korea – day 8 – DMZ and War Memorial

May 2, 2008 – 4:13 pm

sorry for the lateness. i’ve just been lazy. these posts take a lot of effort (cos they’re wordy) and planning (because i don’t want to inundate you with too many pictures)

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joseph and i started planning the trip to the dmz before we left for korea. at first i was a little apprehensive. as a kid i vaguely remembered having gone, but it was nothing exciting and it was just peering through some coin binoculars. well it turns out what i vaguely remembered was true, but it would’ve been far more exciting if i had known i was “special”.

south koreans aren’t allowed on the dmz tours that go past the binocular viewing area. so no one in my family ever knew we were allowed past that “line.” when i mentioned it to my aunt in korea, she was a little baffled as well. but after a few calls to the USO, we were booked. (if you ever plan on doing this, make sure you book in advance because they were completely booked for 3 of the 4 days that were available while we were there)

we started with a very early morning cab ride into the city. they want you there around 7:30am! and since we were staying outside of seoul that would’ve been even earlier on a bus or in the subway. i got some breakfast of kimbap and we bought some drinks.

this tour is pretty big. it’s two full sized coach buses completely packed with people mainly from the US. it’s then a fairly uneventful hour drive to the DMZ. but once you get there, you get off the bus, only to be transferred to a different bus. this bus takes you to get briefed. some stories of altercations that have occurred between north korea and the us/south korean forces at the dmz.

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they also shared some information about north korea and the tactics they try to use at the dmz for the foreigners. like this flag pole. s. koreans built the “smaller” one on the left, and shortly thereafter, the n. koreans built the monstrous one on the right. it’s really rather amusing, since the n. korean flag can’t fly when there is rain or sleet because it’ll rip under it’s own weight.

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they also make you sign this scary waiver. the waiver basically says that if an altercation were to happen during the tour, the US and s.korea are not responsible for your safety. that combined with the lovely briefing of previous altercations, basically scares you into not making gestures or saying anything inappropriate durng the tour. oh yeah..lets not forget all the military personnel that can/cannot be seen throughout the tour.

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the first picture above is the n.korean propaganda village. it’s basically shells of buildings in which no one lives. not really sure why the n. koreans think the rest of the world is too stupid to realize that it’s not a real village? they do it to “attract” people to n.korea, but i think it only the not-so-smart folks fall for that. while the rest of the world tries to attract the smartest folks from other countries.

the second picture is the location of one of the altercations we were briefed on. at this location, there was a tree between the far left and center trees that blocked the view. so s.korean and us troops attempted to cut down the tree. n.koreans came after the “loggers” with axes and promptly decapitated a few. there’s now a memorial plaque where the tree was.

joseph already shared a little bit about the “bridge of no return” so i won’t go into details, but it’s scary how crossing that one bridge meant you were n. korean or not.

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hopefully this is the last time joseph’s hair will ever look like this. i don’t think it was necessary for him to form his hair this way, but i guess some people might think his faux-hawk could be misinterpreted as a big “f* you.”

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throughout the time we were there, we were told often of when we couldn’t take pictures. which would’ve been fine if they told us when we could’ve taken pictures! so most of the time joseph and i looked at each other asking ourselves “what? we could’ve taken pictures just then?”

one place they were clear we could take pictures was behind this photo line, about 10 feet away from the binoculars. unless we had some professional cameras, there was no way to get some very clear pictures of n.korea. instead we opted to take pictures of the guards, the photo line, and a far away watch tower.

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btw. if you’re a korean food connoisseur,  be wary of the lunch on this trip. joseph liked his bulgogi, but i really disliked my bibimbap. the banchan (appetizers) also stunk. it’s all edible. i’ll leave it at that.

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during the tour they also take you down one of the tunnels the n. koreans built as entries into s. korea to try to attack. the tunnel is really long. amazingly long. like so long many people were huffing and puffing trying to avoid the low ceilings, and to get to the end, only to have to promptly turn around and avoid the low ceilings again. at the end of the tunnel tour, i was all sweaty and nasty, so i decided to cool myself down with a frozen treat. above is a gookhwabbang. it’s essentially vanilla ice cream, with red bean and a layer of mochi within a casing similar to an ice cream cone. joseph said he didn’t want one, but he ended up eating half of it. i should’ve bought two =P i looked for it at the hanareum here in nyc, but they only had the version without the mochi in the middle. still pretty tastey tho.

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at the end of the tour, we were dropped off again at the USO at around 3pm. So with time to kill before having to go to home, we walked a block or two to the war museum. outside the museum is basically a large park that surrounds the museum. in the park there’s lots of huge statues and memorials remembering  troops from various countries and korea.

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museums in korea are CHEAP. $3 cheap! and that’s without a discount. if you’re poor and want to go to korea, these huge museums is probably where you want to go. (yeah yeah alot of nyc museums are “free”, but they also try to guilt you into “donating a minimum of $5 for students and $10 for adults”, cheapest museums i’ve ever been to are the dc museums. the smithsonian foundation basically make sure most of the museums are absolutely free, without the guilt trip)

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at the museum there’s large dioramas of what it was like during the war. from what you probably have already seen on the tv show – MASH – to refugees who had to leave their homes due to fighting. the middle picture is a korean artist’s depiction of a tear drop. it’s made of dog tags from  numerous soldiers and then wrapped in barbed wire from the dmz. the museum is a great crash course on the korean war. you can get as detailed as you like, or skim through the bulk of the exhibits.

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i think i shared before about joseph’s obsession with korean fried chicken. we had seen this place before the dmz tour and decided if we had time, we’d go there for an early dinner. since this was the more popular chain, i was expecting greatness. throughout seoul we saw lots of storefronts saying “two two chicken opening soon” it was like seeing a starbucks around every other corner in nyc. so we ordered similar to what we ordered at kyochon. beer and coke, fried chicken in sauce and spicy garlic chicken.

i’m really not sure why this was a more popular chain than kyochon. the chicken wasn’t as good. instead of only the double boned wing peice, it was various parts of the chicken ranging from the breast meat to the drumstick. i still crave the korean fried chicken done right!