One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Seoul was to take a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is the neutral/buffer zone between North and South Korea.
|The Korean flag at the DMZ|
Although I was only in Seoul for a few days, I really got the sense that the Korean War is far from being regarded as a major historical event of the past; It appears to be very much a part of current politics and even everyday life. Realistically this makes sense as the war is technically still ongoing and violent skirmishes continue to occur (including this incident which happened just yesterday).
For me the most interesting part of the tour was walking through the "Third Tunnel", one of several tunnels that North Korea had been digging but were discovered by the South in the 1970s. (It is believed that these tunnels were part of a plan to attack the South but North Korea denies this tooth and nail and maintains they were strictly for mining purposes.) The tunnel, which is almost 100m underground and only 2m high x 2m wide, takes you underneath the heart of the DMZ and leads right up to the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which is the official border line between the two nations. This part of the tour was especially moving: Our guide explained that because we were visiting so close to a Korean holiday (their equivalent of Thanksgiving) many Koreans were coming to send prayers and wishes to their family members in North Korea, with whom they are not able to have any kind of contact. Walking underground through a dark and drippy tunnel is the closest they can get to their family.
|You can't actually take a train to North Korea (the |
sign is for show!) but hopefully one day you will be able to...
Taking this tour also showed me that there seems to be a lot of hope for reunification one day. Many Koreans view the North and South not as two countries but as one country divided. It may not be for a while, but I hope that one day Koreans need not walk through a tunnel to feel close to their families.