Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Brush with North Korea

Saturday we finally went on a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). We'd originally booked a bizarre tour that included strawberry picking which I thought was absurdly hysterical. Unfortunately, there weren't enough people for that tour so it was canceled but luckily there are plenty of DMZ tours and we managed to book with another company. The day wasn't ideal but we did have an amazing time.

It was raining, which sucked for a number of reasons. First, it's really hard to take pictures when you're holding an umbrella. Also, my hair goes "Diana Ross" which is fun for no one. The rain also reduced the visibility so we couldn't see much of North Korea or of their propaganda village. And on top of that, our group of friends was half as large as planned since Dana, Curtis and a friend of Gisela's decided not to come. Gisela almost didn't make it herself since she was waiting for her friend (he doesn't have a cell phone so she didn't know if he was coming or not) and traffic was bad so she was late. We worked it out though and ended up having an awesome day despite the snags.

We started off at Imjingak Park, home of the Bridge of Freedom. This is the bridge which crossed a stream adjacent to the Imjin River and was used by refugees from North Korea. Imjingak Park was created for the family members who have relatives in North Korea who they are not allowed to see or have any contact with. All forms of communication between North and South Korea are completely forbidden. North Korea is incredibly cut off from the world. No internet, no cell phones, barely any TV and the only channels are North Korean run.

What would Imjingak Park be without at least one Super Viking? Got to keep the kids entertained while you're mourning the loss of communication with your loved ones in North Korea... Hehe.

Next we headed to Communism Hall and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. The museum was interesting but the tunnel was definitely the highlight of the tour. I'm kicking myself for not slipping my camera in my coat pocket. Pictures are technically not allowed in the tunnel, which really sucks because it's incredibly fascinating. I did take one of the entrance of the tunnel. The tunnel is incredibly deep and long (and we only were allowed to tour through about a third of it). It was discovered in 1978 and it's name is because it's the third tunnel South Korea discovered. They have found four in total, the last being found in 1990, although it's alleged that there are more than 20 created by North Korea. Inside you can see that North Korea painted the walls with charcoal so when South Korea discovered the tunnel N. Korea claimed it was an abandoned coal mine (despite that geologically speaking it would be impossible to have a coal mine in that area). The charcoal is slowly washing away and you can see the granite walls beneath it. The walk into the tunnel was fun and easy since it was all downhill but let me tell you, walking out of it was a workout! Holy crap!

Next stop was the Dora Observatory. It was interesting to go there even if we really couldn't see much and you weren't allowed to take many pictures. Really, with the poor visibility from the rain, pictures would have been pretty boring. I did manage to sneak one picture of North Korea on the horizon. Yes, I crossed the line, literally. Look! There be dragons!

Another cool stop on the tour was Dorasan Station.
Should unification happen there is already a fully functioning train station connecting the two countries. Which is pretty touching and amazing. Look at the massive list of private citizens that donated to help build Dorasan Station.

I posed with some of the soldiers guarding the entrance to the train station. Don't I look tall? Apparently there are three trains that run to North Korea daily. They don't contain passengers, however, just supplies and building materials for various projects.

The last few stops were a bit boring. A supermarket where you could buy North Korean wine, soju and ginseng, along with other souvenirs. Then they took us to an amethyst store. I was totally having flashbacks to the Dominican Republic and its shopping tours. I had no idea that amethyst was S. Korea's national gemstone. It was pretty but expensive so we opted out of purchasing anything.

On the bus ride back to Seoul Matt made a new friend named Sarah. She was visiting Seoul until Monday when she was going to fly back to California. Apparently she was in Japan last week for spring break. So when we were dropped off in Itaewon we invited her to have dinner with us. Dinner was DIVINE. We had Indian food at this place near the Foreign Food Market (where we bought some more real cheese afterwards) and it was so delicious and such a great price: only $15/person for the buffet (for Itaewon this is incredibly cheap). OMG, it rivaled the New Asian Village in Edmonton for the yummiest Indian food ever. If only they had rice pudding for dessert.

After dinner Matt decided to go home and call it a night. He was sick with another cold. Not sure what's up with that. He was barely sick last year and I was sick all the time and it seems this year we've switched. The rest of us decided to have a few drinks and headed over to Gecko's Terrace. The gods were smiling upon us since we managed to get a table. I've tried to get a drink there a number of times but there is never anywhere to sit so I always end up going somewhere else. We had lots of tasty beverages and good conversation (it was nice to get to know Garrett, our newest coworker). It was such an amazing day! If you want to see all the DMZ related pictures you should go here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WHAT?! No rice pudding in a basket? That's whack!