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The Divided Reality of the North and South

On a sunny and slightly chilly Saturday, I crossed off one of my lifetime bucket lists - visiting the border between North and South Korea. This trip was extremely meaningful to me because I have done years of extensive research; watched many North Korean documentaries and have followed the human rights issues there for an extended period of time. It always baffled me every time I thought of the technological advancement South Korea has made with metropolitan infrastructures and economic success compared with the dismal realities North Koreans face by facing mass starvation, no electricity, and subjected to concentration camps. Therefore, visiting the DMZ was the closest thing I could get to experience this divided reality between the North and South and learn more about the history of the Korean War.

 

해가비치지만조금은쌀쌀한토요일. 나의버킷리스트중하나인남한과북한사이의경계를가보는항목을지우게되었다. 이여행은내게는매우의미가있었다. 왜냐하면몇년동안이나광범위한조사를했고, 북한에대한다큐멘터리를수없이봤고, 연장된시간만큼이나북한의인권에대한내용을계속접했기때문이다. 북한이직면해있는대규모의기아와전기도없고, 강제수용소에갇히는암울한현실과비교하여대도시의기반시설과경제적인성공을바탕으로이뤄낸남한의기술적발전을생각할때면항상이해하기가힘들다. 그래서 DMZ를방문하는것은남한과북한사이에나눠진현실을경험해볼수있고, 한국전쟁에대한역사를더배울수있는가장가까운방법이었다.

 

 

There are many organized tour companies in South Korea that take visitors to DMZ  The DMZ train offered by KORAIL that cost around 100,000 to 150,000 won.  Some tours even have North Korean defectors coming along and sharing their stories to visitors.  Whatever tour you choose, it is definitely a worthwhile visit.  I myself went to the DMZ tour as part of a national educational program event.  The drive up from Seoul is approximately one hour and a soldier checked everyone's ARC ID cards on the bus before we were allowed in the area.  There were soldiers stationed everywhere and the border area was a vast landscape of barren fields.  The first stop was a North Korean gift shop that sold everything from North Korean soju (which I have been told tastes like dirt) to little pins and DMZ shirts.   The shop even sells a little piece of the barbed wire fence dividing the border that was glued on a plaque, serving as the ultimate souvenir. 

 

DMZ로 관광객들을 데려가주는 여행사나 10만원~15만원 정도 드는 코레일에서 운영하는 DMZ 기차가 있다.  몇몇 투어는 탈북자가 따라가서 그들의 이야기를 들려주기도 한다. 무엇을 선택하든지 가 볼만한 가치가 있다. 나는 정부의 교육 프로그램의 일환으로 다녀왔다. 서울에서 약 한 시간 가량 걸렸고, DMZ 지역에 들어가기 이 전에 군인이 버스 안에 탑승한 사람들의 외국인등록증 모두 체크했다. 어디든지 군인들이 자리잡고 있었고 경계지역은 황량한 들판이 넓게 펼쳐져 있었다. 첫번째 목적지는 북한 소주에서부터(흙맛이 난다고 들었다.) 작은 핀, DMZ 셔츠까지 모든 것이 있는 북한 기념품점이었다.심지어는 경계를 나누는 철조망의 일부를 판에 고정시킨 것도 있었는데 이 곳의 궁극적인 기념품이었다.

 

 

 

After that, we were off to the Dorasan train station that was stated as "not the last train station from the South, but the first train towards to North" which connects Seoul to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.  You can buy more DMZ souvenirs, and have to opportunity to purchase a 500 won ticket to see the Dorasan train tracks and a stationed DMZ train for some pictures. It was quite surreal taking a picture with the "train to Pyongyang" sign because it was reminder that reunification for North and South is so close, but yet so far.

 

그 다음으로는 도라산 기차역에 내렸다.이 곳에는 "남쪽의 마지막 역이 아니라 북쪽으로 가는 첫번째 역입니다”라고 되어 있었으며, 서울을 북한의 수도인 평양으로 연결하는 곳이었다. DMZ 기념품을더살수도있다. 하지만도라산역플랫폼과사진을찍을수있게설치한 DMZ 기차를볼수있는 500원짜리티켓을살수있는기회를놓치면안된다.“평양으로가는기차”라는푯말과사진을찍는것은현실감이없었다.  왜냐하면남한과북한의통일이아주가깝다고상기시켜줬지만아직도한참멀었기때문이다.

 

 

Next came my favorite part, which was the Dorasan observatory which had a row of binoculars requiring 500 won coins that enabled visitors to see into North Korea. It was a very somber yet fascinating experience standing right there and trying to find the Kim-Il Sung statue and looking at the "factories" there, which basically served as a propaganda village, a ghost town with no people.  Obviously, the real situation of the North Korean people cannot be seen but I can finally say that I’ve seen North Korea and taken a picture with the North as my background.  Again, "so close...yet so far" is the feeling that followed me throughout this whole tour.

 

다음으로 갔던 곳이 내가 가장 좋아했던 장소였다. 바로 도라산 전망대로 500원을 넣으면 북한을 볼 수 있는 망원경이 줄지어 있었다. 꽤 흐릿했지만 그 곳에 서서 김일성 동상을 찾고 “공장”을 찾는 경험은 아주 흥미로웠다.그곳은  선전용마을로이용되는, 아무도살지않는유령마을이다. 확실하게 북한 주민들의 실제 상황은 보이지 않지만 북한을 봤고, 북한을 배경으로 사진을 찍었다고 말할 수 있게 되어다. 다시 한 번 더 말하지만, 이번 여행 내내 "아주 가깝지만 여전히 먼" 이란느낌이나를따라다녔다.

 

 

Our last stop was to the 3rd infiltration tunnel, discovered by Korean forces in 1987. We got to see a brief video at the DMZ video room, take pictures with various symbolic sculptures, and finally walk down the tunnel. No photographing devices were allowed and we wore helmets. Who knew 200 m walk down would be so difficult? Tall people had the hardest time as they tried to refrain from hitting their head on the low cave ceilings. I believe that going in the tunnel is an experience in itself, and quite the uphill workout going back up! At the end of our tour, an Korean soldier once again checked everyone's ID cards before the buses were allowed to drive out of the DMZ zone. I would strongly recommend anyone with interest in the North and South Korea situation or world history to do the DMZ tour. Since travel to North Korea is expensive and difficult, the DMZ is an easier alternative to learn more about the history of war and reunification hopes for the North and South one day.  It is definitely a unique and  must-do activity when in South Korea.

 

우리의 마지막 도착지는 제 3땅굴로, 1987년 한국의 군인에게 발견된 곳이다. DMZ의 영상실에서 간단한 동영상을 보고 다양한 상징적인 조각상과 사진을 찍고, 마침내 땅굴로 들어갔다. 촬영을 할 수 있는 기기들은 모두 사용이 금지되었고 헬멧을 쓰고 들어갔다. 누가 200m를 걷는 것이 그렇게 힘들 줄 알았을까? 키가 큰 사람들이 가장 힘들었는데 낮은 동굴 천장에 머리를 부딪히지 않기 위해 애를 썼다.땅굴로들어가는것자체가경험이라고생각했고, 다시 올라가는 것도 꽤나 힘들었다.투어가끝날즈음 DMZ 지역밖으로나가는것을허가하기전에한국측의군인이다시한번더모든사람들의신분증을검사했다.남한과 북한의 상항과 세계 역사에 관심이 있는 사람이면 누구에게도 이 투어를 갈 것을 강력히 추천한다.북한여행이비싸고어렵기때문에DMZ여행은전쟁의역사와언젠가이뤄질남북한의통일에대한희망을배울수있는더쉬운대안이다. 한국에있는동안할수있는독특하고반드시해봐야하는경험이다.

 

 

Written and photographed by Cathy Huang

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