Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tour of the Korean DMZ

I missed an opportunity to tour the Korean DMZ the first time I was in Korea in 2002.  I'm not missing it this time.  Off to spy on my North Korean amigos!!!

Departing Osan Air Base heading north to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Here's our tour guide while on the tour bus.  Thankfully he popped in a History Channel documentary on the Korean DMZ because I honestly could not understand much of anything that was coming out of his mouth.

Some historical facts and the agenda for the day.

Imjingak Park.  This park was built to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their hometowns, friends and families because of the division of Korea.


View of North Korea and the Freedom Bridge, a railroad bridge connecting North and South Korea which was destroyed in 1951.

South Korean observation post (OP).

Middle ground between North and South Korea.

I'm not sure what the significance of these streamers are, however they're hundreds of them tied to this fence which was a pretty awesome sight.

On the other side of this fence is the entrance to the Freedom Bridge.

Popeyes at the DMZ!  Too bad it was too early to be open or else there would have been a picture following this one of me enjoying some Louisiana chicken a couple kilometers from North Korean guns.

I didn't have time to walk to where these stones were but I thought they were pretty cool looking so I snapped a picture from far away.

Lunch?  Not so much!

Nothing like a silkworm burrito!!!

I'm not sure what was cooking in this pot.  After a closer inspection it looked like she was boiling a bunch of shells.  I'm thinking she's cooking wreath shells as listed in the picture below.

Puppy on a stick anyone?!  Okay not really.  If I were a betting man, I'll bet that's chicken on that stick since Koreans absolutely love their chicken.

Corporal Pace asking the vendor about the shells.  

Okay, time to move on to the next stop on the tour.

I'd like to say I had the best seat on the bus but it was far from it.  I was in the very last row on a seat that could not lean back and had no armrests.  Not the end of the world but after three plus hours in that seat I was ready to walk to the DMZ.

Arriving at Camp Bonifas and the Joint Security Area, located 400 meters south of the southern boundary of the Demilitarized Zone.

Where and when we could take pictures was limited due to security reasons so I couldn't take many pictures of the Camp.  I managed to snap this one before cameras had to be put away.

The JSA Visitor Center.

Sitting through a 15 minute UNCLASSIFIED brief on the history of the DMZ given by a U.S. Army Soldier stationed with the 8th Army.

Notice how close Seoul is to the North Korean line.  Only 40 km and even closer at some points.  Well within North Korea's long range artillery. 

Currently at Camp Bonifas.  Next stop, the Joint Security Area (JSA).

The Joint Security Area (JSA).

These are Republic of Korea (ROK) Soldiers who are stationed at the DMZ as guards.  Notice, they stand at a modified taekwondo position, also known as the Rock Steady position.  They will stay at this position for hours at a time and are directed to wear the aviator style sunglasses in order to show no emotion.  This is a result of the North Korean Soldiers who were notoriously known for spitting in the faces of the guards, stepping on their boots and doing other hostile actions to try to intimidate and test the nerve of the ROK Soldiers.

This is a picture of the flags of the countries who were members of the UNC and participated in meetings with North Korean Officials in the JSA.  In the past the flags were placed on the tables in the room before being replaced by the above picture due to a North Korean Soldier being caught polishing his boots with the American flag and another blowing his nose with the South Korean flag.

This room is split in half with one side being in South Korean territory and the other in North Korean territory.  The North Koreans were notorious for doing things to try and make the Americans and South Koreans seem less superior to the North Koreans.  Soldiers would come into the room and cut the wires to the microphones on the South Korean side so that when the Americans and South Koreans spoke into them, the broadcast would not be heard on the South Korean side.  They would also swivel down the chairs so that the Americans would have to look up at the North Koreans.  Even still the North Koreans were overshadow by the Americans!

The slab of concrete that separates North Korea from South Korea.  You can kind of make out the boot prints of the North Korean soldiers on the left (north) side.

Motivator!  I think the ROK Army is juicing the guards at the DMZ.  They all are bigger than most ROK Soldiers and all have pimple covered faces.  I've been told North Korea places their biggest and meanest looking soldiers at the forefront of the DMZ, again to intimidate.  However, I've also been told that if you are able to look beyond the corn fed North Korean soldiers, you will notice the scrawny, malnourished looking soldiers who are the real face of the North Korean Army.

The ROK's stand facing the North and mostly behind cover to avoid being an easy target and to be able to pass hand and arm signals without being seen from the North.

Here is the lone North Korean soldier we saw while at the JSA.  A bit nosey?  Maybe if I stare back at him long enough, I'll start another war!

Anything you can do I can do better...

...I can do anything better than you!!!

Guards whether South Korean or American must wear an arm band per the Military Armistices Commission...a policy the North Koreans choose not to honor.

Me showing my backside to my peeping North Korean amigo!

On the bus going to another observation post.
From left to right:  Staff Sergeant Briscoe, Captain White and Staff Sergeant Castaneda.

North Korea in the distance.

Here is a view of the only North Korean village that is allowed within the DMZ, Peace Town also known as Propaganda Town by the South Koreans due to the speaker system located within the the town which plays propaganda up to some 18 hours a day.  It's been said that the town does not actually have any residents but only workers who come in to keep up the town and to lower and raise the North Korean flag.  The speakers are aimed towards South Koreans that live in Freedom town, the only South Korean village allowed in the DMZ.

Speaking of the flag, North Korea has the world's largest flag which is not shown here.  The flag which is normally flown here is over 60 meters long, with a dry weight of 595 lbs and flies on a pole 160 meters high.  It's been said that these flags can get so heavy when wet or windy they often tear under their own weight.  Some say metal strands are sewn into the flag to keep it from tearing.

 North Korea boycotted any participation during the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul.  The Olympic committee donated a flag to South Korea which in turn donated it to be flown in Freedom Town.  The flag and flag pole was so big in comparison to what the North Koreans had at the time in Propaganda Town that the North Koreans built the flag pole shown above and raised the 600 lb, 60 meters long flag described above.  North Korea is known for trying to one up the South Koreans.

View of an observation post no longer operated by men but by camera.

Here is the U.S. Army Soldier tagged to be our tour guide.  Is Combat Tour Guide an MOS option now when you sign up?!

View of, The Bridge of No Return.  It got its name because captives from either side where at one point allowed to choose a side (North or South) and cross the bridge to the side of their choosing.  Once crossed, they were forbidden from returning to the other side.

This is the memorial for the Soldiers that died during a routine tree trimming mission which was brutally attacked by axe wielding North Koreans.  Click on the link if you want to read the entire story.

ROK Soldier checkpoint.

One of the pictures shown in the lobby of the Tunnel 3 museum.  This North Korean built tunnel is only 44 km from Seoul.

Me exiting the entrance to the tunnel.  It's a bit of a work out!  It is 1.7 km (1.1 miles) long, 2 m (6.6 ft) high and 2 m (6.6 ft) wide.  It runs through bedrock at a depth of about 73 m (240 ft) below ground.  I would have been hating life if I were a private in the North Korean Army.

I believe this is suppose to be a statue of a couple of Water Deer also known as Vampire Deer because of the tusks that grow downward out of their mouths.  They are native to China and Korea and use their tusks for foraging.  The tour guide told us that they're somewhat blind and tend to run towards whatever is making noise.  I guess a routine formation run with cadence is out of the question!

These signs were EVERYWHERE!!!  Most of the land within the DMZ has not been touched by humans for 60 plus years, so many of the animal and plant species within the DMZ have been able to thrive.  This area has been since made into a nature preserve.  I'm curious how the animals have been able to thrive here since the DMZ is literally peppered with live land mines. 

Last and final observation post.

Approaching one of the best views of North Korea, oh wait but you can't take a picture of it.  Notice the photo line in the below picture.

Visitors are prohibited from taking pictures past this line.  Anyone caught taking pictures past the line will get their camera taken and immediately shipped to North Korea!  Okay, maybe the last part was made up!

For 500 won you can peer deep into communist North Korea.  Okay maybe not deep, but farther than what my camera can.

Here's a picture I took holding my camera as high as I could over my head while pointing in the direction of the flag.  Not bad!

Here's a very Japanese like sign I noticed in the restroom.  Enough said.

My tour bus.

I was trying to take a picture of the land mine sign from a moving tour bus and happened to snap a picture of a cat as well.  I hope it makes good use of its nine lives.

These are the names of all of the people that have donated money to the construction of the Dorasan Station.  This railroad station will link North and South Korea if ever the North and South reunite.  

A view of the observation post from the railroad station.

Dorasan Station.

Me with a couple of the guards working at the railroad station.

View of the interior of the railroad station.

Buying a train ticket to North Korea!

Got my ticket I'm ready to jump on the train as soon as North Korea decides not to be communist anymore and opens its doors to the world.  It may be a while!

A view of the Imjin River.

I thought these spiked road barricades were awesome.  I'd hate to be the car the runs into one of those.

DMZ tour...check, now time to head back south towards Seoul then Osan.

Here is a view from inside of the Osan Air Base, Base Exchange (BX).  This BX would probably fit the entire Camp I work in.  

Coins, coins and more coins.  Too bad they're not for sale but just samples.

Okay back in Daegu.  Saw this cab with its rear window brake light in the form of a heart and arrow that lights up when ever the cab brakes.  Gotta love Korea!

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