The Land of Separation

“I want to go home,” I said to my father the last time we talked on Skype. He said, “Don’t say that. It’ll affect your mood and finally your health. Just enjoy it there. You’ll go home soon anyway.”

The feeling of homesick has been a close friend of mine lately. Especially these days when days get rough with end-of-semester presentations and report.

Talking about homesick, last June 9 I went for a DMZ tour, I wondered how the North Korean defectors in South Korea cope up with their never ending homesick? Their hometown and families are only few miles away, but as long as these two countries are not reunited, they will never be able to go back home forever. Korea is a sad story.

DMZ is De-Militarized Zone, which is a line that cuts Korean peninsula into a half, the North and the South, after the tragic Koren War in 1950-1953. The line was set up by the UN and under the agreement of both Korea. This line is 4 km wide, which is 2 km to the North and 2 km to the South. It’d been in use since 1953.

Before we entered the DMZ, passport is definitely needed because we had to pass the check point where there’d be an army (maybe from Korean military or USA military) who got on the buss and check on us. They only allowed group tour and this is mostly for safety reason.

Once we entered the DMZ area, we were not allowed to take pictures as we wished. They only allowed us to take pictures in certain areas. The buildings are mostly for the military: camps, offices, sports area, church, but the land and farming are cultivated by the people from a nearby village. The tour guide said within this area there’re still many uncovered landmines that of course are still active. Even though the joint military had been trying to clean the area, sometimes in the woods people could still hear a blowing sound that indicated an animal had stepped on one of the landmines.

Imjinggak Park is the closest area to the DMZ check point. We stopped there before entering the DMZ. They were holding a cycling event when we got there, so the upper parking lot was crowded with bikes. The view from the rooftop was very nice, but the weather was already very hot even though it was only around 10 in the morning.

The hills over there are already in DMZ. The bridge is called the Bridge of Freedom. That bridge was built to free 12,733 prisoners in 1953. And the monument on the left is the Worship Altar where North Korean defectors usually pray or come to pay a respect to the memories of their families who are in the North.

There are many military posts all along the DMZ border. When I took the picture, some soldiers just arrived with a jeep.

Arriving at Dora Station, the army building welcomed visitors with a touching jargon of Korean dream: End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.

Again, there’s a strict photograph regulation in this area (super zoom camera would really really be a bless). We could only take picture behind the yellow line. And there’re really many soldiers watching us and coming to warn us whenever visitors try to break the rules. And you cannot play fool here because those soldiers speak foreign languages well.

So this was as far as I could take pictures. Over there at a far distance, the foggy mountainous sight is actually the land of North Korea.

Before coming to Dorasan Station, we actually visited the 3rd Tunnel. But again, due to the strict photograph regulation, there’s not much interesting pictures to take. The colorful DMZ logo was taken there actually.

The tunnel experience was far scarier than the Cu Chi tunnel in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Really, the tunnel was about 350 m below the ground and the entrance was the mental-challenging 300 meter slope (going down is easy, but going up is….oh oww). No camera allowed down there. We’re prohibited to bring anything and our belongings were stored in an available locker area. We must use helmet going down there because even though the tunnel was said to be 2 m high, most of the journey we had to  bow-walking otherwise our heads would be bumped into the stone ceilings or utility pipes (the pipes are utility system to keep the air and humidity balance inside that tiny tunnel). The width of the tunnel is probably about 2 m, or less, but it could only let one row to go in and another row for going out. Some indifferent people may cause a traffic jam, and if that happened it could be quite scary. For those who have dark phobia, claustrophobia, problems with heart and respiratory….and those who have a tiny gut, better just wait on the ground. And one more thing, make sure the person right in front of you doesn’t smell, otherwise he/she could make you fainted on the way. Seriously, it could be a real torture. So make sure you and your fellas too had put on a nice perfume/ body mist or at least..the basic deodorant.

I know I couldn’t demand a quietness during a group tour, but having a very very talkative person in the group was a torture for me. There’s this guy who –I don’t know how– always find something to talk about to his friend…loudly. That man was restless. His lips and voice were restless. Thankfully he’s speaking in a language I have no clue about, so the headache was minimum. I tried to beat their steps so I could walk far in front of them, and I made it. It’s a relieve. But I could still hear his voice T-T …imagined how loud he spoke.

After the thrilling experience of the tunnel, we went to the last destination: Dorasan Station. It’s not an ordinary International Railway Station. It’s another big Korean dream. Dorasan Station was open in 2002 (Bush was even there to give speech) when the two countries relationship was in a better state. It was actually in a use for a period of time (if I’m not mistaken until 2007/8), having a limited train schedule bringing passengers to the  nearest North Korean village. But it’s closed because a tourist was shot by North Korean army (the Dorasan Stn. officer told me, but I forgot when) and the political situation between the Koreans heat up again. The track is supposed to go far north to Pyeong Yang, and then later would go all the way through Russia to Europe. It’ll take 8 days from Seoul to Europe by train. What an amazing train-trip it’ll be!

An old man came to approach me after I took this picture below, the immigration check point. He greeted me nicely and asked where I came from. Surprisingly, he spoke in a very good English. He’s probably around my father’s age. As soon as he started to speak, he made me instantly wonder what the heck my stylish upper-middle class classmates had been doing during their English classes that even this old man spoke English way better than them?

Anyway, that man was the one who explained to me a brief history about Dorasan station. After his story ended at the termination railway track project, I asked him, “When do you think it will be continued?” With an optimistic glint and big smile on his face he said, “I believe it will be some time soon. Yeah, I believe that.”

That direction brings the trains up to the North…

“Not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North.”

Considering that North-South relationship nowadays has been in a very bad situation (maybe even almost alert), it’s a relieve that I could arrive back at Seoul save and sound…and make a new friend.

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