myself for this trip. I actually did wear a skirt because I assumed they meant no short skirts. And I wore a pair of tight pants on underneath it. Brave. I also carried some extra clothes in my backpack in case I got in trouble. I was alright.

First we stopped at the Third Tunnel which the North Koreans secretly dug to try and sneak into Seoul. it was discovered in the 90s. We couldn't take pictures.

We also stopped at Dorasan Station. A newly refurbished train station that stands empty awaiting the day that North and South Korea will again be connected.

I bought a ticket!

The DMZ is 160 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and the most heavily militarized border in the world. We were allowed to take photos. Sort of.

We were also taken to a gift shop where we could buy things like:

North Korean liquor.

Rice grown inside the DMZ.

Once we arrived at Camp Bonifas on the 38th Parallel which separates the North from the South we had to follow a set of rules. We always had to stand between two ROK soldiers and we couldn't take any photos of the South. 

We did see some North Korean soldiers.

Our guide told us sometimes the DPRK soldier's stand on the border line and make slicing motions across their throat. Boyish. And scary.

The North Koreans have one of the world's largest flagpoles. The flag is so big that it is too heavy to blow in the wind.

There's a village on the South Korean side called Freedom Village. The people who live here are mainly farmers and they aren't required to pay taxes. When they tend to their crops they must be guarded by ROK soldiers. Otherwise they risk being kidnapped by the North Koreans.

Back in 1976 there was a horrifying incident pegged the Axe Murder Incident. Two US soldiers were attacked and killed by North Korean soldiers when they attempted to prune a poplar tree. We heard this story several times. In the museum they had a model of the incident. I thought this verged on bad taste. And reminded me of the murals on the TV show Parks and Recreation.

Just after our visit the North Korean government threatened to attack if the South Koreans put up any Christmas decorations at the DMZ. There is a lot of hostility here.

Hopefully someday this tiny country can be reunited.

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