Sunday, December 25, 2016

Crossing Borders: Experiencing Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Panmunjeom (Joint Security Area)

So I'm back with another tale from our day-two tour and this time, it is something tensed but educating.  Yes, you guessed it right! I'll be sharing how our day went in the most dangerous border in the world, the DMZ!

"The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ;Hangul: 한반도 비무장지대; Hanja: 韓半島非武裝地帶) is a highly militarized strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula. It was established at the end of the Korean War to serve as a buffer zone between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The DMZ is a de facto border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half. It was created by agreement between North Korea, China and the United Nations in 1953. The DMZ is 250 kilometres (160 miles) long, and about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide.

Within the DMZ is a meeting-point between the two nations in the small Joint Security Area near the western end of the zone, where negotiations take place. There have been various incidents in and around the DMZ, with military and civilian casualties on both sides. Several tunnels are claimed to have been built as an invasion route for the North Koreans." (Wikipedia)

This tour is quite expensive but super worth it. Prior the actual day, a reservation is necessary with an accredited agency (I highly recommend) and passport details are submitted for UN's record and for security purposes.

Our tour was supposedly on the first day but due to unexpected military situation it was rescheduled at a later time and some parts were cut for our safety.  So you see, the start was already kind off nerve-wracking lol. The parts of the tour that were left out were  Imjingak Park,  Freedom bridge and Ax Murder Incident area (some high-ranking officials of North Korea were currently on tour within those mentioned vicinity - that was according to intelligence report passed on to US soldiers).

I'll just blab a bit on the places that we missed (please don't get bored).

Located at 50km northwest of Seoul, the city of Paju was built to console 5 million people from both sides who lost their homes and who were unable to return to their hometowns, friends and families because of the division of Korea.

Bridge of Freedom or Bridge of No Return
"Located in the Joint Security Area (JSA), the so-called "Bridge of No Return" crosses the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) between North Korea and South Korea. It was used for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War in 1953. The name originates from the final ultimatum that was given to prisoners of war brought to the bridge for repatriation: they could either remain in the country of their captivity or cross the bridge to return to their homeland. However, once they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return, even if they later change their minds." (Wikipedia)

Ax Murder Incident Area
"The axe murder incident (Korean: 판문점 도끼살인사건; Hanja: 板門店도끼殺人事件,도끼蠻行事件; literally, Panmunjom axe murder incident) was the killing of two United States Army officers, Arthur Bonifas and Mark Barrett, by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The U.S. Army officers had been part of a work party cutting down a poplar tree in the JSA that partially blocked the view of United Nations (U.N.) observers, when they were assaulted by the North Koreans and killed." (Wikipedia)

So to begin... it was a long trip via tour bus from Seoul to the border but I am full of anticipation because of our funny yet very knowledgeable guide. His narrations were full of hope and compassion, I ended up sympathizing  with peace for the Korean Peninsula. BTW free lunch is served the military way hehehe but no worries the bibimbap and the side dishes are so good and tasty. (Fyi: don't forget to bring your passport)

The Third infiltration Tunnel
It was discovered in October 1978 1.95 meters high, 2.1 meters wide and 1635 meters long. It penetrates 435 meters south of the military demarcation line and ends at the Truce Village of Panmunjeon.

Upon reaching the area, we were given protective helmets as we descend the tunnel. It was quite chilly inside that is why keepin yourself warm is advisable. Only Leah and I continued  to go down the slope (Steph and Maan stopped at 100 meters because of their blood pressure condition) but we stopped upon reaching 300 meters below. It is the mark where the opening of the actual 3rd tunnel dug by the North Koreans (from the north) was discovered. We didn't continue inside the real tunnel near the demarcation line because I feel like I am goin to suffocate and you have  to bend your head down the whole trail as well. I don't think I am fit enough to proceed hahaha. After takin a glimpse down there, we headed back and the torture began waaaa. Going up was actually effort-full. Oh my goodness I almost fainted hahaha promise!

Btw takin photos inside is strictly not allowed.

This tunnel made me feel sad because The North Koreans actually violated the treaty by secretly digging tunnels up to South.

The sweaty and still short of breath me after I came out on the 3rd tunnel.

We had a bit of photo memories here hehehe...

Please excuse the ootd moments hahaha (beanie: c/o Leah, jeans: Forever 21, black turtleneck: H & M, Faux Fur Beige sweater: Kawaii, White Winter bubbke jacket: Columbia, all-terrain boots: Landrover, muffler: H &M)

According to our tour guide, apart from the 3rd tunnel there were previously discovered tunnels: 1st and 2nd respectively but this site is the only one open for visitors. South Korea continues to be cautious and be prepared for future  threats from the North. Sad no???  Good thing this massive North Korean-dug tunnel which was planned as a pathway for invasion to the South if war had re-erupted was discovered.

Dorasan Unification Platform
"Not the last station from the South, but the first station towards the North."

The Tongil Platform, or “Unification Platform,” was opened to the public at Dorasan Station, the northernmost station along the Gyeongui Line that connects Seoul to Sinuiju, on the banks of the Amnokgang River. At the commemorative platform, there’s a range of art work and memorials showing the people’s longing for Korean reunification.

Once a week a train leaves Dorasan and goes north to Pyongyang carrying supplies and several trains a day come in from Seoul.

This station with ready immigration and facility is already on stand-by to travel South and North one day in the future.

We had some selfie with soldiers at the station while looking for souvenirs.

Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory is on the South Korean side of the 38th parallel situated on top of Dorasan (Mount Dora), the observatory looks across the Demilitarized Zone. It is the part of South Korea closest to the North. Visitors can catch a rare glimpse of the reclusive North Korean state through binoculars from the 304 square feet, 500-person capacity observatory. They will be able to see the North Korean propaganda village (which they call as the Peace Village) situated in the DMZ, a remnant of the old prosperity of the North, and can see as far as the city of Kaesong. You can also hear a 20-hour full blast communist opera referred as the propaganda music.

According to the guide the nice houses and buildings are built by North Koreans to show off that the country is doin well but in reality these structures are fake and merely decoys.

You can also see within the vicinity the 4th tallest flagpole in the world, the Panmunjom flagpole, flying the flag of North Korea.

Our last stop is the most secured part of Dmz, the Panmunjeom.

To brief a bit, this place has tight rules. After our lunch, our tour guide discussed the rules inside then he turned us over to the US Army guide. He cross-checked our passports versus the list submitted prior. After that, we were advised to leave  all our belongings including our passports in the tour bus and we were transferred to the US army official bus.  Only cameras and cellphones are allowed inside the vicinity.

We headed then to Camp Bonifas where we were asked to sign waivers first. The provisions of the waiver include that we entered a highly futile environment at our own free will and military situation or even death may happen (incase).  We also watched slide shows on partial North and South history and events.  Lastly, we were briefed on the the do's and don'ts within the Panmunjeom (JSA) area.

Here are the guidelines for strict compliance:
1. When you arrive at the conference room, do not touch any equipment such as microphones or flags belonging to the communist side.
2. Do not speak with, make any gesture toward or in any way, approach or respond to personel from the other side.
3. Observe proper dresscode (no ripped jeans, sleeveless shirts, mini skirts, shorts, military cloth, slippers and exposed tattoos).
4. No selfies with Korean Republic Army (North).
5. Take photos on areas allowed only.

This is me facing Camp Bonifas and at the back is the negotiating site, Joint Security Area (JSA) and our assigned guide.  I bravely took selfies as we head out with the KPA's started marching out from their camp on the top floor.

As soon as I saw these men in intimidating old-fashioned trench coats and fur hats which reminded me of the Soviet's army, I cannot hide my fear and anxiety. They had their own binoculars which looked like sniper riffles from afar (paranoia it is) hahaha.

Despite the very cold weather, I was super sweaty Hahaha. Our guide assured as that he will protect us by all means though hehehe.

The blue houses that are situated in the middle of Military Demarcation Line (MDL) are the Freedom House, Conference  Room).

Joint Security Area became the neutral location where the guards from both parties were allowed to move freely after the Armistice Agreement was signed. Originally, this was the only place within the DmZ where the MDL was not clearly marked but after the Ax Murder incident, the MDL was marked within the JSA and the marking system continues until today.

Currently, the only border crossings allowed are inside the conference buildings of the Military Armistice Commission (MAC).

That is me inside the conference building together. Unluckily, there are no  KPA on duty. I am really curious to see one upclose. There are ROK soldiers though who look like wax figures.

ROK soldier guarding the door to the other side, North Korea. I'm glad I got to stand in the most secluded land. I badly want to take selfies beside the guard but he is so intimidating and scary.

BTW, The Republic of Korea Armed Forces (Korean:대한민국 국군; Hanja: 大韓民國國軍; Revised RomanizationDaehanminguk Gukgun, literally "Great Korean Republic National Military") are also known as the ROK Armed Forces, are the armed forces of South Korea.

This one is another ROK army standing in between the two lands.

Here is a quick selfie with the rest of the gang hahaha.

And another selfie in North Korea hahaha.

After our tensed tour, we had a bit of chit chat with our US army guide and he was gentleman enough to grant us with a picture hahaha.

And to ease the stress away he recommended the area's ice cream!!!

Winter and ice cream are indeed great combos lol.

Had a bit of shopping at the souvenir shop.  Quite pricey but I wanna get something to remind me how sorrowful this place is and that how grateful I am not to experience the traumas of war.

Matching shirt and cap for my boy!!!

This whole  day tour is by far the most memorable one. I feel sorry for the families who were separated during the war and it makes me sad that the stress is still felt at present. I wish for nothing else other than peace between both countries  and may they give forgiveness and finally become united as one.

Aja aja fighting!!!

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