I have missed you guys! Unfortunately for me, I have all of the education getting in the way of me being able to write.
Today I wanted to talk briefly about the relationship between North and South Korea, truly the most controversial subject that you can get into! I think that foreigners (specifically Americans) have a very one sided opinion about North Korea because of the way that we receive news, history — maybe you had family in the war, maybe you just love democracy so much that the very idea of communism shakes ya to your bones — I don’t know. All this to say, EVERYONE I talked to before coming here had some questions about North and South Korea, and mainly how I was going to stay safe, and why would I go since they’re such a huge threat.
While I totally understand these concerns, and yes it’s something that I spent brain power on (I also highly support being aware of safety), South Koreans, I have found, don’t consider the North a threat at all. The only time I talk about North Korea is when I’m in class, and outside of class it never crosses my mind that I’m an hour and a half from the border.
All this to say, I went to the DMZ! This was also the day that North Korea fired missiles in South Korea’s direction, so I thought the tour was going to be cancelled, but everyone was really happy and excited to tell me all the facts about the North without any concern that we might be in danger. I have also found that the opinion of the North is skewed because despite the fact that there’s democracy in the South, post Korean War had several painful dictatorships that turned many people’s attention toward the progress of their own country and not the threats from the North.
Younger people don’t really care since they’re living in a time where the economy is thriving, and for the most part everyone else is empathetic with the North Koreans and the way they live now. I think this is because people are taught about the history of the country as a whole and there’s quite a bit of nationalism here in Korea that contributes to their viewpoint of the North. Also it’s taught in class that the Korean War was a proxy war between the US and Soviet Union (this is a fairly consistent teaching but as I believe I mentioned, what you learn in classes here is heavily dependent on your professors personal feelings towards the subject) .
Fun fact! Conservatives here in the South care more about fighting for North Korean rights than South Korean rights!
Okay. So the DMZ.
I thought I was going to be scared but I wasn’t. It was a really sunny day, the tour guide was extremely kind, and (this is going to sound weird) but the North is so beautiful. Our second to last stop was the outlook where if you look through binoculars you can see people walking around in the North. It was a really weird experience to be people watching another country.
We also went to one of four infiltration tunnels that North Korea dug during the war to attack the South. It’s about 300 meters down, and the stone and earth has yellow and black on it — the North, when confronted about building the tunnels denied that they built them at first, blamed South Korea for building them, and then the second time they said that they were looking for charcoal (which is a weird/dumb excuse in my opinion). The story is kind of ridiculous, but the explosives made the earth yellow, and they painted the walls black to prove to the South that they weren’t intending to attack.
I don’t recommend that you go down if you are claustrophobic. I went down and was VERY stressed out that the walls were going to cave in. At the end of the tunnel though you can look through and see directly to the North. You’re 80 meters from the border at that point.
Remember when I said the North fired missiles? So the place I was most excited to visit was Happy Village, the nickname for Panmunjom, the village where the North and South come together for their summits. When you visit you can go to a room that’s half North and half South Korea and take a picture with a very rigid North Korean Guard. I was really looking forward to doing that, but when North Korea fired the missiles that was the one area that was taken off the tour so South Korean and American soldiers can prepare themselves for a potential attack.
After we went to the newest train station built off of the donations of North and South Korean citizens that donated on the promise that they will be united with their lost family members from the war (there were over 444,000 refugees from North Korea during the war and many of those families were unable to stay together). Due to the intensity of the two countries political relationships, the building hasn’t been put into use yet on the North Korean side, but you can take the train from Paju (where it’s located) to the heart of Seoul.