Don’t Blink: Constant Surveillance at the DMZ
The last stop on our DMZ tour had to count as one of the most surreal moments I have experienced – right up there with that time I watched The Wizard of Oz synced up perfectly with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Both trips were amazing, but only this one left you feeling uneasy and awed at the same time. After two security checks and a debriefing, our tour finally arrived at the Joint Security Area (JSA), aka Panmunjeon, aka Truce Village. The space itself is reminiscent of a high school campus, or perhaps two rival high schools situated directly across from one another. As with any good rivalry, there is a continual vibration of tension that lingers in the air; you can feel it as soon as you drive through the front gates of the JSA. In fact, there’s even a 15 minute orientation in which visitors are told not to point or make any other gestures to N. Korean soldiers lest they look forward to sparking off World War Three. One element of the JSA that I found striking was the amount of one-ups-man-ship between the two sides. Just because they can’t shoot at one another doesn’t mean they can’t take pot-shots. For instance, a border town in South Korea built a 100m tall flag pole, only to be out done a little while later by the North, who built a 160m tall flag pole. Perhaps in response, South Korea then went on to build a shiny stainless steel and glass border patrol center, which stands in stark contrast to the weathered concrete building on the North’s side. Yankees versus Red Sox. Duke versus North Carolina. Pepsi versus Coke. Great rivalries indeed, but they all pale in comparison to North and South Korea. Click for (lots) more.
After signing a waiver relinquishing the government and tour agency from any responsibility should we get shot, the JSA tour commenced. Our first stop was the MAC Conference Room, which is literally situated on the Korean border. One side of the room sits in North Korea, the other in the South. In the past when the two countries have held diplomatic meetings, they sit at table that straddles the border so negotiators never have to leave their respective countries. The microphones in the middle of the table serve as a border marker. Visitors can cross freely into about 10 square feet of the Hermit Kingdom, and for 99.9% of the world, this is as much of North Korea as you will ever get to experience .
A South Korean ROK soldier (the sunglasses are for “intimidation” and they are worn at all times) guards the the Mac Conference Room. The door behind him leads to North Korea. If you were to walk out that door you’d most likely be shot and killed.
An inconspicuous slab of concrete separates the North (light) from the South (dark).
North Korea Border Patrol Center with the MAC conference rooms in the foreground. Can you see him?
Can you see him?
A sign post separates the North from the South. The forest beyond is filled with over a million land mines. Ironically it has become a pristine animal sanctuary as it has gone untouched for 60 years. So, ummm…thanks land mines?
At 160m, North Korea can lay claim to owning the tallest flag pole in the world (so at least it’s got that going for it, right?). Beneath it sits a North Korean “propaganda village” which is made up of apartments with no roofs or windows. According to our tour guide only a few people actually live there, and their main responsibility is turning the lights off and on.
Pictured above is the Bridge of No Return, and it’s name is not to be taken lightly. If you were to cross this bridge, you would most definitely not return. If you look closely you can see the border lies directly in the middle of bridge, and from the looks of it, they don’t have any pressure washers on the other side. The name of this bridge actually refers to the thousands of prisoners of war who were exchanged at this point. Whichever side a soldier chose he was never allowed to go back, not even to visit family that had been separated by the war.
Reporter at large. Now if I could just figure out a way to get paid to write I’d be all set.