Yep. Finally, after more than four years (on and off) working in South Korea, a mate and I got around to visiting the most heavily fortified place on the planet, one of the final ‘living’ remnants of the Cold War, where democracy and capitalism literally meets old school communism – the Demilitarized Zone aka DMZ aka Panmunjom.
Part of the tour included visiting the most exciting place of all, the Joint Security Area aka JSA. As you probably know, that’s the bit where you could literally walk into North Korea if you were so inclined (and didn’t mind being shot at).
And we also saw the third incursion tunnel, one of four that have been discovered, that the North Koreans built after the armistice (remember, the Korean War isn’t technically over – the military guys did their part but we’re all still waiting on the politicians to sort the rest out).
Anyway, I took pics of course (where they let me) so without further ado…
Note the top of the North Korean building. The third level was added later to make it taller than the South Korean building. The blue building in front is Temporary Building 2 (T2) which we’re about to walk into. And yep, as you probably know, it straddles the border.
This guy, like the previous one, is hand-picked and very highly trained. All guards here are fourth degree blackbelts in taekwondo and stand in what is known as ‘ROK Ready’ position which is actually a taekwondo stance. Touch him and he’ll take you down. Stand even just a little behind him and he’s trained to think you’re trying to defect to North Korea (to lose weight?) and… he’ll take you down. Yes, the door behind him opens to North Korea. There’s a photo of me next to him (yes, literally standing in North Korea) but I won’t subject you to my ugly mug.
See that slab of concrete? That’s what divides the North and South. This photo was taken from the North.
That’s Bob, the lone North Korean guard on duty today. We were told the commies only bring the rest of their guards out during their own tours, which are in the summer. To Bob’s right, behind the tinted window, is another guy with a big pair of binoculars. It should be noted, at no point in the tour were we allowed to make any sort of communication or gesture towards any North Korean or even over the border in general.
Any blue buildings are under the control of the United Nations. The grey ones the commies control. Note the curtains on the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea aka North Korea) building on the right. Sometimes guards pull them back and give the bird or a slashing throat gesture. K, whatever guys.
The actual name of this village is Kijong-dong but is known as the propaganda village as it broadcasts Kim Jong-il crap six to twelve hours a day (they may have stopped now – can’t remember) to the South Koreans in the border village of Taesong. Actually, the folks in Taesong get a good deal. They have to stay there 230 days per year, make an average of US$82,000 from farming each, get free education up to a tertiary level and are exempt from military service. For this reason, women can marry into the village but men cannot (the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] doesn’t like draft dodgers). Anyway, Taesong has a 100m high South Korean flag. So, ho hum, the North Korean flag you see was erected shortly after the South Korean one and stands at 160 metres tall which is obvious proof that the North must be the better place to live. Only problem? The flag itself is so heavy (600 lbs) that it’s hard to make it blow and like a wind turbine, when it blows too hard, the flag rips up. The only people in the propaganda village are maintenance workers. I checked it out with my binoculars… it’s a ghost town. Apparently all the lights turn on and off at the same time every night.
Unlike what we see in 007’s Goldeneye, this is the real Bridge of No Return. Named so as it was the sole bridge used to repatriate Koreans after the armistice. If you crossed it to the North, that was it. You couldn’t go back. And vice versa for the South. Halfway across that bridge and you’re in North Korea. Since that repatriation in the fifties, the only idiot who has dared venturing onto the North Korean side of the bridge was none other than former US president, Bill Clinton, who after a North Korean soldier popped out with his rifle, had to be shielded and escorted back (why oh why didn’t they just let him keep walking?!).
Not really the best pic, I know, but we had to stand about five metres back from the edge if we wanted to take a pic from this guard tower overlooking North Korea. Luckily, I’m quite tall and managed to snap this. The little water tower you see in the middle of the pic is where the North Koreans started digging the third incursion tunnel (which we saw later but weren’t allowed to take any pics). They said it was two metres by two metres. No, it isn’t. Many of us had to stoop down and by the end of the 600 metre round trip, I was buggered. Then there was the 11 degree 350m ramp back up to the surface. Anyway, the commies got busted whilst building it and claimed first it was the South who built it (drill marks indicate otherwise). Then they coated the walls with coal and claimed it was just an abandoned coal mine. As stated, we weren’t allowed to take any pics from inside the tunnel but it’s quite funny to see about half of the thin layer of coal worn off due to water erosion thus exposing the granite underneath. As I’m sure Mole can verify, coal ain’t found anywhere near granite anyway. Dickheads. BTW, back farther but due to the haze it can’t be seen, is a radio jamming tower. Can’t have those Northerners hearing about what it’s like down south!
The buildings in the background are the Kaesong Industrial Park, a joint project undertaken between the North and the South. Basically, it’s South Korean companies setting up shop in North Korea to build basic stuff like simple electronics and kitchenware on the cheap. The North Korean workers get paid twice as much per month as their fellow countrymen at the princely sum of US$5 per month however they are permitted zero contact with the rest of North Korea (or anyone else for that matter). When it came time to switch the lights on however, unsurprisingly North Korea said they didn’t have enough electricity so the South built a power line to the industrial complex. All part of that Sunshine Policy (during which time the North built a nuclear bomb) initiated by former leftist South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung. That goes along with the railway which current president, conservative Lee Myung-bak, decided to stop sending goods over on and the highway which is almost never used, especially nowadays, except to give more freebies to the North.
I’ll end our little tour with a pic of Freedom House. This is adjacent to the building we walk through to see and go inside those blue ‘temporary’ buildings. Built to hold family reunions between North and South Koreans, sadly it has never been used for that purpose as the commies are worried about possible defections (go figure).
So there you go. Hope you enjoyed it. Maybe one day, I’ll take the tour from the North Korean side. As I’m neither South Korean nor a US citizen, I’m able to do this.
Oh, and the motto of the Camp Bonifas United Nations Command Security Force – Joint Security Area?
IN FRONT OF THEM ALL
February 24, 2009, 12:10 am at 12:10 am
Fascinating stuff. Thanks!
February 24, 2009, 6:41 am at 6:41 am
Wow – terrific post, Bing. Really great!
But gee, I’ll bet you were tempted to try and escape the horrors of running-dog Capitalism, make a dash for it into the Workers Paradise of Communist North Korea, where you could live happily ever after “in a society, not an economy” – on all of $5/month, if you were lucky enough to get one of those no-doubt-highly-sought-after factory jobs! Good thing the ROK guards were there to stop you, hey? 😉
Anyway, neat post – thanks for taking the time to do it.
February 24, 2009, 8:17 am at 8:17 am
Where’s “the sign”? You know, the one that says, “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.”
February 24, 2009, 2:16 pm at 2:16 pm
Excellent post. NK is really a craphole isnt it?
Im currently in crisis mode back being a “seagull” manager at my Gero business…
So my posting might be light to non existant for about 2-3 weeks. Im passing back through Perth in about 2 weeks so if anyone wants to meet for a couple of coldies let me know..
February 24, 2009, 7:34 pm at 7:34 pm
Unlike the decadent West, whose capitalist efforts have generally been in normal sized flag poles and has neglected gigantic flagpole research, the foresighted government of the DPRK has invested heavily in giant flag pole technology and there is little doubt that this investment will pay off any day now leaving the capitalist running dogs suffering and begging.
(although someone might point out that the DPRK flag pole is not technically a pole but is a tower structure considerably shorter than the Eiffel Tower built in 1889)
February 24, 2009, 7:41 pm at 7:41 pm
(Further research reveals that even the Eiffel Tower replica in Las Vegas is slightly taller at 164m, but fortunately for the DPRK there isn’t a flag on it.)
February 24, 2009, 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm
I’d love to see what the north’s tour is like Bing, just make sure they let you back into the good Korea…
February 26, 2009, 2:17 am at 2:17 am
Cheers, fellas. The tour was a blast. Many thanks to the USO. And at a very reasonable price, too… US$44 at the time of payment. A tour from the other side might have to wait though as one has to fly to Beijing, then on to Pyongyang then on to the DMZ… and the old lady says she’ll have heart failure if I do it.
Still, if you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it. It’s almost surreal, a piece of living history, except of course, it’s all actually very real and prescient.
February 27, 2009, 9:05 pm at 9:05 pm
Lived in SK for nearly a year about a decade ago. At that time, Kim Dae Jung was elected President. Good to see his Sunshine Policy was such a roaring success. I never visited NK. I think they issued a total of six tourist visas in 1998. Obviously tourism is a key NK industry.
March 5, 2009, 9:56 pm at 9:56 pm
“When it came time to switch the lights on however, unsurprisingly North Korea said they didn’t have enough electricity….”
This sounds just like South Australia!
January 11, 2010, 1:29 pm at 1:29 pm
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January 21, 2010, 8:38 pm at 8:38 pm
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August 22, 2010, 3:46 pm at 3:46 pm
Just did this tour. Thanks for posting this, you did a great job.
August 24, 2010, 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm
Thanks, man. It’s a great tour, isn’t it.
March 5, 2012, 10:36 am at 10:36 am
[…] the first time in the DMZ, specifically Panmunjon which is the Korean name for the JSA, you know, that bit where the North and South guards face off against each other every day. He was literally in range of “enemy” troops. All this, of course, […]
March 19, 2012, 3:27 pm at 3:27 pm
Cool. Cheers for that James. It looks fascinating. I am looking forward to a trip there myself.
Lots of info there to go at