DMZ it up...
Trip Start Apr 14, 2006
3Trip End Apr 29, 2006
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A quick history lesson (pretend I'm telling this in fast forward with amusing images and animations to match): after World War 2 (if you want to know more about World War 2, contact Simon Rate), the Yanks got the South and the Reds got the North. Following withdrawal of troops, these countries continued to support their respective sides. In 1950, North Korea, supported by the USSR and China, thought "y'know what we need? Cheap cars. Y'know who makes cheap cars? South Korea
THE DMZ now consists of 2km to the North and South of the border - and it's kinda creepy. The town of Panmunjon lies directly on the border between North and South. There's nothing in between. There might be a line, but that's about it. No fences; no nothing. And if you accidently stray to the North, there's no coming back. The UN, however, have set up a special building which crosses the border, and you can actually step into North Korea whilst in the building. The most creepy part, strangely, are the Republic of Korea soldiers (ROK soldiers - brilliant name and appropriate) who stand like statues in a pose that can only be described as a pose of death. Intimidating and unnecessary in my view, especially given that the North Korean guards look significantly more relaxed and happy. Apparently the ROK soldiers were meant to be there to protect us, but I just kept on getting this feeling like they were going to move at any second, pick on me and totally dominate. I probably would have had it covered - natural karate skills and all - but still slightly disconcerting
The level of security around the DMZ seemed a bit farcical, although on reflection, probably necessary. For us tourists, 3 passport checks, no photos except in designated and very rare places, no pointing, no looking at soldiers, no defecting to the North, no having fun, no speaking, no breathing, no feeling pain when shot etc. Anyway, it probably explains why the only people that have ever made it into North Korea are the head guy from Hyundai (who delivered 1001 cows, as you do - I don't know about you, but I think the North Koreans would rather drive cars than ride cows to work) and Pierce Brosnan.
North Korea kinda seems like a big kid. When South Korea built a flag pole in the DMZ, North Korea built one twice the size. "My flag pole's bigger than your flag pole". When South Korea discovered tunnels dug from the North, presumably created for the purpose of invasion, the North says "I didn't dig them. You dug them" or "it was like that when I got here". I look forward to "I know you are but what am I", and "So's your mum" and "don't cry" in North Korea's adolescent years. The DMZ was cool, and a complete world away from Seoul. And it's strange to witness how close 2 countires could be to war.
Other than the DMZ, my last few days in Seoul have been leisurely. A bit of shopping in the Dongdaemun shopping district, a bit of wandering around and sitting in parks and sleeping on trains in true Korean style. I also followed a parade of school kids and elderly people, only to realise that they were all going to the National Museum. Despite it's ridiculous size - it took me about 6 hours to see everything at a very superficial level - the museum was not particarly exciting. Funnily enough, despite all of the historical bits and pieces from Korea's past on display, the best part of the museum is the exhibition on Indonesian art and culture.
Dinner at the outback steakhouse was also particularly culturally insightful. THis place is one of those aussie (Australian) diners, part of a chain I believe, that would have been started up during the 80's fascination with Australian culture (y'know - Paul Hogan, Olivia Newton John and, to a lesser extent, Peter Andre - gimme some kind of sign girl). Following dinner, I understood:
- that Adelaide was famour for its rice and Coolangatta famous for its pasta;
- in Australia, if you want to order a big beer, you have to ask for 'blokes' size; and
- Perth doesn't exist
Outback diner? Average australian references. Bloody brilliant ribs (the use of the term 'bloody brilliant' was completely lost on the waitress serving us. It is possible that, according to the Outback Steakhouse, it is not a term of Australin origin).
So, anyway, 2 weeks have flown by. I had hoped to do a few more things whilst I was here - run on the Olympic Stadium; get to a baseball game; see another palace. However, I guess these sights were a little on the backburner, like those files at work that are never urgent and othr shit just keeps coming up (a special hello to everyone who received one of my reallocated files) and so I just never got around to them. Maybe next time...
So, to the top 5. To close, I thought an appropriate topic would "Top 5 surprises during my time in Seoul":
5. How much the Koreans love the world's officially most boring sport - baseball. Baseball - on 24/7 on the sports channel. Average...
4. Korean Pizza Love
3. Meeting a chinese-english girl on the DMZ tour who couldn't read chinese. Who ever hard of a chinese persn who couldn't read chinese?
2. Coopers Sparkling Ale at the local bar. Tastes just like home. Brilliant. I think there's still a carton of this stuff sitting in a room in Mt Lawley.
1. Not a single note of Karaoke sung - the world would have been a better place to have heard Chris and I as a duo again - the judges of the 2002 UWA Tavern Duet Karaoke Competition couldn't be wrong. I think there's still a half drunk carton of blue lychee UDL's sitting in a corner in Leeming.
So back to China it is. Next stop - Yangshuo...(hopefully)