A&E on the World Heritage Train East 2009 travel blog

Camp Boniface, Joint Security Area, Demilitarized Zone. North Korean soldiers in middle...

Camp Boniface: Sunglasses in fog?

Keeping an eye on the North Koreans, ready to avoid gunfire

Our tour buses


That's what Bill Clinton called the DMZ. The waiver I had to sign said "The visit to the JSA...will entail entry into a hostile area and posibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action" (!!) Today was very interesting indeed. I like to think that in a few years, maybe a few more, all these mad things like the Berlin Wall and the Korean DMZ, and nutty places like North Korea and Afghanistan as they are now, will have become things of the past, and people won't quite beiieve how we could have been so venal and stupid. I have been to the Berlin Wall and crossed the Iron Curtain (in 1979) and I'm really glad I did, and I was very glad I went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) today, even though I wasn't allowed to take pictures of a lot of the things I would have liked to have done. An unexpected bonus was that it was the biggest dose of human contact I've had since Erica left, particularly this charming, interesting and very active 71 year old English Australian bloke I was paired up with for much of the day.

The DMZ is basically is a 4 km wide, 214 km long strip between North and South Korea, roughly on the 38th parallel, surrounded by the most heavily mined area on earth and two large, extremely skilled and highly hostile armed forces, who are technically still at war. In the middle of it is what is called the Joint Security Area (JSA), where meetings between the two countries are held and tensions periodically erupt. Unexpectedly, there was (to me at least) quite an atmosphere of tension when I went there today. This was initially established by the US Soldier who was looking after us making it clear in no uncertain terms what the expectations and limits on us were, and backed up by graphic images of recent firefights in the JSA area.

Camp Boniface - which is the United Nations camp that surrounds the JSA on the South side - is named after a US Captain killed with one blow by a North Korean soldier (using Tae Kwon Do), during an argument over pruning a tree in the JSA. We also got to see and hear all about when a North Korean defector made a run for it across the line in my photos above (i.e where the soldiers are standing), causing an instant firefight like out of the movies, except with real dead people. There is an agreement for a limit of 8 soldiers on each side in the JSA, armed with pistols only, though all of these soldiers on both sides are top of their profession and top Tae Kwon Do killers too (apparently there is nothing else to do there but work out and train anyway). And to back it all up on the UN side, a highly trained and seriously well-armed Quick Response Force (yes, you guessed it, the QRF) in Camp Boniface who can be in the JSA mob-handed and ready to shoot bear in 60-90 seconds 24 hours a day. You can see why it felt a bit tense.

Other than the main event above, most of the rest of the 'tour' was a bit of an anti-climax, mostly involving overlooking the DMZ (which is a bit of a wildlife haven and quite attractive in its own right) and North Korea, which looked a lot like South Korea, surprisingly enough, though heavy fog restricted some of the views. Best of the rest was a little excursion down this deep tunnel the North Koreans dug and the South Koreans discovered.

I was back in Seoul earlier than expected, and I have made a complete change to my plans. I was going to ship out early back down South (indeed, I briefly considered doing it tonight even though I'd already paid for my hotel accomodation here), but after a very pleasant time wandering around the art galleries and shops of Insa-Dong, and having a really nice sit-down meal, I felt so relaxed I decided I wanted to stay that way, so I'm going to spend the rest of my time in Korea in Seoul. I know this area well now and feel very comfortable and at home here, both the touristy, posh, arty area of Insa-Dong itself, and the more streety, dirty and noisy Jongno3-ga where I live, within a short walk of Insa-Dong and right next to the metro. A good plan, and it means I can go hiking in the local National Park tomorrow.



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