Thursday, November 15, 2012

Washed out at the DMZ

After many beautiful weekends, the day our tour to the DMZ between North and South Korea was to take place ended up being a rainy, dreary day. Photographic opportunities were a near zilch, between the steady rain and fog. At the Panmunjeom Joint Security Area occupied and possessed by both the UN and North Korea, the North Korean soldiers were no where to be seen. We couldn't even go into the blue building on that day, which would have enabled us to momentarily step over the line into the North Korean administered area. 

At the observatory, fog obscured any view of North Korea. A drive through the DMZ took us through areas that were quite silent and void of any action, on or off the road. While the forested area looked rather serene, our army guide explained that land mines were scattered throughout the region. With the absence in human interference in the 4km wide by 250 km long heavily militarized border, a number of species not seen in other areas have flourished. The guide recalled seeing what is known as a vampire deer.  The one place not hampered by the rain was the tour down the Third Infiltration Tunnel. About 1,600 m long and 350 m below ground, this tunnel, discovered in 1978, is only 44km from Seoul and could have accommodated 30,000 troops per hour. A hard hat was a welcome accessory in the rather low-ceilinged tunnel.

We also visited the train station of Dorasan. Hailed as a symbolic place for national unification, this rather new (and well maintained) train station once allowed special travel between the two Koreas, but since 2009, the station has been the final stop, no more entering the northern country. Our guide from the USO in Seoul talked about a factory in North Korea that made a South Korean-brand snack cake and whose workers were given some of the cakes as a bonus. Instead of eating them, the workers would sell the prized snack and use the money for basic necessities. 

At the train station, the rain momentarily subsided, granting me the opportunity to take this photo. Indeed, this area of the Koreas is equally as beautiful as what is found down south. It is the fervent hope of many that one day such beauties can be shared with a unified country and re-united family members.

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