“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
― Bertrand Russell
Being in South Korea, there’s no room for Miss Hoggy to imagine that this country is actually half of a full circle, especially here in Seoul. The subway system is awesome and affordable. The different districts here have their own personality and quirks. Last but not least, the street shopping here is fantastic and plentiful. However, the youthful faces, donned in military gears, who travelled with her on the subway, roamed around the different districts hanging with their mates, and shopping around for gifts to their love ones on their visit home, reminded her that this country is in fact not complete, separated by the impossible line, 38th Parallel.
And that’s where she went: a tour to the perilous line that divides the Korean Peninsula.
” Carry your passport at all times. No funny hand gestures. No military-like or indecent clothing. Only take pictures when I tell you to.” Those were the generic instructions given to any tourists who are on their way to enter Camp Bonifas and Joint Security Area, right in the heart of the 38th Parallel, the world’s most militarised border. The drive down Highway 1, the only highway in the world that takes you straight to North Korea, was intense. There was a foreboding feeling that a war can erupt at any moment, especially when a North Korean flag in Propaganda Village was in sight. You would find that your muscles unknowingly tense up, aching to scratch that photographer-itch that wouldn’t go away, however aware you were that it’s forbidden to take any pictures.
Soon enough, you’ve arrived. At JSA, Joint Security Area, the neutral zone where peaceful talks between the North and the South are held. Guarded by the similar youthful faces in their military attires Miss Hoggy encountered in the streets of Seoul, with strict instructions on not to touch anything in the blue building, the tension between the Korean brothers was palpable. Sure it was tense stepping past the borderline within the JSA, it was really exciting as it’s the closest anyone can get on peeking into the world’s most secretive country.
As much as it was a curiosity drive for tourist to be here, it is not fun to know that it was a war that has drawn this line, that separated blood brothers and generations of families. Reunification efforts are attempted, mostly by the South, but there was no end in sight to erase this impossible line. Not when the North had made multiple efforts to dig tunnels, in an attempt to invade the South.
Disguised as a coal-mining effort by the North, the 3rd tunnel is a reminder for all of us that peace was never truly attained between the Korean brothers. At its worse during this virtual peace period, the North has had ideas to invade the South with these tunnels, dug out with the help of dynamites. And judging from the name of the tunnel, it’s obvious that it isn’t the only one; it’s speculated that there are many more, and longer ones too.
Fear was what the North wanted and still wants to achieve. It’s almost as if reunification is quite impossible, even though there are many who mourned after the day when they were torn away from their loved ones, very evident here in Imjingak, the park where the Bridge of Freedom, the very bridge where repatriated POW’s were returned, is situated. Prayer ribbons for their Northern family decorated the fences. Pictures of the crumbling Berlin Wall acts as a reminder that it is possible. It was all very sombre, reminded me of how blessed I am to have the leisure to keep in touch with my loved ones whenever I want to.
Just as we thought it was impossible, Miss Hoggy then witnessed a train moving along Bridge of Freedom, which now serves as the rail road that connects the two northern most railway stations in South Korea: Imjingak and Dorasan.
A beautiful station was then built in Dorasan, dreaming that one day, it would connect to all of the train stations in North Korea, creating a Trans-Korean railway, which would then connect to the Trans-Siberian railways. It is a beautiful dream, but unless it is the same dream as their Northern brothers, it is quite impossible to cross the line.
But really, this virtual war and peace, I think, has gone far enough. It is no longer about who’s right, but who’s left, the very youths guarding this impossible line… until true peace returns to the 38th Parallel.Facts: JSA and DMZ tours can only be possibly through licensed Seoul-based tour groups, like Adventure Korea. They would cost you about 99,000 Won. Dress code applies for JSA tours.