13 August 2010
[these ribbons carry messages of peace and reunification]
A few weeks ago we finally did the DMZ tour. For those of you who don't know, the DMZ ('Demilitarized Zone') is a strip of land dividing North and South Korea - a no go zone that provides a buffer between the two countries who are technically (and sometimes in a very real way) still at war. It is the tourist attraction for visitors to Seoul, but it is mainly the locals who flock to the DMZ each day (not surprising as Korea isn't exactly high on most traveler's 'must visit' list. Yet.), some of whom still have relatives in the North who they may not have seen for decades.
As a tourist attraction it is downright surreal and a little sad. But it is also a strong reminder that this is a country still at war, still divided. It captures perfectly the mixed up feelings of the South Koreans, who seem to be pulled in so many directions. They retain their idealistic belief in reunification (a belief that feels slightly absurd to an outsider at times), but they are also (understandably!) wary of the North. There is anger and there is pity but there is also an overwhelming sense that 'we are all Koreans, all one family'.
[despite the fog, tourist try to catch a glimpse of the North from a viewing platform]
[there was great fanfare and celebration when this train station opened - the first connecting the two Koreas and a symbol of reconciliation - but recent escalation of hostilities have meant that the station is not currently in use]