Woo Hoo. I went to South Korea and then to the DMZ.
At one point I was about 150 meters away from North Korea.
I didn't tell my family where I was going before I went because they are the "no reason to worry, but let's worry anyway" faction. They would definitely worry about me going to South Korea and getting that close to NK. Even though I am 32 and a big boy, they would worry.
The original plan was to come back from Thailand and go to Tokyo for a few days then to Kyoto and Osaka. But I added up the cost and it would be over $400 in transportation alone to get down that far, not including hotels and what not. So then I found a deal to fly to SK and hotel AND a tour guide to pick us up at the airport and show us around a bit for about $350, so we did that. Plus it left from Sendai which is a $15 bus ride from Fukushima, as opposed to Narita in Tokyo which is at least a $120 trip.
|Inside Sendai International Airport||Outside of Seoul International Airport|
We took off from the small 4 gate airport in Sendai. It was architecturally very interesting. The flight there was 2.5 hours on a new Asiana airline which was very nice. We arrived and were greeted by a Korean lady who didn't speak English so we communicated in Japanese with her, oddly. She had a van pick us up and take us to a shopping area where we bought a few small trinkets. Then we went to the hotel to drop off our bags and relax for about 15 minutes.
Then we met in the lobby and she drove us to a Korean bar / restaurant where we had an interesting feast. The first part was just meat thrown on the grill and then chopped up.
This part was just tasty, not so much interesting. The part that was interesting was the next course. It was raw octopus. Not so bad, I have had that before. But this was so raw I think they whacked off the legs in the kitchen. They were still moving. When I say moving, I mean going to town. I have a video, but I can't upload it since the web host has banned all videos. I tried to pick up one and it grabbed the plate and wouldn't let go. So then I had to eat it or wimp out. Here is a still shot of the plate.
Remember they are wiggling around like a bucket of fishing worms. In the sauce, when I was able to dip them and them not hang on, they were quite tasty.
The next day, I had arranged a tour of the DMZ, De-Militarized Zone, the world's most heavily guarded border which separates North and South Korea. They signed a cease fire, but they war never actually ended, so technically they are still at war. The bus picked us up at our hotel and then picked up several other people and drove us to a big bus place near the border. We waited a few minutes and took pictures of the area. Here they are:
|The bell of peace.||The freedom bridge.
There is a guard in the booth and a sign near me that said no pictures, so I waited till he walked around the other side.
|A sign post showing the way around the area.||A shrine of some sorts about something.|
|Another shrine.||You might could slip through.||These two pics are the outer edges of the DMZ. There is another Military Demarkation Line and then the border, so a total of 5 - 155 km barbed wire fences.||All the places the tour bus goes. We had to get on a special big tour bus to go in the DMZ.|
Then we progressed to one of the coolest parts of the tour. The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, discovered in 1978 when a NK engineer defected and gave away the details of the tunnel. This one was 44 km away from from Seoul and it was specifically designed for a mass surprise attack on Seoul. There's a pretty cool story behind it.
There were no pictures allowed IN the tunnel, but I found one online. Really, it's a tunnel. You've seen one before. It it 6 feet wide, by 6 feet tall and 10,000 armed soldiers can pass through it per hour (given they are not 6 foot 3 like me.
So here's the cool story. It goes from just behind the mountain in the top picture on this page. It's about 500 m long I think. A NK engineer defected and traded asylum for the location of the tunnel. The way he proved it was he took the SK people to a certain area, told them to bore a hole down to an exact depth and fill the hole with water. All the water kept rushing out so it proved there was a hollow part down below. So the SKs dug a 5x5 hole down to it angled about 30 degrees or so and intercepted the tunnel. The people working on the tunnel heard the drilling and fled. But when the fled they painted the tunnel black, by smearing it with coal.
SK confronted NK with the tunnel discovery and at first NK denied it existed. Then they said SK dug it. Then they said they actually dug it, but it was for mining coal. SK disproved it by using three pieces of evidence.
1) If it were a coal mining
cave, there would be tangents and other areas than a straight line
coincidentally connecting NK and SK.
1a) If it were a coal mining cave, there would actually be...coal in the cave and not regular rock smeared with GRAPHITE.
2) The entire cave slightly slopes back to North Korea so the water would flow out. She explained why this was proof and now I forget.
3) To prove SK didn't dig the tunnel, they pointed out how all the dynamite holes point to SK. This means when you bore a hole and shove dynamite in it, it will blow out the end and leave the opening intact, so you can see which way it went. They painted all the holes bright yellow.
Now if they were blasting with dynamite, wouldn't the SK guards hear something? Why yes. That's why NK set up a fake factory right on the border and wired all the tunnel explosives to it so they would simultaneously explode. When a stick went off in the tunnel, the same amount went off outside the fake factory to SK would hear it and see what made the noise. That was much better than the graphite smeared on the walls.
At the end of the tunnel there was a wall blocking the way with barbed wire and a surveillance camera with a big light shining on the door. That was a little spooky and I wanted to get a picture of that but no luck. You enter the cave on this strange circus like monorail trolley thing. Though it was really just a moving floor with car seats nailed to it. The worst part was we all had to wear ridiculous hard hats.
Then we watched a movie about the Tunnel and finally went to our second stop, the Dora Observatory. It was pretty cool. We could see North Korea pretty clearly although it was cloudy. We sat in a room with a huge glass wall and listened to a SK soldier tell us about the Demarcation Line and other stuff. He pointed out several things that I will try to pass along in the picture below. After the speech we could either look through pay telescopes or stand behind a "photo line" and take pictures of the telescopes.
Already talked about the start of the tunnel, it's just behind that hill which has a North Korean guard tower on it. In the distance, I could barely see a big city, but I forget the name. It's the 3rd largest in North Korea. The Propaganda village goes along with painting graphite on the walls. It's a "village" to show SK how nice people in NK have it. But SK monitored it and noticed no one ever leaves, there is never any smoke for fires or heat, no one ever visits, and the lights go on and off at the exact same time everyday. Brilliant NK. The flagpoles are on each side of the country line and each year one suddenly grows a foot or so. Then the next year the other will inch up a bit past it. Currently they are the two tallest flagpoles in the world, and sadly NK has the edge but a few inches. And the reason why the pictures are so far off....
All the photos I took above were from me holding the camera as high up as I could. The soldier was beside me and said it was ok. So guy got on a wall and the soldier got him down quickly. He said NK was allowed to shoot anyone doing that because it might appear as a breach. Plus it's just stupid.
The last stop on the tour was Dorsan station which is the last train stop in SK. The tracks actually continue through NK and all the way to Paris (technically London with the new Chunnel).
This part was somewhat cool, though it was really just a train station. There were tracks that lead to the capital of North Korea which are guarded by a guard whose job must really suck, as you will see below.
Why must his job suck? Because I am but one of over 50 people in line to get a picture with him. He can't talk, just stand there and get 50 million pictures a day. Look above our heads. See where the tracks are going? Little freaky. Believe it or not I was smiling there.
The train that one could ride all the way to Paris from Seoul. I think they said it would not stop in NK. Finally, a picture of our cute tour guide who lived in New York for 7 years when she owned a Nail Salon.
She looked better than that, but I snapped it without her knowing. She was pretty cool as well. I felt like I knew her when it was over, yet I'll never see her again.
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