Located just about 50 miles from the city of Seoul, the DMZ is the last thing of its kind in the world. It is a buffer zone between two barbed wire fences and divides a country on ideological grounds. At times it seems to separate two countries willing to bury the hatchet and give reunification a chance. Other times it seems to be a much needed buffer between countries that disdain each other. After our tour of the DMZ this week it is hard to say which accurately describes their current situation.
Unfortunately, we took the cheap tour and missed out on seeing the Joint Security Area and the Bridge of No Return. We did get to see Freedom Bridge, the 3rd tunnel, Dorasan station and North Korea from an observation deck. The tension and weirdness felt by many visitors was lost on me. I think closer to the actual border this is much more palpable. Where we were standing it just seemed like lots of barbed wire and warnings not to veer from the sidewalk lest you step on one of the millions of landmines found in the DMZ. We were still quite a ways from the actual border.
Probably the highlight of the trip was the third tunnel. This was a tunnel dug from by North Koreans into South Korea in an attempt to take Seoul by surprise. In the 1970s the South Korean army intercepted the tunnel, located 73 meters down, before anything happened. Apparently 10,000 soldiers could move through this in an hour. According to our tour guide North Korea denied digging it and blamed it on the South Koreans. Then they eventually fessed up after evidence proved it had to be them. When they found out South Korea took people on tours of “their” tunnel, they wanted some of the profit.
The tour was quick. We rode a tour bus in, looked at Freedom Bridge, went through a checkpoint, showed our passport to a South Korean soldier, watched a short video, walked down to the 3rd tunnel, went to an observation deck, looked over at North Korea and as with all Asian tourist trap tours we were taken to a gem manufacturer in downtown Seoul. I think we missed out by not seeing the Joint Security Area. This is where South Korean soldiers and North Korean soldiers are close enough to stare each other down.
Most of the talk, especially at Dorasan Station and in a video we watched, seemed to harp on reunification. But it is hard to see how this is ever going to happen. Though South Korea helps North Korea quite a bit and there have been bright moments in their relationship with each other, something inevitably happens and they seem to go back to square one. Recently, the North Koreans are banning South Korean tourist from a North Korean resort after a South Korean was shot by a North Korean soldier. Understand? But this seems the way it is. No one wants to look weak in front of the other. Instead everyone, including the leaders of both Koreas, seem bent on posturing in plain view of the other. Hardly a way to come to terms.