My time in Korea ends this morning when I board my flight to Bali, and though I am looking forward to experiencing a new culture, I am going to miss this country and the people I have gotten to know over the last two weeks immensely. That said, I could not ask for a better last day in Korea. Yesterday was our visit to the DMZ which well exceeded any expectations I had going in. A brief history of the DMZ zone:
The DMZ that most people visit when in Seoul is actually the old farming village of Panmunjeom. Since the signing of the armistice treaty between North and South Korea in 1953, this is the site where talks between the two countries take place. This has also been the site where many incidents of violence and terror have taken place, though some are more well known than others.
For our visit, we were to be led by the United Nations Command Security Batallion in the JSA (Joint Security Area) Because these men are literally face to face with North Koreans all day long, their slogan is “In Front of Them All.”
We started our tour with a stop at Imjingak; located on the banks of the Imjingang river in the city of Paju, it the closest borderland for the DMZ and the last stop that South Koreans are allowed to visit, unless of course they are military personnel. Here we came across our first glimpse of North Korea, as well as our first view of freedom bridge. Freedom bridge was built to free 12.773 prisoners. We also came across wish ribbons where visitors leave messages like “peace” and unification” along a barbed wired fence that runs next to the Freedom Bridge
From here, we traveled through 3 checkpoints before arriving at Camp Bonifas. Our passports and attire were checked repeatedly before arriving within the camp. Camp Bonifas is home for soldiers who are securing the JSA which was the focal point of our visit. After a quick debriefing, we were led into Freedom House from which we walked out the back and boom, there you can see the North Korean soldiers on the other side of embassy row- staring at us with their binoculars. We were escorted into the treaty room which lies at the demarcation line and is secured by Republic of Korea soldiers. We walked to the other side and stood in North Korea which was surreal. The ROK soldiers are like statues that do not move, they stand there expressionless, protecting the JSA. We were then instructed to go outside and stand in front of Freedom House at which point I noticed more North Koreans marching down the stairs from Panmungak, which is the building that sits directly across from Freedom House on the North Korean sides.
We also had a chance to see Propaganda Village, though it was very hazy so I don’t know how much the pictures will show it. The village is a Disney like creation which is built to make the North Koreans look more advanced; their flag is exceptionally higher than the one that flies in the nearby Freedom Village on the southern side. No one actually lives or works in the village however, it is all for show. We also were able to visit the Bridge of No Return, where all POWs were repatriated at the end of the war.
Visiting the DMZ was a mind-blowing experiencing that I will never forget. Especially after learning so much about the deep history and culture of Korea this week, it is sad to think that this division is man made. I can only hope that we see unification in our lifetime.
To end what was perhaps the most exciting day I have had in Korea thus far, Professor Peterson, myself, and Ellen and Sam- two amazingly interesting people in my group- headed out to find a Shaman. The professor had mentioned it earlier in the week as a possibility if a few wanted to go, and as we got off the bus from the DMZ he pulled me aside and said “lets go now.” Ellen had found the Shaman’s sign in the morning walking around, though we wound up at another women’s house. We wound up meeting her on the street, summoned down an alley road to her house which was a basement, and there was her altar. I offered to go first while Dr. Peterson translated. It was a pretty amazing experience, as she did touch upon a few things that surprised me. She was a sweet women who said I could pay her after her advice helped and I came back to Korea. The professor translated that I was not likely to come back, so I gave an offering on the altar of 30,000 won; a small price to pay for such an amazing experience.
All in all, Korea has been amazing. Though I really had very little down time, I learned so much, experienced so much, and most importantly, met some pretty amazing people along the way. Looking forward to Bali.