Monday, January 24, 2005


Abbreviations, our life is full of them. TAB, VCR, DVD, KFC, USA, GWB etc. but on Tuesday 18 January I saw a place where abbreviations run rife that is the DMZ.

The DMZ is an area between North and South Korea. It is an area which both and neither country really control. Most of the territory is separated by two fences about 2 near the MDL or Military Demarkation Line or ‘border’ if you like.

There is a very strange part of the DMZ called the JSA or Joint Security Area. This is a place where both armies (well technically the UN are on the southern side but in reality it is mainly the USA and South Korean Army) face off 24 hours a day. There are a number of meeting rooms between the two sides that actually straddles the MDL, possibly the most hostile ‘neutral’ meeting room in the planet (provided you don’t include the FGC room at DCYFS).

Meetings are held in the JSA between the two sides especially in respect of the cease-fire agreement which serves as the peace agreement between the two sides (technically they are still at war) and also Red Cross meetings.

Our tour (a USO tour open to civilians) there began at Camp Casey at 0715 which in civilian time is…very early! The temp was around zero. We got a on the bus and headed off to the DMZ with out Korea Tour Guide speaking in passable English. Oddly his name was Joseph. I was worried when some of his commentary went like this “I will tell you a bit about Seoul…Seoul is an interesting city with a long history….ok now I need to take your lunch order”. How inciteful, A city with a long history, imagine that. Even though we got more detail in the lunch menu than we really needed the rest of his commentary wasn’t too bad. He had oviously done the trip a few times.

At about 0830 we reached ‘reunification’ bridge where we were required to show our passport to an American solider touting an M16. Etsuko gave me a look to say ‘what have you gotten me into?!’ The bridge is very close to the DMZ area. A ban on photography came into effect in case we were to share the Amercian bunker positions with the communists.

We then arrived at Camp Bonifas, named after an officer killed at Camp Bonifas when it was called Camp Kitty-Hawk. We had to sign a piece of paper which said we consented to going into an area which could result in our capture or death ‘due to enemy action’. At this point I gave Etsuko a ‘what have I gotten us into’ look. We were giving a briefing and slide show by Corporal Fassel, who rattled off a 7 minute speech in 4 minutes (totally verbatim from his traning). There was to be no pointing or gesturing or talking to any of the North Korean soldiers, or to do anything which they could use as propaganda. I thought it prudent to put my pants on at this stage.

Off we went to the JSA. On the way we saw the worlds most dangerous golf course. I always thought it was the Te Teko course but this is a golf course surrounded on 3 sides by live mine fields.

The JSA was quite surreal. It is a very picturesque area from the southern side with lovely gardens and very impressive buildings. One of these building s was built to hold meetings between families separated by the Korean War however we were told this has never happened because the ‘North hasn’t allowed it’.

We then went on to the famous area where the UN meeting rooms are and the soldiers face off at each other and stand so they are half behind the building to ‘present less of a target in case of enemy fire’. At this point we could see a NK solider watching us from the Northern side.

You will see the photos have the soldiers standing in a rather strange stance. This is supposedly a Taekwondo ready stance. The US soldiers call it the ‘ROK Ready’ stance (Republic of Korea). This along with the Ray Ban sunglasses is supposed to intimidate the enemy.

We then went into the UN meeting room. We were able to pose with a ROK solider who was symbolically protecting the UN flag (which gets removed when we leave the room in any event). Strangely they posted a guard on the door which leads to the North Korean side in case we decided to defect. By walking from one end of the room to the other we were actually crossing from the Northern to Southern side of the MDL. Everyone spoke in whispers in this room.

A each point on the JSA we were being observed by NK soldiers and I probably had my photo taken a few times.

We then saw some of the places that the Corporal had mentioned in his briefing, including the monument to the fallen soldiers in the JSA including Capt. Bonifas one of the victims of the infamous Axe murder. This occurred in 1968 when a tree that was blocking the view between two observation posts was to be trimmed by the Americans. they were confronted and attacked by the NK’s and two American soldiers were killed. 72 Hours later the US went to DEFCON 2, pre-war state and undertook the most highly organized and largest tree-felling operation in history. There was a carrier and bombers on stand-by and the entire US and ROK forces at Camp Kitty-Hawk involved + extras. – The tree didn’t stand a chance.

We then went on to the ‘3rd Tunnel’. This is one of the four tunnels discovered by the South coming from the North. Prior to going into the tunnel we watched a movie which said how great it will be when the two nations are reunited. Full of happiness and joy. – In the tunnel (where we weren’t allowed to take pictures there was a sign which read –You can see that the walls have been painted black in an attempt by the North to claim that this was an abandoned mine shaft, once again showing the double sidedness of the North.) It seemed stage that they were talking peace in the movie and in the tunnel it was still strongly worded propaganda.

We then went to the Dorasan observatory which is a very big military post on a large hill which NK can be seen easily. We could look though binoculars but were not allowed to take pictures, except behind a yellow photo line….from which you could see nothing)
Then it was on to Dorasan station which will eventually link NK with South. It was very strange seeing a sign for the train to Pyongyang (capital of NK).


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