5/10/19-A Nation Divided

When I first looked at our Plus3 schedule, this was definitely the day I was most looking forward to. To me, the history behind the divide between North and South Korea is one of the most interesting parts of the country, and now I would finally get to visit the center of the action, the DMZ. We boarded the bus, and after about an hour-long drive, barbed wire along the side of the road signaled where we were. It was somewhat surreal when I checked Google Maps and saw that the blue dot that represented myself was just about touching North Korea. Looking across, it didn’t look like I’d imagined it would. I then realized it was unreasonable for the country to suddenly look like some Communist dystopia the very inch the border was crossed. All I could see was farmland. On arrival, we had to pass a security checkpoint, where a Korean soldier boarded the bus and checked all of our passports. It felt like something out of a spy movie, even though it was perfectly legal for us to be there. After passing the checkpoint, we crossed the Cow Bridge, which got its name because Hyundai’s founder took a cow across it to sell to start his business in the South, and later repaid his debt by sending 500 cows back. The bridge had barriers set up on alternating sides about every 10 yards or so, so that you had to drive in zig-zags to cross it, presumably to significantly slow down invading forces going either way. Now that we were in the DMZ, it was time to see the sights. Our first stop was Dorasan Station, which is the last train station in South Korea before crossing the border. It has no use at this time but is kept restored in hopes that the two nations will be reunited one day. It also allowed for a cool photo op in front of the sign that said, “To Pyeongyang”. In the gift shop, I purchased a chunk of barbed wire that was once used in the DMZ, as well as a North Korean 1 won note that is worth less than one tenth of a penny but I paid $7 for. What a deal! Next we went to the observation deck, where we could look across the border deep into North Korea. The entire area was surrounded by barbed fencing and bright signs that warned of landmines. We had a great view of “Propaganda City”, a town that once had 0 inhabitants but had lights that turned on and off at the same time every day to make it seem like a bustling town. Now, however, real people live there. Next, we toured the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This was one of four tunnels dug by North Korea for an underground invasion that were painted black to disguise themselves as coal mines. Luckily, they were discovered and closed off, and this one is open to tourists. The slope down was extremely steep, and we wore hardhats for good reason, as the ceilings were very low and I would have had quite the concussion by the time I got out had I not been wearing one. Next, we entered a theater, where we watched an interesting movie on the DMZ’s history. Afterwards, we took a group photo in front of a monument of the earth split in half, symbolizing the divided nation. The last two sites we saw in the DMZ were the beautiful Korean War Memorial and a train leftover from the war that was used to carry equipment but was destroyed by gunfire and left as a memorial of the brutality of the fighting. We then got a quick lunch, where Dr. Yun introduced us to Korean sausage, which is basically pig intestine stuffed with rice. Sadly, our time in the DMZ was over, but the day was far from it. Next, we headed to the Han River, the largest in Korea, where we boarded a ship and took a relaxing cruise through the city, seeing many sites and feeding hungry birds with small fish we bought on board. After the cruise came to an end, Dr. Yun challenged us (optionally) to find our own way in our groups back to the hotel without using our phones.  The winning group would get dinner for free. Despite our best efforts, our group came in last, but it was a lot of fun anyway. We then went out for a traditional Korean barbecue dinner that was nothing short of delicious, and Dr. Yun generously picked up half of our tab as a consolation prize. This capped off one of our best Korean days yet.

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