October 2 DMZ and Insadong, South Korea

Most people who visit Korea  go to see the DMZ. And we also went on a DMZ tour.

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Ann is standing next to the DMZ tour bus

The Korean Demilitarized Zone, usually referred to as the DMZ, is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ is a border barrier  which runs along the 38th parallel north.  It was created as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement between North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the United Nations Command forces in 1953.

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Looking across the river at North Korea from the tour bus

It is 250 kilometers (160 miles) long, approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide and despite its name is the most heavily militarized border in the world.  The road from Seoul to the DMZ runs parallel to the line at this point. The mountains across the river are in North Korea.

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Looking at North Korea across the river from the tour bus

The 38th parallel north, which divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half—was the original boundary between the United States and Soviet administration areas of Korea at the end of World War II. Upon the creation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, informally North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK, informally South Korea) in 1948, it  became an international border and one of the most tense fronts in the Cold War.

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Barb wire fence decorated with small South Korean flags

Both the North and the South remained heavily dependent on their sponsor states from 1948 to the outbreak of the Korean War. The conflict, which claimed over three million lives and divided the Korean Peninsula along ideological lines, began on June 25, 1950, with a DPRK invasion across the 38th parallel, and ended in 1953 after international intervention pushed the front of the war back to near the 38th parallel.

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I think that these are “peace ribbons” tied onto this fence

In the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, the DMZ was created as each side agreed to move their troops back 2,000 meters (2,200 yards) from the front line, creating a buffer zone 4 kilometers  (2.5 miles) wide. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) goes down the center of the DMZ and indicates exactly where the front was when the agreement was signed.

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Peace sculpture at Imjingak in the DMZ

Owing to this stalemate, and genuine hostility between the North and the South, large numbers of troops are still stationed along both sides of the line. The armistice agreement explains exactly how many military personnel and what kind of weapons are allowed in the DMZ. Soldiers from both sides may patrol inside the DMZ, but they may not cross the MDL. Sporadic outbreaks of violence due to North Korean hostilities killed over 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 U.S. soldiers along the DMZ between 1953 and 1999

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A group of South Korean soldiers outside a building near the Third Tunnel entrance in the DMZ

Imjingak, located 7 kilometers from the Military Demarcation Line, is now at the forefront of tourism related to the Korean Conflict.

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Like any other tourist area, Imjingak has restrooms, a cafe, a souvenir shop, and carnival rides for kids. It felt almost normal here.

It was built in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. Three-storied Imjingak is surrounded by several Monuments, Unification Park and North Korea Center.

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This is the Korean War Veterans Monument at Imjingak

Outside Imjingak, there are old pieces of military equipment on display that were used during the Korean Conflict.

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Military equipment from the Korean War at Imjingak

Mangbaedan, which stands opposite of Imjingak, is famous for the place where people from North Korea visit and perform ancestral rites by bowing toward their hometown every New Years Day. Maybe this is Mangbaedan here across the river?

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View across the river from Imjingak

The Bridge of the Freedom, South Koreans crossed when they came back to their mother country from North Korea, stands behind Mangbaedan.

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The Bridge of Freedom near Imjingak

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Old train tracks at Imjingak

In front of Imjingak, there is the Gyeongui Train Line which was destroyed during the Korean Conflict in 1950. It has been under construction since 2000.

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Another memorial at Imjingak

Every year many events for unification are held at Imjingak. The photo below was my favorite memorial at Imjingak.

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Another Memorial at Imjingak

Since November 15, 1974, the South has discovered that four tunnels crossing the DMZ have been dug by North Korea. This is indicated by the orientation of the blasting lines within each tunnel. Upon their discovery, North Korea claimed that the tunnels were for coal mining; however, no coal has been found in the tunnels, which are dug through granite, but some of the tunnel walls have been painted black to give the appearance of anthracite.

i did not think that I would find anything cute in the DMZ, but I was wrong. Here is the “cute photo of the day.” Jeff is standing next to these cute statues of South Korean soldiers near the Third Tunnel entrance at the DMZ.

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Jeff is standing next to cute statues of South Korean soldiers

The tunnels are believed to have been planned as a military invasion route by North Korea. Each shaft is large enough to permit the passage of an entire infantry division in one hour, though the tunnels are not wide enough for tanks or vehicles. All the tunnels run in a north-south direction and do not have branches. Following each discovery, engineering within the tunnels has become progressively more advanced. For example, the third tunnel sloped slightly upwards as it progressed southward, to prevent water stagnation. Today, visitors may visit the second, third and fourth tunnels through guided tours.

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Diorama in the museum next the the Third Tunnel entrance in the DMZ. It shows soldiers digging a tunnel.

The third tunnel was discovered on October 17, 1978. Unlike the previous two, the third tunnel was discovered following a tip from a North Korean defector. This tunnel is about 1,600 meters (5,200 feet) long and about 350 meters (1,150 feet) below ground. Foreign visitors touring the South Korean DMZ may view inside this tunnel using a sloped access shaft. We were not allowed to take photos in the tunnel.

The access shaft was rather steep (our guide said it was a 16% grade) so it was not easy going down and up. And the tunnel itself had a very low ceiling, so Jeff and I had to stoop over most of the way. They gave us all hard hats to wear, which was good because I did bump my head against the ceiling several times. North Korean soldiers must all be shorter than me! It was glad that I got to go into the Third Tunnel, and even happier that I got back out!

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Ann is standing in front of the Eulji Observatory at the DMZ.

Eulji Observation Platform, located near the Military Demarcation Line, is now one of the most interesting places along the DMZ. From the Eulji Observation Platform,  you can clearly see across the border into North Korea, and on clear day you can also see Birobong Peak. Every year over one hundred thousand people visit this observation platform at the DMZ.

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Photo of the yellow lines where you need to stand to take photos of North Korea

You need to stand behind a yellow line to take photos of North Korea, you cannot do so at the edge of the platform. You could only look through telescopes there. So all of the photos here in the blog are from Jeff’s skill with his camera’s telephoto lens!

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Tourists taking photos of North Korea from behind the yellow line at Eulji Observatory

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Kaesong Industrial Region in North Korea. These are factories, employing North Koreans and managed by South Koreans.

Both North and South Korea maintain “peace villages” in sight of each other’s side of the DMZ. In the South,Tae Sung-dong is administered under the terms of the DMZ. Villagers are classed as Republic of Korea citizens, but are exempt from paying tax and other civic requirements such as military service. Most of these villagers are very well off, according to our guide, because they grow ginseng. red ginseng grows very well in the DMZ area, and they can sell it for a lot of money, and not pay taxes on their profits. So it is an interesting trade-off, restricted living conditions, but lots of money.

In the North, Kijong-dong features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments with electric lighting. These features represented an unheard of level of luxury for rural Koreans, north or south, in the 1950s. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from the border. However, scrutiny with modern telescopic lenses reveals that the buildings are mere concrete shells lacking window glass or even interior rooms, with the building lights turned on and off at set times and the empty sidewalks swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity.

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Photo of Kijong-dong propaganda village in North Korea in the DMZ. The tall flag pole is to the left of the village.

Tae Sung Dong and Kijong-dong were the only villages allowed by the armistice committee to remain within the boundaries of the DMZ. Residents of Tae Sung Dong are governed and protected by the United Nations Command and are generally required to spend at least 240 nights per year in the village to maintain their residency.  In 2008, the village had a population of 218 people. The villagers of Tae Sung Dong are direct descendants of people who owned the land before the 1950–53 Korean War.

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Photo of Tae Sung Dong village in South Korea in the DMZ

In the 1980s, the South Korean government built a 98.4 meter (323 feet) tall flagpole with a 130 kilogram (287 pound) South Korean flag in Daeseong-dong.

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South Korean flag in the DMZ

The North Korean government responded by building what was then the tallest flagpole in the world at 160 meters (525 feet) with a 270 kilogram (595 pound) North Korean flag in Kijong-dong, in what some have called the “flagpole war.”

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North Korean flag in the DMZ

The railway, which connects Seoul and Pyongyang, was called the Gyeongui Line before division in the 1940s. The railway line has been mainly used to carry materials and South Korean workers to the Kaesong Industrial Region.

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Ann is standing in front of the new railroad station in the DMZ

Its reconnection has been seen as part of the general thawing in the relations between North and South in the early part of this century. However in November 2008 North Korean authorities closed the railway amid growing tensions with the South.

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South Korean soldiers inside of the new railroad station in the DMZ

Following the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, conciliatory talks were held between South Korean officials and a North Korean delegation who attended Kim’s funeral. In September 2009, the Kaesong rail and road crossing was reopened.

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Only two trains daily, not exactly a busy station

Glad I went but still the saddest part of the trip.

When we got back from the DMZ tour, we spent the afternoon on Insadong Street. We had been there briefly on Sunday, and I had wanted to return because it looked like such a fun place to shop and hang out. So we did.

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Interesting sculpture at the entrance to Insadon Street in Seoul

Insadong Street is in the central district of Seoul. It is well known as a traditional street to both locals and tourists, and represents the culture of the past and the present. It contains a mixture of historical and modern buildings, and is an unique area of Seoul.

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People walking down Insadon Street

The majority of the traditional buildings originally belonged to merchants and bureaucrats. Some larger residences, built for retired government officials during the Joseon period, can also be seen. Most of these older buildings are now used as restaurants or shops.The main street is connected to a many alleys with stores, galleries and restaurants.

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Restaurant on Insadon Street in Seoul

Insadong was originally two towns whose names ended in the syllables “In” and “Sa”. They were divided by a stream which ran along Insadong’s current main street, when Insadong was founded 500 years ago.

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Jeff is holding soft ice cream in tube shaped cones that we bought from the shop behind him on Insadon Street

During the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945, wealthy Korean residents were forced to move and sell their belongings, at which point the site became an area of trading in antiques. After the end of the Korean War, the area became a focus of South Korea’s artistic and cafe life.

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Art and maybe graffiti inside of a building on Insadon Street

It was a popular destination among foreign visitors to South Korea during the 1960s, who called the area “Mary’s Alley”. It gained in popularity with international tourists during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

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Street musicians on Insadon Street

We had a lot of fun walking around Insadon. It reminded me of Quincy Market in Boston.

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Vendors making unusual corn starch ribbon cakes in Insadon Street

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Jeff “tries on a pair of wings” on a window in Insadon Street. South Koreans liked to put angel wings on stuff, in their ads, etc.

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