asia · south korea · Travel

Seoul, South Korea (Part 3: the DMZ)

For those of you who aren’t too  clued up on the Korean war, perhaps you never even knew there was a Korean war? Well, there is a reason for that – the Korean war is also known as the forgotten war due to it being sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam war, as a result, the Korean war became somewhat overshadowed by two of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century.  The Korean war was fought between 1950-1953, it began when the Chinese and Soviet backed north invaded the south who had the support of the UN, mainly the United States.  Korea had been ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of WWII in 1945.  When the Japanese left a political power vacuum was created which was exacerbated by Cold War tensions.  The Chinese and Soviets backed the Soviet born Korean revolutionist, Kim Il Sung and Stalin gave the go ahead for Kim Il Sung to invade the south in 1950 but made it clear that the Soviets would not directly engage the US in combat to avoid entering into a direct war with the US.  Kim Il Sung also met with Mao in 1950 who after having confirmation from Stalin that military backup would be provided by the Soviet Union was convinced it was the right move to make to protect China and aid in the spreading communism throughout Asia with the benefit of removing ‘American imperialism’ from their doorstep.

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From the pavilion, looking out over the DMZ

The Korean war never actually ended, on the 27th July 1953 the final armistice agreement was signed by both sides and the 38th parallel was established.  The 38th parallel runs 150 miles across the Korean peninsula.  The 38th parallel still exists to this day as the boarder between the now divided nation.  It is ironic that this area of land, 150 miles across and 2.5 miles wide is called the Demiliterised Zone as it remains one of the most heavily mine ladened areas in the world – in fact I am pretty certain there is nowhere else in the world with as many live land mines as the DMZ.

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cliché photo of me pushing for peace
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Throwback to when the hairs on my neck were standing on end.  Crossing into North Korea from China.

There are various tours you can take at the DMZ, the one we chose took us down into the tunnels that had been dug by the north during the war.  The tunnels were mighty impressive, they were bored deep into the ground – they are narrow so may not be for those of you who are claustrophobic.  At the bottom of the tunnel is a big steel door which has been sealed off, on the other side of this door is the passageway to the north.  Despite the fact I spent a week in the North (DPRK) it still gave me a bit of a shiver thinking that past the steel door was an underground entrance to the Hermit Kingdom.

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No photographs were allowed in the tunnels but I managed to get a cheeky one of my mate, Max.

After ascending back out of the tunnels we made our way to the pavilion – on this raised platform  you are able to look out over the vast expanse of the DMZ and peer over to the other side and see the DPRK flag waving in the distance, this is a pretty cool sight to experience.  If you fancy it, you can take the tour that takes you to the actual boarder line, here you have South Korean soldiers on one side and North Korean soldiers on the other, fixed in a permanent standoff – it is at this very place that diplomats from the North and South can meet and discuss, although this hasn’t happened for quite some time; we didn’t visit this place and I wasn’t too bothered by that as it cost more money and I having been inside North Korea peeping over the boarder just seemed a bit tame.

On the topic of Korea, I want to ask some help for any people out there who can read Hangul.  I found these notes on a beach in North Hamgyong province, DPRK.  Would anybody be able to translate these for me?  I never actually found out what they say, it could be something interesting or it could just be something like “Hi Kim, it’s your mum, make sure you feed the dog and put the rice on to boil, I’ll be home around 6”.  But I am so intrigued so please help 🙂

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Goodnight, good morning or good afternoon wherever you are.  It’s goodnight for me 🙂

Matt

 

 

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