Saturday, March 22, 2014

a meter from the enemy

On July 27, 1953, an armistice agreement was signed between North and South Korea, to "insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved." The situation was pretty tense before that. Not that things have changed much over the years. 

The two countries have remained separated at the 38th parallel ever since - a divide marked as the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Ironically, the demilitarized zone is all but filled with military personelle, from both countries and the USA. But where the two sides meet, where they stand face to face, where they see the most action, and where 100,000 tourists a year can say they've "stepped into the other side", is the JSA... the Joint Security Area. 

Joint Security Area

But just to make every visiter wary of how dangerous it is to visit a location that holds more an air of boredom than anything else, they're asked to sign a waver indicating their acceptance to enter "a hostile area" with "the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action."

U.S. and South Korean military work side by side at the JSA. The South Koreans, all of whom have a black belt, take on the additional roll of front line protectors in a modified Tae Kwan Do stance. 

Visitors are required to walk, single file, it two separate lines. They are to speak in hushed tones, and they are to never, ever communicate with anyone on the other side of the line - whether verbally or by gestures. 

"In" North Korea

The moment those tourists journeyed 2.5 hours north of Seoul along the Han River (dotted with stationed outposts nearly the entire way looking for possible enemy spies) in order to "enter" North Korea, comes as they're corralled into a one roomed conference building on the border line.  The conference table situated squarely on the divide. Entrance doors are located on either side of the room. When in session, political figures never cross into foreign territory. When tourists visit from the southern entrance, two South Korean militia stand guard on North Korean ground. 

Once, at the end of a long day of tourist visits, a South Korean guard went to lock the door on the North Korean side. As he did so, the North Korean guards flung the door open and tried dragging him into their country. He grabbed hold of the nearest wall corner as his military counterpart used his black belt skills, enticing the enemy to retreat. The marks on the wall corner are still there. 

guard standing near the now historic corner wall
The tourist visited section of the DMZ, on the other hand, is wildly chaotic. There is a far greater number of people allowed to visit compared to the JSA. While unable to "cross the line", tourists are still able to enter the tunnel built buy North Koreans trying to enter South Korean territory (although they adamantly deny it). They are also given a hillside vantage point to 'look right into the neighbors window'... from 4 kilometers away. 

photo line for all those wanting to capture their far-away glimpse into North Korea 
All either glimpse does, though, is create an even greater desire to see what life is truly like on the other side. 

1 comment:

Patti said...

Having just read a book about a North Korean escaping from a prison camp and getting out of the country, the story about the guard and the attempted snatch was a little freaky. Very interesting though.