In Front of Them All: The DMZ
Around 2pm on Saturday April the 30th, I set foot in communist North Korea, entering the most fortified and heavily armed barrier in the world. A barrier that dates straight back to the Cold War, which also exists on George W. Bush's axis of evil. Granted I did it in whats called the JSA, or Joint Security Area that was under heavy protection from ROK (rep. of Korea) and American Soldiers, but it still was one of the most sobering experiences I have ever known. The JSA consists of a simple house structure that literally straddles the MDL or military demarcation line. If my memory serves me correctly, the MDL is the division line in the DMZ, or demilitarized zone, the zone that serves as the border between North and South. So to reiterate, the DMZ which is an average width at most places of 4 km, is divided down the middle by the MDL. The northern half belongs to N. Korea, and the southern half belongs to S. Korea. I know I just threw a bunch of meaningless anacronyms at you, but try reading it again and maybe it will sink in. Also see through my feeble attempt to
Let me tell you though.....I felt anything but cool when my eyes got as big as saucers and my lower lip started to tremble as our USA military guide instructed us to put on the army issued bullet proof vests that he said were under our seats. This as right after we had to sign a waiver acknowledging that South Korea and the USA cannot be held responsible if we get shot. What a freakin asshole. He had me for a good 5 seconds or so with his cruel joke which was ripe with black comedy. There was no 50 cent bullet proof vest...but I think I would have loved the opportunity to wear one.
So in the JSA enclosure, by walking to the northern half of the room, I officially entered the North Korean half of the De-Militarize Zone. You could feel the tension and rigidity in the air even though people were kind of giggling and posing for pictures with the SK ROK soldiers. It was a more disturbing outside the JSA building where as a tour group we were perched on this ledge where we could just stare in awe at the ROK soldiers. One would stand in a modified taekwondo
stance with half of their bodies covered by the JSA building (to make himself less of a target) staring intently at the North Korean soldier just over yonder. Pretty surreal staring at a member of communist North Koreas military. At one point, blinds opened up in a window of the building on the North Korean side, and you could just make out someone taking pictures of us on the South side. I did not and still don't know how to interpret that. I welcome anyone's insight or comments on that issue.
I have never (and probably will never come as close again) been so face to face with corrupt global politics and a fascist dictatorship when viewing the North Korean "propaganda village." It is a virtual cardboard cutout ghost town of a city where North Korean propaganda is broadcasted for 6-12 hours a day on a massively powerful PA system. In the center of the village is an Eiffel tower like structure which waves one of the larger legitimate (not a flag that gets spread out over a football field or something) flags in the world. It apparently weighs over 600 lbs dry and needs tornado strength gusts of wind to fly. It was intentionally made larger than the South Korean flag flying a number of miles away. It is one of only two cities in the DMZ. There is one on South Korean side which actually is populated, exactly 220 people can live it at a time, and the people who do live there only have the opportunity because of a historical lineage type of attachment. Their families have apparently been on the land way before the Korean war. The members of that village have strict curfews and are guarded 24-7-365. Interesting to note they enjoy tax free incomes of roughly $80,000 American a household per year. I know I sound like a tour guide, but I have to share this information which I find fiercely interesting.
There was some other interesting things on the tour like venturing into a tunnel that the North Koreans were digging to get to Seoul and getting a North Korea stamp in my passport at a train station that had trains going to Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea. Or how the military base Camp Bonifas is named after an American commander who was literally axed to death by a squad of North Koreans. But instead of giving a boring ass account of all that stuff, I would rather question why all of us are lucky enough to born American, or a member of any nation that is marginally just, free and prosperous. I know I am sounding like an arrogant American, but no one can deny the standard of living we enjoy. What if you were born in a country like North Korea, where the internet is outlawed and you cannot pursue that which makes you happy. Why are we so lucky? I know some people would say things like its all according to God
or its apart of a divine plan, or simply not acknowledge fortune at all and chalk it up under complete and utter
randomization and probability. For those of you who reject the latter, what
do you think the citizens of North Korea think about religion and a divine plan that has them surviving their lives where they are? Chuck Knox once said "you have to play the hand your dealt," but the people of North Korea got dealt a seven-duece unsuited from a stacked deck. I am not taking a stance on these issues but just throwing some thoughts out there to see what I can spark. All I know is that it is extremely and shockingly easy to take the opportunity of a free life in a free country for granted. Don't do it, and take full advantage of a free life whether thats by using the internet, making fun of your president, or discovering that which makes you great. Over and out.