|BORDERLINE. The first Saturday of May saw my skinny bum heading north by tour bus for a day at the 'Peace Village' of Panmunjom, the UN-controlled Joint Security Area (JSA). I went with a whole group of friends and colleagues, and it was a really interesting foray into the world's last Cold War frontier zone. Need to brush up on what makes this place so uniquely dangerous? Go here...|
|RULES. We had to move around with armed escorts and go
everywhere in a tightly-controlled group. The Mainland Chinese tourists
almost caused at least one flurry when they went a bit loopy with their
cameras and their apparent inability to do what they're told. Years of
living under communism does that to you, s'pose but it didn't feel dangerous at all, once you stop thinking
about the hillsides teeming with machine-gun bunkers, the tanks under
hilltop camo awnings and the fields and forests roped-off with little
flags saying MINES!
Part of the tour includes being given the chance to actually stand on North Korean territory, provided you're guarded by South Korean MPs. This is what I'm doing in this picture.
|DON'T POINT. SOMEONE MIGHT SHOOT YOU. Visitors have to sign an indemnity form which says something along the lines of "I understand that this is a hostile area and that there is a very good chance that I might be injured or killed as the result of military action". There is a good reason for this, as the countries are still technically at war with each other. True. Find out more about the history of the Korean War and the DMZ.|
|POLE POSITION. Just across the border in North Korea is Kichong-dong, their so-called 'propaganda village', a built-for-show town which has precisely NO full-time inhabitants except for the world's tallest flagpole.|
|WATCHING YOU WATCHING ME. The area is quite lovely because it's so mined and fortified that nature has been able to thrive free from the urbanisation that would otherwise have happened.|
|SO. We spent a very interesting time there, first in the
advance US army camp, Camp Boniface, then into UN buses for our trip to
the JSA itself, where we stood on what is officially Northern Korean
territory - but only inside the Treaty Building, where a line across the
middle of the room divides things into an 'their half, our half' deal. We
only saw a couple of North Korean soldiers - perhaps there was something
good on TV? Actually, that would be difficult to believe after seeing what
NK TV has to offer. It's all 'happy smiling tots sing spontaneous praises
of the Great Leader while reaping record harvests, constructing nuclear
reactors and mastering the violin at age 2' kind of stuff. Dire. Reminds
me of South African TV under the Nationalists. If you're interested, have
a glance at some revealing
info about life in North Korea.
Those who prefer to check out some South Korean TV news in English can fire up their fast connections and visit Arirang TV's News On Demand page.
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