The DMZ, for those who might not know, is short for the Demilitarized Zone. It is the no-man’s-land that marks the border between North and South Korea and is approximately 2 1/2 miles wide. It is the most heavily fortified borders in the world.
Our trip to the DMZ began several miles away from the border at a small tourist attraction called Imjingak. Here a bridge appropriately called The Bridge of Freedom was built to bring 12,773 prisoners back into South Korea at the end of the war. Families who had loved ones in North Korea hung ribbons on the fence around the bridge in prayers for their safety, and many still hang ribbons there today.
Next along our trip we visited the 3rd Tunnel, which can be seen on the first map above. Photos are forbidden in the tunnel, but in the image bellow you can see the loooong distance we walked from the upper platform to get down to see the tunnel. Needless to say, we did not work out when we got back in the afternoon. The picture is an accurate description of how steep it is! The tunnel was dug by the North Koreans in an attempt to make a surprise attack on Seoul. The tunnel is over a mile long and is 6 feet by 6 feet. We bumped our heads many times!
After visiting the 3rd Tunnel, we visited Dorsan Station. Dorsan Station is a railroad that was opened in 2001 and visited in 2002 by President George W. Bush. It was meant to be a railway that would bring reunite families. Saddly though, it has never been used. You can still purchase tickets for the a “ride” to the capitol city of North Korea, Pyeongyang, for about 50 cents (hint: you will not be leaving the station…). Signs of hope inside the station read, “Not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North.”
Finally, we visited the Joint Security Area (JSA). This was definitely my favorite part of the tour, but it was also the scariest.
NOTE: Upon request I have added a few rules for visiting the DMZ.
1. Dress modestly! If possible, wear a collared shirt with pants/skirt bellow your knees. Close toed shoes are best due to the walking.
2. Do not make any gestures. No pointing, nothing. No contact of any kind with the North. Do not react if agitated or spoken to by anyone from the North.
3. Feel free to bring your cameras but obey 100% of the rules the guards give you about taking pictures. They are very specific about what you can and cannot take pictures of.
Those are the most important things! They will go over everything else in a short briefing.
Before we even entered the area, we had to sign a doccument stating that we were aware that we could be injured or attatcked by the enemy while on the tour. We also had to go over a briefing of the Korean war and we were told we could not make gesures (pointing, hand waving, obscene) of any kind. Pictures were also extremely restricted on the tour.
The Joint Security Area was constructed to be a place where both North and South Korea could come together peacefully. It was only meant to be a temporary establishment with the hope that a treaty would eventually be signed and the war would be over. The red line in the diagram below is the dividing line between the North and South. The blue buildings you will see in pictures to follow are the white buildings bisected by the red line in between the Home of Freedom and Panmon Hall. The pictures were taken in front of the Home of Freedom where you are only allowed to take pictures facing towards Panmon Hall, turning neither to the right or the left or behind you.
The guards here are there to protect us, the tourists. As soon as we left the area they went inside. In contrast, one North Korean guard stands outside of Panmon Hall (the large grey building) all day, looking at tourists through his binoculars. Our tour guide (the soldier in the foreground of the picture) told us that the guard has no idea what he is looking for, he is merely there to intimidate. While we stood there, a camera inside of Panmon Hall took pictures of us. It’s nice to know that the North Korean’s care about us enough to put us in their scrapbooks!
We were allowed inside of the blue building on the left and we could step over into North Korea but only while inside the building. We learned that the guards you see with white stripes on their helmets stand in a modified Tae Kwan Do stance with stone faced expressions in a show of indifference and strength towards North Korea. The two guards on the outside positions stand with half of their bodies obstructed by the buildings in order to be better protected in case of an attack.
While in the JSA, we were also taken to an outpost where we could look out over what the South Koreans and the US Military call Propaganda City. The city of Kijong-dong obtained this fond nickname because of the loudspeakers that blasted propaganda towards the south until 2004 to try and get South Koreans to defect to the North. They praised their wonderful leaders, and condemned both South Korea and the United States. An interesting little fact about Propaganda City is that its population is 0. That’s right, the city is completely fake! In fact, the buildings are hollow with painted on windows. Our tour guide said that despite the fact that they are lit at night, the light fades going from the top of the building to the bottom. There are lights at the top of the buildings, but they are merely hollow shells! During the day, the city brings in some people to work and ride around but it’s all a show. No one actually lives there.
Despite the fact that the JSA is meant to be a place of peace between North and South Korea, the North Koreans have definitely spilt their share of blood in the so-called “safe zone.” In 1976 a United States army officer was murdered with an axe by a North Korean while trying to trim a tree that blocked the view of an observation tower.
Our tour guide told us that they are still continually harassed by North Korean soldiers. The worst harassment he had seen was when he was on a tour in the same buildings we visited and the North Koreans began to bang on the glass so hard that they feared it would break.
It was definitely a sobering trip to visit a place that is so close to me, and yet is a completely different world from the one I live in every day. Outside of the DMZ it seems like most of South Korea forgets about the North in their day to day lives. No one talks much about what the North is threatening to do, or the horrors that they have inflicted on their people.
I could tell you stories all day long about the horrors that the people of North Korea are still facing today, but I will let you read them for yourselves. I have posted links below to both articles and books that you can read on the subject if you are interested in learning more.
So after all this, what are we to do? Sure my husband is serving in the Air Force, but what can I do on a daily basis for the people of North Korea? We can make use of one of the most powerful tools available to us – prayer. Pray that the eyes of the people of North Korea will be opened to their abuse, and that the hearts of surrounding countries like China will soften towards their plight. Pray for courage and strength for the innocent people of North Korea as they struggle daily to provide food for their families and to survive horrible torture. And most of all, pray that God will perform a miracle and soften the heart of the leaders of North Korea. Sometimes we think that things like that are impossible, but the Bible tells us that God softened the heart of Pharaoh and let the Israelites leave Egypt. God is still in control, and he can still work miracles today.
A North Korean Defector’s Story – An article by Justin McCurry
Nothing to Envy – A book by Barbara Demick
Escape from Camp 14 – An article by Blaine Harden (also a book by the same title)
Interview with Shin Dong Hyuk – YouTube video interviewing the person from Escape from Camp 14