We did a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone only about an hour north of Seoul. If, like me, your history is a bit shakey, read on. Otherwise skip it!
Japan had occupied Korea since 1910 and there are graphic accounts and photos that we saw in the Mokpo museum of the terrible life Koreans had under Japanese rule.
When Japan surrendered in 1945 at the end of Pacific War, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel line when the US and the Soviet Union moved into the Korean Peninsula. The division line was intended to be a temporary political border, but the failure to hold free elections throughout the peninsula in 1948 deepened the division between the two sides.
The North Korean tanks crossed the 38th line at the dawn of June 25, 1950. The war lasted for three years and one month and cost more than two million people's lives. The ceasefire agreement was signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953. Interestingly, we were told on the bus trip Chinese, Russians and UN personnel signed the armistice, but not the South Koreans - they wanted to keep on fighting. The armistice, not a peace treaty, is still in effect today.
We needed to show our passports to army personnel as we entered the DMZ. For miles before this, there was razor wire along the river that ran parallel to the road.
The highlight of the tour was to explore a tunnel dug by North Korea. The tunnel was discovered by the South Korean Army as the third one among four tunnels, hence the name “The Third Tunnel”. We donned bright yellow hard hats and walked down a steep walkway to a depth of 73 meters. The tunnel is about 2 metres high and 2 metres wide. It is estimated that 30,000 fully armed soldiers could pass through in an hour. The infiltration tunnel was made by dangerous manual excavation work with dynamite, shovels and pick axes. It is just 52 km away from Seoul.
A defector from the North told the South that tunnels were being dug. To find out where they were, the South Koreans drilled holes into the ground and put in lots of water filled pipes. When the tunnelers blasted through the granite rock with dynamite, the blast made water spill out of pipes close to the tunnel. That way, they knew the general area and could investigate further.
In the early 2000's, when relations were more cordial between north and south, factories were built in North Korea by South Korean businesses, taking advantage of lower wages, and employing round 50,000 North Koreans. Their wages were paid directly to the North Korean government who in turn supposedly passed it on to the workers. However, in the last couple of years, first with the nuclear testing by the North and later a long range missile launch, these factories have been closed and the road and bridge to the North is barricaded.
At a viewpoint, you can look through binoculars into North Korea. The day we visited it was quite hazy but you can see farmland, buildings and houses. There are supposedly some propaganda towns where the buildings are only facades. A loud speaker could be heard from the North, apparently extolling the virtues of their leader, while the South retaliates with their own loud speaker playing music, giving news and weather reports.
Previously, South Koreans could visit North Korea, after applying and careful scrutiny of their ID's. However, this changed a few years back after a South Korean tourist was shot at a beach resort in the North after wandering into a Military zone for an early morning swim. So if you want to visit North Korea, you need to go through China.
Back when North and South were more cordial with each other, a huge train station was built near to the border. It has immigration facilities and is set ready to go if and when North and South allow travel between each other. From here you could then go by train all the way to Petersburg and on into Europe.
Now that the history lesson is over, a couple of new things we have learnt about Korea!
When you are born, you are one year old. So when Koreans state their ages, we need to deduct one year.
There are 19 consonants in Korean and 21 vowels. Each symbol represents a sound. Sometimes the symbols are written underneath each other, sometimes along side.
We have spent our two days off between "WOOFings" back in Seoul. We then head to our third and final farm before flying to Mongolia.