Friday was my most anticipated day: the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. As we made our way from Seoul to the border between the two Koreas, the buildings became less dense, and the land felt more spread out. Entering the zone, a South Korean soldier came on the bus to check out passports and count the number of people to make sure it matched how many were reported to come. The moment felt very serious and real.
The DMZ was a lot bigger and more residential than I thought it would be; the people who live there are most farmers and tax exempt as long as they stay there at least 200 days and nights in the year. For a while, we drove along side a river and the mountains on the other side were in North Korea. Sometimes the mountains were bare with all the trees cut down because it would be harder for North Korean defectors to hide.
We stopped at Gyeongui train station; however, there were no trains and the building was mostly empty except for the gift shop employee and front desk worker, giving it an eerie feeling. There was a sign for a train to Pyongyang which is North Korea’s capital city. The tracks don’t run through the border, but the idea is to be able to travel from Seoul to London by train by connecting to the Trans-Siberian Railway through North Korea.
Closer to the border, we went to an observation deck where through binoculars you could see a North Korean village, most likely a form of propaganda built by North Korea to make them seem prosperous. South Koreans discovered that it was fake by noticing that the lights would turn on and off and exactly the same time everyday.
And then even closer to the border were the attractions: museums, beautiful scenery, and even a small amusement park which I thought was strange. We went down into one of the four discovered tunnels that the North Koreans built to ambush Seoul. It was a long walk downhill, and then we had to crouch throughout the rest of the tunnel. Many times did my hardhat hit the ceiling. The tunnel was supposed to be for really small North Korean soldiers to run through. The walk back up destroyed my legs because of the steep path back up, and I emerged red, sweaty, and out of breath, but it was worth it.
After more touring at the DMZ, we went straight to the Han River cruise, which was very relaxing. The view was pretty, but most of my attention was drawn to the seagulls which were flying along side the boat and being fed with dried fish. When we got back on land, Dr. Yun suggested a game that we play among the four groups: without using our phones, we have to get back to the hotel completely on our own. Whoever gets back first, he will buy Korean barbecue for. When the game started, my group immediately started to run, which I was not expecting, and after we got off of the subway, I was in the back trying to catch up to them while they ran to the hotel. Our group made it back third, but at least we didn’t get lost. Dr. Yun and Dr. Clark ended up paying for 50% of our food anyways which I greatly appreciate.