Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Northeast Asia Trip- Korean Demilitarized Zone

March 12,  2010- Korean Demilitarized Zone (Day 8)
After leaving Taiwan and having such rough seas, the ship contacted South Korea (which was to be our Day 9 stop) and asked if they could port the ship early. The overly nice folks of South Korea agreed to allow our ship in early. YES! We get to leave open water and touch the ground again. But what would we do? We were not due in to South Korea for our tours of the capital city Seoul until March 13th. Well, the awesome, attentive crew of the Azamara Quest hastily threw together a bunch of great tours that you could take. So even though we didn't go to Japan, God provided us with an awesome opportunity to see even more of Korea and their history. We had a tour of the capital city of Seoul planned for the following day, so we used our extra day in South Korea to visit the infamous Korean DMZ (demilitarized zone).
The Korean DMZ is a strip of land about 2.5 miles wide that runs roughly along the 38th parallel cutting the Korean Peninsula almost in half.  Down the center of the DMZ, runs the military demarcation line (MDL) that indicates exactly where the front line. When the Korean War armistice was signed, each side agreed to send their troops behind that MDL. To this very day, there is a genuine hostility between the North and the South, and in fact large numbers of troops are still stationed along both sides MDL.  Troops from each side also are allowed to patrol the DMZ, but never to cross that MDL. 
In the last 40 years, 4 different tunnels have been found dug under the DMZ  (and past the MDL) by the North Koreans to invade South Korea. The South believes that there could be more out there still. We got to visit and actually go down into the 3rd Tunnel...so more on that later.
On either side of the MDL, there are peace villages (one in the South and one in the North) that existed before the Korean War and have been allowed to stay. From the villages propaganda from both sides, is proclaimed.  At some point the South Korean government erected the worlds tallest flagpole. So what do you think the North Koreans did? You guessed it...build a bigger flagpole in their peace village. And so they have gone back and forth making their flagpoles taller and taller. Currently and for the last while, the North Koreans have maintained the taller flagpole. From the MDL, we could see that flag pole in the distance. The picture I have isn't very good though. I wasn't allowed to use my "big camera" much during our DMZ trip. I was told that a soldier in the DMZ could mistake it for a weapon and I could be shot on site, so they let us know when we could use cameras, when we could use "big cameras," and when we couldn't take pictures at all. I will explain how I got the flagpole pic later...so enough history and background on the DMZ and on with the pictures. (which is probably what you wanna see anyhow, right?)

The Freedom Bridge (which is better known as the Bridge of No Return) was the only link between the North and South during the war. After the war, it was basically renamed the Freedom Bridge because it's said that thousands upon thousands of POWs cried "Freedom" as they crossed the bridge back into the South after escaping or being released. You can see the bridge is now barricaded (and that the barricades are covered in propaganda).
D on the Freedom Bridge. It snowed the day before we got there.

The building behind us was constructed by the South Koreans inside the DMZ on their side of the MDL. It has a small theater room where they play a short Korean and DMZ history video before allowing you to cross across parking lot to enter the 3rd Tunnel. (Yes, we seem to always look like Twinkies...I will say I got my jacket before him. I got mine in 2007. He got his last year. ...and our shoes are really not the same.)
I'm about to head down into the tunnel. It doesn't look so bad here does it? Nice little entryway and everything they've built. You have to wear a hard hat (that is super scraped up on top). It can't be too bad can it? Note the grade of the slope here. (Note: I'm also claustrophobic.)
This is how you get down to the tunnel. You can't really tell from this picture but it is a SUPER steep grade. It's FREEZING down there, but believe you me you work up a sweat. 
(Forgive me for the awful pics, but these were all taken with my P&S...so I wouldn't get shot for using my DSLR.) This is a picture of the actual 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. It's quite short in height...which explains the scrapes all over the tops of the hard hats. You can walk through this tunnel to the North Korean border which has been sealed off. The tunnel is short, wet, tight, and oh did I mention 500 feet below the surface!!! Needless to say I did not make it very far down this portion of the actual tunnel. When the light began to fade, I began to turn around.
How the tunnels were discovered is actually pretty genius. After being tipped off that there could be a tunnel, the South Koreans made boreholes deep into the earth. They then filled the holes with water. They found the tunnel when they made a borehole that would never fill up with water. The pic above is of one of those original boreholes that led to the discovery of the tunnel.
This is in the infiltration tunnel where dynamite was placed when they were constructing the tunnel. The South Koreans have spray painted them in yellow to make it easier to see. (It's really dark in there, so trust me I would've never seen that notch in the granite had they never pointed it out). By the way, I should mention that the North maintains that they did not build these tunnels to infiltrate the South (regardless of how it looks). They maintain that they were coal mines. If they were really coal mines, though then I'm not sure why they would've needed to keep them secret. Plus, there's the fact that not one trace of coal (nor the minerals that make it) have been found in the tunnels....only granite. Hmmm...
See the flagpole in the distance? Yep, that's the tallest flagpole in the world. And that flagpole marks the peace village on the North Korean side of the DMZ. Now, this pic was taken with my DSLR which they said we could use if we stood well behind the line where soldiers, outside of this close-to-the-MDL observation center,  couldn't see us. Problem was there was a massive wall that I couldn't see over unless I stood on the platforms of those binoculars mounted on the wall. So standing behind that line did nothing for me. So I opened the lens as long as it would go (270mm). Then D hoisted the camera above his head, pressed the shutter button to focus and hoped for the best. And looky...theres the flag! Thanks, D. 
Dorasan Station is the northernmost station in South Korea. In 2002, President George W. Bush visited this site and his picture still hangs inside. The station was built on the hope that of unification between the North and the South. In 2007, a train was allowed to run from the South to the North to take supplies. In 2008, I believe it was, however, the North once again stopped it. This station still stands holding the hope that the North and South will one day be unified and passenger trains will one day leave this station headed for the North. Leaving this station marked the end of day trip to the DMZ (the station is a little outside the DMZ).

Our next tour tomorrow was in

to be continued...

(did you miss the beginning of our trip to Asia? Click HERE to view)

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