Of course it had to be the morning of our first organised tour that we realised that two of our clocks were still set to Hong Kong time! I only found this out on nearly being brained by Karen as she flung the shower door open, shrieking, “Do you know what time it is!!”.
Thank goodness we had learnt our way around subway system the day before, and had also topped up our T-cards, meaning we didn’t have to buy individual tickets and could focus on making our train connections. With only minutes to spare, huffing and puffing our little hearts out, we fell into our seats with bleary eyes and empty bellies!
In a way, our feelings in booking the DMZ tour were similar to those we had when deciding to visit Tuol Sleng and The Killing Fields in Cambodia last year. History is of mild interest to us both, but honestly, there are plenty of other more exciting activities we’d rather be doing! Despite this, North Korea, and its relationship with the south, has always held a fascination for us both, and so we decided to spend a day with the Panmunjom travel company touring the demilitarised zone (DMZ) and other sites near the border between South and North Korea.
Again, as with the Cambodian experience, this tour provided a fascinating insight into the history of the Korean peninsular, the politics that led to the current situation, and some of the efforts being made to reunite the two halves of what used to be one country,and who still speak exactly the same language.
The tour guides were informative, yet it seemed to me that everything had to be taken with a large grain of salt, as there were some fairly heavy prejudices being exhibited against those in the north. Propaganda can be a double edged sword!
The format of the tour was extremely rigid, which didn’t sit well with either of us, but I can understand their desire for control considering our proximity to what is still a very real threat. This meant we had very little time to ourselves, and were constantly being herded from one place to another in a group of roughly 25 people. As a photographer this was a massive pain in the posterior, as I like to try and capture scenes with as little extraneous distractions as possible. It was difficult, but in the end I came away with a number of striking images that I’m really pleased with.
This next photo shows the actual border between North and South Korea. The building in the distance is in North Korea, with the border between the two countries marked by the concrete slab about 20 metres in front of the South Korean guards, as shown closeup in the second image.
Look closely and you’ll notice the ‘power stance’ that guards have assumed. It’s a modified Judo stance that is intended to exhibit readiness and intimidation at all times.
Look a little closer again and you’ll see a lone North Korean guard manning their building. Their perspective (allegedly) is that by only using one guard they demonstrate that they see the South Koreans as weak and unworthy of additional effort.
It was a fantastic day, full of interesting and informative experiences. I’d go so far as to say that if you do get the opportunity to visit South Korea, then this tour should be near the top of your list of things to do!