Thursday, December 03, 2009

Into No Man's Land





November 27, 2009

6 AM - Woke up with a cold and sore throat. Slept lightly, with strange dreams.

7:50 AM – Met tour guide at our hotel in Myung-dong, Seoul, to board a shuttle headed for the actual tour bus.

8:50 AM – Finally depart for tour after delays due to bus getting stuck in traffic.

9:15 AM – Stop at Grand Hilton Hotel for final passenger pickup in Seoul, and make a quick break for the restroom. We are only about 50 minutes drive to the DMZ from here.

9:30 AM – We pay for our tour tickets on a cool CDMA cellular-enabled portable credit card swiper. Need to learn more about how these work later.

10 AM – North Korea is viewable from the left (west) side of the bus, for the first time, through barbed wire on banks of the Imjin River. Foggy conditions prevent good visibility. Our tour guide, Jason, speaks English somewhat haltingly but is friendly and does his best to cheer everyone up. His comments on history and politics are fairly conservative and biased to South Korea not surprisingly.

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10:15 AM – Arrive at Imjingak, a park created to host memorial services for South Korean families with parents in North Korea.









Here's Freedom Bridge.














Yes it's Popeye's, my favorite ;) Too bad it's not open yet.






At the gift shop, lo and behold - there's a very cool DMZ baseball cap. Have to get it!









Wonder if I should try to find a way to sell my CD here, but the clerk didn’t have much information.

Next stop: 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.


10:40 AM – A ROK (Republic of Korea) soldier boards our bus to check passports. Taking photos from the bus is no longer permitted as we enter the military-controlled area immediately adjacent to DMZ. Guide makes a half-joking comment about not moving if you step on a landmine, nobody laughs. FACT: Only about 35% of total landmines have been removed from the DMZ.

10:50 AM – Pass Unification Village, where about 500 South Korean citizens reside year-round, with major incentives including waiver of military service for male children. The environment appears increasingly desolate and foreboding as we near the 3rd Tunnel.

11 AM – Checkpoint for Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint trade initiative located just across the DMZ in North Korea, staffed with North Korean staff and largely South Korean management. Also passing the base for the 1st Military Division of South Korea.








11:05 AM – We arrive at the site of the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, discovered in 1975. It was discovered in 1978 and is just 52 km from Seoul, able to transport over 30,000 troops in about one hour. 3 additional tunnels have been located, including the 4th in 1990.

We descend a long walkway roughly equivalent of 25 stories underground to reach the actual tunnel. I have to bend my neck a lot because of the lowered height, and we are required to wear hard hats. At the end of the tunnel, there is barbed wire and a large video camera mounted prominently. If you cross over the MDL (Military Demarcation Line), you will be on North Korean soil.

It’s a draining walk, and my wife has some trouble climbing back up. What a relief to return to the surface.

11:45 AM – Reach the Dora Observatory, which enables viewing of the demarcation line through the middle of the DMZ as well as into the North Korean side.











Through the binoculars, we can see a lone NK soldier stationed at a guard tower. Seeing the barbed wire across the MDL leaves a deep impression.











12:15 AM – Leaving Dora Observatory. Picked up some souvenirs including a map of provinces in North Korea.









12:25 AM – Arrive at Dora Train Station, funded by South Korean citizen donations to connect the first railroad line between South and North Korea. The station is a fully functional modern facility, however there are no routes currently running into North Korea.

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There are 2 ROK soldiers standing at attention, a good chance for photo opps.















From here, one can envision a brighter future where there are active routes running from South Korea through Dora, up to Pyongyang and then Sinuiju.

















Souvenir visa stamps from Dorasan, marking the route from Pyongyang to Seoul.







12:50 AM - Begin the ride back to Seoul.


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