Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 2 in Korea: Going to North Korea (Kind of), Guns, and Traditional Dancing

(It's 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, Korea time)

Tuesday was another long day, and I think my jet lag really hit me hard. Jim has been better because he's actually been able to sleep.

We did two big things:

1. Go to the Joint Security Area (where North and South Korea meet), also known as the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone.

2. Go to Chongdong Theater for an evening performance of traditional dancing and singing.

Let's start out with the DMZ. We had to meet early in the day at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul. We went to the sixth floor to meet with our tour company. Mr. Chae set this up for us because he did not go on the all-day tour.

Our bus had a lot of Japanese tourists and some English speaking tourists. However, Jim and I were the only ones from the U.S. The tour was split up into two parts-- the one before lunch was a quick look at the Third Tunnel (where North Koreans dug a tunnel to infiltrate and attack South Korea), a Korean War museum, and the Dorasan Station. The Dorasan Station is the train station that connects North and South Korea. It hasn't taken a trip yet because the North has not sent a train. So, there's a brand new train station with no passengers. Kind of creepy when you think of it.

This is at the observatory- people are looking at North Korea. Security woudn't allow us to get closer.

Anyway, then we had lunch. That's when our tour split up. Some people chose not to attend the Joint Security Area. Others could not go because of security reasons. I don't think individual Koreans can go to the JSA because of security issues.

The JSA is incredibly armed... it is intense. There's a lot of passport checking, warnings, oh, and you have to sign a waiver that basically says, "This is a hostile area. We cannot guarantee your protection, and you could get hurt or killed." Sure, why not sign it?! What?

We walk into a room and get briefed on how the DMZ began, how North Korea attacked the South on different occasions, and what we can't do when we get to the border (demarcation line.) NO POINTING, NO SMILING AT NORTH KOREANS, NO GESTURES, etc.

We walk out into the open, and low and behold, there are several armed South Korean guards standing at attention, all facing the North. There is a North Korean soldier, staring back at us with his binoculars. We all walk into a room, where important, joint meetings are held. That is the only time we are allowed to cross over into North Korea, since the room is split it half!

It's called the Demilitarized Zone, but as our guide said, it is actually one of the most heavily armed areas in the world. When I asked Jim later what he thought about it, he said it was a lot more serious than he thought it would be. He didn't realize it was going to be so serious, but he really liked it.

It is rather creepy and scary to realize that you're staring at a North Korean soldier, and according to the U.S. and ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers, they might just attack you if you do something stupid. We couldn't bring purses because the North Koreans might think we have guns or weapons inside. Military personnel evaluate our clothing to make sure it is appropriate since the North watch us. It's crazy!

North Koreans also built a propaganda village on the border to make it appear that they were a really rich country. No one lives there. When they dug tunnels into the South, they lied and said the Japanese dug them. They also said they were digging coal mines (and even painted the tunnels black.) The area doesn't have coal... just granite.

There's so much I want to write about the DMZ, but it's already jumbled in my head. Bottom line: It's not for the kids. It's scary, but it's incredibly cool to think you could be at the edge of one of the most isolated (and arguably, weird) countries in the world. And it's heartbreaking to think that the two countries were separated by war and bloodshed. Reunification is the ultimate goal.

Oh, and I dropped my camera at the Dorasan Station, so the JSA pictures are on a disposal cam. Great.

Next, we went to the Chongdong Theater to see the musical, MISO. This is a famous theater in Seoul, known for traditional dancing. I can't believe the seats Mr. Chae got us. They were front row, center! I've never had seats like that. Amazing.

I couldn't take any video of the show, but this is from the show and Jim's favorite part:

The dancers are incredible. The drummers are flawless. The show was endlessly entertaining. This is the kind of show that makes me wish I knew more about Korean culture. Or, I guess, a part of Korean culture somehow. It's so beautiful. The way the girls dance with their eyes... they way they intricately move their feet under their hanboks... it's such a beautiful and difficult way to dance, but the women look like they're floating! Jim said he was go glad we went, so that makes me happy. I was worried he wouldn't want to see a show, but he said he really enjoyed it.

After that, it was time to hit the hay. I've never been so tired and cranky in my life. But it was an awesome day. We really absorbed some culture Tuesday!

Wednesday we head off to Gyeongu, the Capital of the Ancient Shilla Dynasty. This is about 3 or 4 hours south of Seoul and is a beautiful city. More to come later.

*You can see more pictures and video on my Facebook page.


Unknown said...

It really does seem like you and Jim are having a ball over in Seoul. I was able to go over and live in Germany between 1980 and 1984 (right before the wall came down *frowns* wished I could have been there for that) due to the fact my father was in the army and we got stationed over there. I learned a lot about their culture and the different aspects of the country. I got to love it over there just as much as you seem to love Korea. I would love to go back to Germany someday.
Wish you and Jim continue luck over there and I can not wait to see you back on the news when you are able.. Take care.

Jenn said...

I think it would be scary but neat to see that area of Korea! You are having such a life experience and I am sure Jim is on cloud nine to be a part of it. Take a nap!

Jenn said...

i said take a nap not forget about posting pic's. LOL. Hope your having a grand time and don't forget your camera at the wedding, that is what I keep coming over her to see, the costumes!!!!!