Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Visit to the DMZ

Hi everyone. I'm catching up on my stories from Korea. This one is about my trip to the "Demilitarized Zone...or DMZ."

The day after Kristin explained to me the reason why there is a South Korea and a North Korea, Kristin and her journalist friends got on a bus VERY early in the morning so we could go to a place called the "Demilitarized Zone or DMZ." Kristin says this is the where the border between the two Koreas is located. I guess I must have been good since Kristin let me come along with her!

After a long bus ride, we stopped at a military checkpoint. I knew it was a military checkpoint because I've seen them before on my trip to Djibouti. It was cold and starting to rain, but our bus wasn't allowed to go through the checkpoint until we were met by United States Colonel Frank Childress and Public Affaris Chief David Oten Kristin says they were going to be our guides for part of the day. They are very nice.

I thought we were already at the border, but Colonel Frank Childress soon explained that we will still a few miles from the actual border between the two Koreas. Soon, we switched buses so we could start our trip closer to the border. While we were on the bus I saw lots of empty fields with fences that had curled wire with sharp-looking points on it. Kristin says that's "razor-wire" and she says that's supposed to keep people from climbing over the fence. I guess so! It looks like it would hurt if I touched it. She also said the fields were full of landmines. She says the mines are buried so people can't see them, but they can seriously hurt or even kill people who step on them. I decided it might be best if I stayed inside my special spot in Kristin's bag once she told me that!

I really wanted Kristin to take photos but our guides said pictures were not allowed because of security. While we were on the bus, Colonel Childress explained that there are three layers of security leading up to the border. He said the layers of security were there to help keep the North Koreans from invading South Korea. It sure looked very serious. Kristin wasn't kidding when she said the two Koreas were still technically at war!

After a short ride on the bus provided by the military, we stopped at a place called "Conference Row" near the village of Panmunjom. Kristin explained we were now inside something called the "Joint Security Area...or JSA." Here, Lt. Commander Chrostopher Dignan gave us a "briefing" about the history of the DMZ.

First, I learned the DMZ is just over 240 kilometers long (just over 250 miles) and 4 kilometers wide (roughly 2.5 miles). The DMZ is divided down the middle by something called the "military demarcation line...or MDL". The northern half is in North Korea and the southern half is in South Korea. Who knew?

I was really confused by all of the information in the briefing so Kristin tried to explain it to me. She says when the "Armistice" was signed, something called the "United Nations Command" was set up to organize the South Korean, American, and other military forces on the south side of the MDL. North Korean soldiers man the north side of the MDL. I was still confused, but then we walked outside and it started to make sense.

It was pouring rain and it was really foggy, so we couldn't see much. But I could clearly see North Korea from my warm and dry spot in Kristin's purse. There are white posts in the ground that show where the "MDL" is located.

As Kristin was taking a few photos, our guides told us that we could not wave or even point at anyone or anything on the north side of the "MDL." They said it might make the North Korean soldiers (who have guns) mad. OK, now I was starting to get a little scared, so I was glad I was in Kristin's bag.

After a really short walk, we were standing next to some blue buildings. Kristin told me these buildings are where the South Koreans and the North Koreans can meet to try and end the war. The MDL runs right through the middle of the buildings!

Just as we passed one of the blue buildings, I could see South Korean soldiers looking toward the north.
When I looked closer, I could see a large brown building just north of the blue buildings. Kristin says the brown building is in North Korea and it is one of the places the North Korean army uses to keep watch on the MDL. If you look really closely in the picture below, you will see a soldier on the north side (in an olive colored uniform) staring at the soldiers on the south side.

These soldiers look serious, don't they? They didn't move very often. Can you imagine standing in one spot staring at people all day long?

I asked Kristin to take a photo of me in this spot.

It started to rain really hard, so we went inside one of the blue buildings. It is VERY strange inside the blue building. First, there are two soldiers standing very still inside. One looks like he is guarding a table. Kristin says half of the table is in South Korea and the other half is in the North. I had no idea!

The other soldier is guarding a door on the north side of the table. North Korea is on the other side of the door.

I wanted to stay and watch the soldier but Kristin said we could only stay in the building for a certain period of time. That's because the North Korean soldiers can also come into the blue building to show people around. Our guides told us that they have a special phone they use to talk to the North Koreans to tell them when they are going into the building. Who knew?

But we did stay long enough for Kristin to take me into North Korea. Yes....I got to go into North Korea! I know this is a big deal because I remember Kristin told me that very few people are allowed into North Korea. Here I am in North Korea.

Can you tell why I am in North Korea? The concrete line in the photo is the MDL...or border. The rocks on the right side of the concrete line are in South Korea and the sandy dirt on the left side is North Korea. You can see I am LEFT of the concrete line.

Our guides took us to a few other places along the DMZ, but it was so foggy that I couldn't see much (although I am not sure how much I really wanted to see...I got scared after seeing the soldiers staring at each).

One of the places we visited is called, "The Bridge of No Return." Here you can see a South Korean soldier looking north across the bridge.

"The Bridge of No Return" crosses the border between the two Koreas. She says soldiers who were trapped on either side of the border during the fighting in the 1950s were given the choice to stay where they were when the fighting ended or cross the bridge to the other side. But once they chose to cross the bridge, they could not return to the other side. That's why the bridge is called the "Bridge of No Return.". Who knew? Here I am on the south side of the bridge.

After our visit, the group stopped at a store outside of the DMZ and Kristin bought me an arm band similar to the ones the soldiers wear in the DMZ. Thanks Kristin!

That's my summary of my visit to the DMZ. Despite the cold and wet weather, it was pretty interesting to see.