Friday, October 12, 2007

Korea: Day Seven: The Demilitarized Zone

Got up and put our nice clothes on, with me borrowing a shirt from Steve, as both the collared shirts I'd brought were hopelessly wrinkled. This would be the only day we'd have a dress code.

We went downstairs and walked outside for US Navy Commander (retired) Tom _____, and his PT Cruiser. Tom is a friend of Adam's and used to be the head dude up at the Joint Security Area. He's also particularly knowledgeable about Korean military history. The whole ride up to the JSA was punctuated with observations, anecdotes, and cigar smoke. . . all in a come-and-go Irish accent. Quite the character!

We arrived at the bridge to the JSA, and were met by Lt. Commander Dignan, the guy who currently has Cmdr Tom's old job. He brought a UNC (United Nations Command) bus with him for us. We followed the bus past the checkpoint
Camp Bonifas
and into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), parking behind the office building, maybe 100 m or less from North Korea. We toured the office, and saw many great pictures of historical events at the JSA. We walked back outside, in front of Freedom House (I think) and behind the buildings that straddle the MDL (Military Demarcation Line). There were plenty of ROK (Republic of Korea, South Korea, The Good Guys) around, from our BDU-wearing escort pair, to the Class A helmeted black belt formal guards.
ROK Guard
Strangely, I only saw one North Korean soldier, standing on the steps of Panmungak, their "impressive building".
Panmungak, North Korea
I know I was seen and videotaped by many North Korean cameras and guards.
I'll Be Watching You

We entered the central conference building, T-2, which had two ROK soldiers inside, one at the side of the border-straddling conference table,
Stradling the Border
and one at the back of the room, on the North Korean side.

Cmdr Dignan surprised me by walking into North Korea! He invited us to do the same. I was floored. I had no idea we'd get the chance to step over the MDL into North Korea. Needless to say, many photos were taken. We were very possibly the only Americans in North Korea for those few moments. How awesome is that!
TravelingRoths in North Korea

Me in the DMZ

After leaving T-2, we got onto the UNC bus, and drove to OP#5. They say you're surrounded by North Korea on three sides at that point,
Observation Post #5 (OP#5)

and we had great views of the MDL, the tallest flagpole in the world, topped by the North Korean flag, and the North Korean countryside.
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea
It's easy to tell which mountains are North Korean and which are South Korean. North Korean mountains are barren. We could also see the site of the Axe Murder Incident of 1976,as well as Checkpoint #3 (the World's Lonliest Outpost).
World's Lonliest Outpost, and the Bridge of No Return

We got back in the bus and drove to the monument marking the former location of the poplar tree that was at the center of the Axe Murder Incident and Operation Paul Bunyon.
Axe Murder Incident Marker

From there we walked to CP#3 and the Bridge of No Return, led by our two ROK guards who stationed themselves on the bridge, facing North Korea, while we were out looking around.
Bridge of No Return
Guarding The Bridge of No Return
I'm sure the regular tour group who was behind us, and watching us from the previous checkpoint, was disappointed that that little excursion was not part of their tour.

From there wer went to the JSA gift shop where everything came together. They had all the stuff I'd considered in Insadong, plus more. I was able to knock out the bulk of my souvenir purchasing there. I got Z a Korean fan and a Korean fan magnet, a DMZ t-shirt for T, some cool little ceramic bottles for JR, who claims she doesn't like Korean pottery, and even got something for myself; a JSA hat.

We said thanks to LtCmdr Dignan and his Kiwi XO, and headed out, stopping a few miles down the road at a store that sells products made in the DMZ. I just bought some peach iced tea and a bottle of Porcari Sweat, as I hadn't been drinking nearly as much water on this trip as I should have been.

In about an hour (after getting some gasoline at $4/gal) we were back to the apartment building. We just took a quick minute inside to unload, and headed out to Yongsan Garrison, the military base where Adam works. We got checked-in onto the base, and walked to the Navy Club where we partook of the free happy hour grub, and had a few pictures of Oktoberfest beer while meeting a few of Adam's coworkers.

From there, Jason and I went back to the apartment, while Steve & Adam went out to enjoy some unmentionable late-night entertainment that I really wasn't interested in. I packed up everything but the clothes for the return home, and called it a night.

(For the Zooomr SmartSet of all my Korea photos, follow this link (pops) )


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