Today we visited what is considered the most dangerous border in the world. Established in 1953, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) marks the border between North and South Korea – constructed after a war that never officially ended.
Our visit was split into multiple stops, the first one being Dorasan Station. This train station is probably the quietest in the world, because it was never completed. It was designed to provide a route from Seoul to Pyeongyang, the capital of North Korea. It was eerie to see the empty, unstaffed welcome desk and the signs pointing to a platform that is never in use. Around the station hung paintings and other artwork depicting the country’s separation, as well as hopeful visions for the future. One image I found particularly powerful showed the completed train tracks from Seoul to Pyeongyang, a gleaming train car zooming across them. Behind the path of the train, the barbed wire of the DMZ lay in a pile, unused and forgotten.
There were also a lot of photographs of the South Korean and North Korean leaders (Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un, respectively) meeting at the JSA, or Joint Security Area. Seeing the images of these two men and their families, it was hard to fathom that they were in a place connected with so much tension, war, and heartbreak.
After the station, we walked up a short hill to the observatory, and from the top we were able to look across the border to North Korea. We learned that many unspoken disputes have taken place near the border – one example relates to each country’s flag on their side of the border. North and South Korea both kept raising their flag higher than the other one, and eventually South Korea ceded the conflict to the north (however, their flagpole is wider). Additionally, North Korea constructed a village close to the border in an attempt to portray that their country was flourishing – however, it became clear that no one actually lived in the town when the lights turned off and on at the same time every night.
After the separation of North and South Korea, North Korea secretly dug tunnels under the border, attempting to reach Seoul and attack the South Korean government. Four tunnels were discovered – although many more are expected to exist – and we were able to walk in the third one during our visit. It was shorter and much steeper than I was expecting, but it was fascinating to be able to walk so close to the North Korean border.
Overall, my time at the DMZ was very insightful and thought-provoking. It was clear that this was an area marked with political tension and a history of separated families – however, there were also many images of hope for a stronger, united future.