Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Strangest Tourist Spot in the World

Near the end of my Korean adventure, Eric and I went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. The USO sponsors tours to the DMZ. Once you get over the fact that the United States has created perhaps one of the most fortified and dangerous areas in the world as a tourist spot, it is a pretty cool experience. The DMZ is about 155 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide and separates North and South Korea. An interesting sidenote is that the area of the DMZ has become an amazing nature preserve. The one drawback is the landmines.The tour starts with a 45 minute bus ride from Seoul to Panmunjeom, home of the Joint Security Area. This is the only place where North and South connect. Is anyone else concerned that Seoul (the capital) is 45 minutes (with traffic) from the DMZ? NQR. The Military Demarcation Line runs right through the Joint Security Area. The Joint Security Area is where negotiations are held between the two Koreas.
Once we got to the DMZ, we were greeted by US military personal who acted as our tour guide. Our tour guide was hilarious and full of sarcasm. Many on the tour did not know if they should laugh due to our location, Eric and I couldn't stop laughing. We were loaded onto another bus and taken to a briefing about the DMZ and the Joint Security Area. Sgt. Naumenkov told us about some of the fun events at the JSA. One was the Axe Murder Incident in August of 1976. At the time, soldiers were allowed to cross the MDL inside the JSA. A group of US soldiers attempted to cut down a tree that was blocking the view between two checkpoints. Within a few minutes, the US soldiers were surrounded by North Koreans. The North Koreans attacked and hacked two soldiers to death with axes. It lead to Operation Paul Bunyan which involved a massive show of US force to cut down the tree. Here is a monument to the slain soldiers. It is on the same spot as the tree. A couple of years later, a Soviet dignitary, while on a tour on the North Korean side, ran across the JSA shouting that he was defecting. He was successful, but one South Korean solider was killed. We then went to the conference room that sits right ontop of the MDL. The raised concrete slab is the DML. We were told that we should not wave or point at the North Korean guards.

Then we went inside the conference room. Behind him is North Korea. We were told that we should not open the door. Here I am in North Korea. I didn't want to get too close to the South Korean guard. We were told that he could cause us serious bodily harm. When asked how the Korean guards are picked, Naumenkov told us that they are picked because they are incredibly attractive and look great in aviator sunglasses. I told you this guy was funny.

This is the Bridge of No Return. It is the bridge were POWs were exchanged after the armistice. Once you crossed the bridge, you were not able to turn back. Hence the name. Right in front of the blue building is the location of the Axe Murder Incident.
Within the DMZ are two villages - one North and one South. The South village (Freedom Village) is actually populated. But heavily regulated. The village is locked down at midnight every night. However, they receive about $80,000 a year (tax free) and do not have to serve in the military. Not sure about the opportunity costs on that one. The North village ( Propaganda Village) is basically empty, but it does have the largest flag and flag pole in the world. The flag pole is 525 feet tall and the flag weighs about 600 pounds. yes, 600 pounds. We also toured the Third Tunnel of Aggression. The North Koreans have dug a number of tunnels under the DMZ in order to infiltrate the South. The tunnels are large enough to allow the movement of an entire division of troops within an hour. Before we left the JSA, we stopped at the duty free gift shop. Yup, the JSA has a gift shop. It was great. In the same breath that I mock it, I buy a shirt. NQR Baby.


Anonymous said...

could you please take my picture of the interenet? i am pretty surte i asked you not to put it there. For you it may mean nothing but you have put my whole family in danger.

Anonymous said...

dude thanks, you got ma an aas beating in school asshole. so much for apreciating the srvicemembers. Take my pic off the internet.

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