Monday, June 22, 2009
That's me and a Republic of South Korea solider at the Joint Security Area of the DMZ. The JSA an the area of the DMZ where troops from the two Korea stand, at times literally, face-to-face. In the above photo I am standing in a room that straddles the little strip of raised concrete (it is really no more than the height of a curb) that constitutes the border between north and south, and I am actually standing on the North Korean side. So, there you go, me in North Korea. Leader from the north and south use this little, to be honest cramped, and unadorned room to conduct talks, and there are two troop (the one I am in the photo with and one other) that are permanently posted in the room. They do not move They do not talk. You are not allowed to touch them, nor are you allowed to walk behind them. They are kind of like the Queen's Royal Guard, but with 1970's sunglasses in place of funny furry hats. Oh, and the glasses I am wear are mine by the way, not sure what that says about my sense of style but...
This is a larger picture of the JSA. The large building looming in the rear of the photo on the top is Panmon Hall or Panmungak, and it is the main building on the North Korean side. The photo on the bottom is of Freedom House as viewed from the North Korean side. And, no I did not take this picture. Freedom house is used by the ROK to conduct meetings and exchanges, and currently houses liaison houses for both the North and the South. Also, the color of the buildings is worth mentioning--all the blue building are controlled by the ROK/UN/US and all the silver building are controlled by the North.
Some of the "face-to-face" Guards at the JSA, and the famous Bridge of No Return, which is, as I am sure you can tell by the photo, no-longer in use.
The DMZ in reality a pretty intense place. There is a sense that while no one wants to fight (and by fight I mean shoot each other, because everyone, and I mean everyone is armed) they would not hesitate to do so. While I was on the tour I had the chance to speak briefly to one of the US troops that is stationed in the DMZ and ask him what he thought of the tour groups being there. All he said was that he used to act as a guard on for the tour groups that came, and that he does not anymore.
Sure enough there is a real danger going to the DMZ, but these is also a certain sense of theatrics to the behavior of everyone there. This is true especially among the tour guides who constantly remind you "not to look or smile at the NK troops because they will use your picture for propaganda." And, "you can not wear the ripped blue jeans that you people (you people?) like to wear, because the NK will tell the people that Americans cannot afford pants without holes." All and all, if you get a chance go! It is well worth it.
Posted by JW at 5:16 PM