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The 38th parallel

June 21, 2011


Today was the final day of our guided tour. We will have a free day tomorrow before our farewell dinner. We got an early start so we could get to the DMZ in time to ride the monorail down Tunnel 3. Otherwise, you have to walk the whole way, and some of our group are not up to that kind of exertion.

First, we stopped in Imjingak, which is outside the DMZ. There, you have to catch a bus that is run by a special tour company. They take you to all the points inside the DMZ. There is a park with lots of statues, as well as an outdoor exhibition of an old train that was stranded in the area after the war. This train sits beside the freedom bridge, which is strewn with ribbons with wishes for reunification.


The bus took us inside the DMZ. We had to stop at a checkpoint where a Korean guard came aboard and we had to show our passports. We put all our belongings in lockers and rode the monorail into the third tunnel, which the South Koreans discovered had been built by the North, presumably for the purpose of infiltration and invasion. It is one of four tunnels the South Koreans have found, and it is the largest. They assume there are others. I have no pictures of the tunnel because we were not allowed to take pictures underground. We walked a few hundred meters to the point where the South Koreans closed off the tunnel. It is very wet, cool, and narrow inside.


When we emerged, we saw this beautiful sculpture representing the Koreans’ wish of reunification.


After a short film about the DMZ highlighting the discovery of the four tunnels and the state of things now, particularly as an amazing nature preserve for rare plants and birds, we hopped back on the bus to see Dora Observatory, the only place in South Korea where you can clearly see Gaeseong in North Korea. Because of the mitary presense, you are not allowed to take photographs past a certain point. Nate put Tiana on his shoulders so she could take a picture, and the guard immediately ran over and snatched away his camera to delete the photo. They take the rule very seriously.


It is very sad to see the separation. There are refugees who live right outside the DMZ who have been waiting for reunification their entire lives. The first generation to live there are probably all dead by now. The South Koreans desperately want peace, and yet they must guard their land and carry big guns. Seeing the vast divide in space and psychology, It is hard to imagine reunification ever happening. When you look at the North Korean moutains, they are very sparse and brown compared to the lush greenery of the South. They still use trees and coal for energy, because hardly anyone has electricity.

Next was Dorasan Station, the last train station in South Korea. It used to connect to stations in North Korea, which would allow passage to Pyongyang, and then on to China and Europe. However, the North Koreans cut off access a few years ago, so now it sits, newly built, shiny and ready for business, but with no one to shuttle anywhere. This sign hangs at the entrance.


After all that heavy stuff in the morning, we stopped at a little tourist town called Provence, after the French location. It was decorated with French-style architecture and paint colors reminiscent of southern France, complete with a French bakery. We ate shabu-shabu, in which you cook vegetables, meat, and noodles in boiling broth. It came to Korea when Genghis Kahn saw Chinese soldiers cook their food in their iron helmets for wont of cooking utensils on the battlefield. He brought it to Korea when he invaded, around the same time he was in China, and then brought it back to Mongolia, though it is now seen as a Japanese dish. It was predictably delicious!


Not yet digested, we visited CIY, the cooking institute in southeast Seoul, to have a cooking class. We made shrimp pancakes and crispy bulgogi. Everything was pretty easy to make. If only I had my own personal sous chef to prepare all the ingredients in their little dishes ahead of time, I would cook like this every day! I was reminded that I am actually quite a good cook, and I found myself chuckling as some of the other group members struggled to julienne a zucchini, or slice a tomato. We all had fun, though, and it all came out tasting great.



Our last event of the day was a Nanta performance called “Cookin'” held within walking distance of the guest house. It is one of the most popular shows in Korea. They have numerous performance teams that give at least two shows per day at three different venues seven days a week. It was basically Korean STOMP, a high-energy drumming performance interspersed with a little acrobatics, dance, and broad physical comedy, all around a very simple storyline. It was really well done and very entertaining. There is something so awesome about drumming, especailly when you can feel it in your body. It’s so primal. It was definitely a hit amongst us all, the kids and the moms. A great way to end the day.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia Bates permalink
    June 23, 2011 4:58 am

    I’ll bet Pooka-baby really loved the drumming too! Get that kid hooked on rhythm at an early age!!

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