Before I left to study abroad, everyone joked about me accidently crossing the border to North Korea and not being able to come back. I told my parents not to worry about me going to North Korea since I will be safely attending school in Seoul, but one day, I decided to go on a tour of the demilitarized zone. The demilitarized zone, or DMZ, is on the border that divides North and South Korea. I even stood on the North Korea side for a bit! The tour was full of foreigners and many U.S. soldiers. We were constantly warned by the tour guide not to make any facial expressions, point at anything, or say anything to the North Koreans while on the tour since we were constantly being watch.
One of the early stops of the tour was the third tunnel. It was the third tunnel of aggression that was discovered underneath the border between North and South Korea. It is believed that the tunnel was North Korea’s plan to launch a surprise attack on Seoul. Dynamite holes and yellow markings can be found leading in the direction of the South. There are also black coal markings found along the sides of the wall. North Korea denied making the tunnel and declared that they were just coal mining, thus leaving the marks on the walls, but the mine did not have coal in the surrounding area. Four tunnels have been discovered so far but they believe there are many more not yet discovered.
Nowadays, the tunnel has been turned into a tour zone with a gift shop at the front in the lobby. We were required to put on a helmet before entering and were warned about the difficulty of traveling through the tunnel. The tunnel was steeply sloped and going down was the easy part, but then it got smaller. There were no pictures allowed, but if we could take pictures, there would be some of my tall friends crouching to avoid hitting their heads on the ceilings. The helmets certainly came in handy there. Sometimes, being short has its benefits but my back was still hurt as I traveled the wet tunnel. At the end, we got to peer through a clear window to see the barricades blocking the passageway of the tunnel. We then had to crouch our way back out of the tunnel and up the steep slope. Going up seemed like it was endless, but there were conveniently placed seats along the side of the tunnel for people to rest before continuing their way up. Those seats were mostly occupied by the elderly though.
Then, we went to the Joint Security Area, which is the area where North and South Korean soldiers stand face to face. It is also known as the “Truce Village” where they hold diplomatic meetings together. We were allowed to enter the meeting room where the two Koreas held the meetings. Two South Korean soldiers were standing in a TaeKwonDoe position ready for any attack. We were only allowed to take pictures in the direction of North Korea to avoid having people post pictures of the South Korean security measures online. North Korea also holds DMZ tours as well, and we were warned that North Koreans may drop by the JSA just to check out what the South is doing. Outside, we even saw a North Korean soldier on the other side of the border staring in binoculars back at us. The following week, Obama also paid a visit to the DMZ.
Most useful phrase of the week: 걱정하지 마세요! (geogjeonghaji maseyo )= Don’t Worry!