Saturday, December 12, 2009

Move to Sinchon; trip to the DMZ

I got a winter camp in the south of Seoul, so I will be in Korea until January 21. In anticipation of the winter camp, I moved down to a place in Sinchon, and I love it! Sinchon is a great neighborhood. There are three universities nearby, so there's plenty of 24-hour convenience stores and bars and restaurants and karaoke and coffee shops and cute little clothing and shoe shops. I absolutely adore living here. It has completely changed my view of Korea. Nowon was super boring and completely residential, and super far away from everything. Sinchon is very central, I can get most places very easily and quickly. It's still about half an hour from where my winter camp will be, but it's worth the commute.

In other news, I went to the DMZ today. I went in a big tour group, so it was totally safe. We toured two of the tunnels that the North Koreans dug towards Seoul in anticipation of a surprise attack on the South, and we also visited the remains of the old Labor Party headquarters. We visited the train station that used to go into North Korea before the service was stopped, and we also visited the "Freedom Bridge" that South Korean POWs crossed over from the North into the South after the armistice. There was a ton of propaganda about uniting the two countries again, and the words "freedom" and "peace" were peppered all over the place, even as we were learning about infiltration tunnels and visiting a site where a train station was bombed and reading about incidents like when two American soldiers were cutting down a tree that was blocking the view into North Korea (on completely legal ground) and North Korean soldiers came by and killed them with their own axes.
There were binoculars to look into North Korea, but there wasn't actually much to see. There's a propaganda village set up to make it look like the North is more prosperous than it is. You can see the fence that separates South and North Korea. There were guards all over the place, and strict rules about where you could and couldn't take pictures. As we were entering the zone, a guard caught one of the people on our bus taking pictures of the guard station, and she had to get off so that he could erase it. You weren't supposed to take pictures in the tunnels, but I think that some people managed to get some anyway; once they're posted on Facebook I'll take them and post them here. You weren't supposed to take pictures of the signs warning about landmines either, but again, I think some people managed it. You could take pictures of North Korea in the distance, but you had to stand behind a line a certain distance away from the edge of the observation deck for some reason.
The tunnels were interesting; there are four, but we only went to two of them. One of them was supposed to be big enough for entire troops as well as tanks to come through; the others for troops and smaller arms, such as cannons. We had to wear helmets when we went in though, because the ceilings are so low and jagged. Even I had to duck a lot going through, and I am pretty short. I can't even imagine whole troops going through, in the dark, and with explosives in the walls too.
Our tour guide had an uncle who ended up on the north side after the division, and his family hasn't heard from him since. Apparently during the Clinton administration, South Koreans were able to visit the demarcation line and reunite with their family in the North briefly; there were even talks of Kim Jong-il coming south to talk with the South Korean president. However, after Bush took office and declared the Axis of Evil, the visits stopped and North Korea completely closed up again.
Anyway, I will post pictures as soon as people have them up on Facebook. I also have pictures from an ice-skating trip I took a couple days ago.

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